And yet it is commonly held that a people is more apt to wreak its insolence upon good men when it is prosperous, being then lifted up by grandeur and power; but the reverse is often the case. For calamities make men's dispositions bitter, irritable, and prone to wrath, so that no one can say anything to please or soften them, but they are annoyed by every speech or word that has vigour. He who censures them for their transgressions is thought to abuse them for their misfortunes, and he who is outspoken with them, to despise them. And just as honey irritates wounded and ulcerated parts of the body, so often words of truth and soberness sting and exasperate those who are in an evil plight, unless uttered with kindness and complaisance; and therefore, doubtless, the poet calls that which is pleasant
‘menoeikes,’ on the ground that it yields to that part of the soul which experiences pleasure, and does not fight with it or resist it.1
An eye that is inflamed dwells most gratefully on colours which are dark and lustreless, but shuns those which are radiant and bright; and so a city that has fallen on unfavourable fortunes is made by its weakness too sensitive and delicate to endure frank speaking, and that at a time when it needs it most of all, since the situation allows no chance of retrieving the mistakes that have been made. Therefore the conduct of affairs in such a city is altogether dangerous; for she brings to ruin with herself the man who speaks but to win her favour, and she brings to ruin before herself the man who will not court her favour.
Now, the sun, as mathematicians tell us, has neither the same motion as the heavens, nor one that is directly opposite and contrary, but takes a slanting course with a slight inclination,2
and describes a winding spiral of soft and gentle curves, thus preserving all things and giving them the best temperature. And so in the administration of a city, the course which is too straight, and opposed in all things to the popular desires, is harsh and cruel, just as, on the other hand, it is highly dangerous to tolerate or yield perforce to the mistakes of the populace. But that wise guidance and government of men which yields to them in return for their obedience and grants them what will please them, and then demands from them in payment what will advantage the state,—and men will give docile and profitable service in many ways, provided they are not treated despotically and harshly all the time,—conduces to safety, although it is laborious and difficult and must have that mixture of austerity and reasonableness which is so hard to attain. But if the mixture be attained, that is the most concordant and musical blending of all rhythms and all harmonies; and this is the way, we are told, in which God regulates the universe, not using compulsion, but making persuasion and reason introduce that which must be.