previous next

[1arg] Discussions held by a Stoic philosopher and in opposition by a Peripatetic, with Favorinus as arbiter; and the question at issue was, how far virtue availed in determining a happy life and to what extent happiness was dependent on what are called external circumstances

THERE were two friends of Favorinus, philosophers of no little note in the city of Rome; one of them was a follower of the Peripatetic school, the other of the Stoic. I was once present when these men argued ably and vigorously, each for his own beliefs, when we were all with Favorinus at Ostia. And we were walking along the shore in springtime, just as evening was falling.

And on that occasion the Stoic mantatined 1 that man could enjoy a happy life only through virtue, and that the greatest wretchedness was due to wickedness only, even though all the other blessings, which are called external, should be lacking to the virtuous man and present with the wicked. The Peripatetic, on the other hand, admitted that a wretched life was due solely to vicious thoughts and wickedness, but he believed that virtue alone was by no means sufficient to round out all the parts of a happy life, since the complete use of one's limbs, good health, a reasonably attractive person, property, good repute, and all the other advantages of body and fortune seemed necessary to make a perfectly happy life.

[p. 295] Here the Stoic made outcry against him, and maintaining that his opponent was advancing two contrary propositions, expressed his surprise that, since wickedness and virtue were two opposites, and a wretched and a happy life were also opposites, he did not preserve in each the force and nature of an opposite, but believed that wickedness alone was sufficient to cause an unhappy life, at the same time declaring that virtue alone was not sufficient to guarantee a happy life. And he said that it was especially inconsistent and contradictory for one who maintained that a life could in no way be made happy if virtue alone were lacking, to deny on the other hand that a life could be happy when virtue alone was present, and thus to take away from virtue when present and demanding it, that honour which he gave and bestowed upon virtue when lacking.

Thereupon the Peripatetic, in truth very wittily, said: “Pray pardon me, and tell me this, whether you think that an amphora 2 of wine from which a congius 3 has been taken, is still an amphora?” “By no means,” was the reply, “can that be called an amphora of wine, from which a congius is missing.” When the Peripatetic heard this, he retorted: “Then it will have to be said that one congius makes an amphora of wine, since when that one is lacking, it is not an amphora, and when it is added, it becomes an amphora. But if it is absurd to say that an amphora is made from one single congius, it is equally absurd to say that a life is made happy by virtue alone by itself, because when virtue is lacking life can never be happy.”

Then Favorinus, turning to the Peripatetic, said: [p. 297] “This clever turn which you have used about the congius of wine is indeed set forth in the books; but, as you know, it ought to be regarded rather as a neat catch than as an honest or plausible argument. For when a congius is lacking, it indeed causes the amphora not to be of full measure; but when it is added and put in, it alone does not make, but completes, an amphora. But virtue, as the Stoics say, is not an addition or a supplement, but it by itself is the equivalent of a happy life, and therefore it alone makes a happy life, when it is present.”

These and some other minute and knotty arguments each advanced in support of his own opinion, before Favorinus as umpire. But when the first night-lights appeared and the darkness grew thicker, we escorted Favorinus to the house where he was putting up; and when he went in, we separated.

1 III. 56, Arn.

2 Somewhat less than 6 gallons.

3 A little less than 6 pints.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: