previous next
Well, then, by what signs or tokens shall we be able to know this counterfeit copy of ourselves from a true and genuine likeness?

In the first place, we must accurately remark upon the whole tenor of his life and conversation, whether or not the resemblance he pretends to the original be of any continuance, natural and easy, and all of a piece; whether he square his actions according to any one steady and uniform model, as becomes an ingenuous lover of conversation and friendship, which is all of one thread, and still like itself; for this is a true friend indeed. But the flatterer, who has no principles in him, and leads not a life properly his own, but forms and moulds it according to the various humors and caprices of those he designs to bubble, is never one and the same man, but a mere dapple or trimmer, who changes shapes with his company, like water that always turns and winds itself into the figure of the channel through which it flows. Apes, it seems, are usually caught by their antic mimicry of the motions and gesticulations of men; and yet the men themselves are trepanned by the same craft of imitation in a flatterer, [p. 108] who adapts himself to their several humors, fencing and wrestling with one, singing and dancing with another. If he is in chase of a spark that delights in a pack of dogs, he follows him at the heels, hollowing almost like Phaedra,

O what a pleasure 'tis, ye Gods, to wind
The shrill-mouthed horn and chase the dappled hind;

and yet the hunter himself is the game he designs for the toils. If he be in pursuit of some bookish young gentleman, then he is always a poring, he nourishes his reverend beard down to his heels, wears a tattered cloak, affects the careless indifference of a philosopher, and can now discourse of nothing under Plato's triangles and rectangles. If he chance to fall into the acquaintance of a drunken, idle debauchee who has got an estate,

Then sly Ulysses throws away his rags,2

puts off his long robe, mows down his fruitless crop of beard, drinks briskly, laughs modishly on the walks, and drolls handsomely upon the philosophical fops of the town. And thus, they say, it happened at Syracuse; for when Plato first arrived there and Dionysius was wonderfully hot upon the study of philosophy, all the areas in the king's palace were full of nothing but dust and sand, by reason of the great concourse of geometricians who came to draw their figures and demonstrate there. But no sooner was Plato in disgrace at court, and Dionysius finally fallen from philosophy to wine and women, trifles and intemperance, than learning fell into a general disrepute, and the whole body of the people, as if bewitched by some Circe or other, became universally stupid, idle, and infatuated. Besides this. I appeal to the practices of men notorious for flattery and popularity to back my observation. Witness he who topped them all, Alcibiades, who, when he dwelt at Athens, was as arch and witty as any Athenian of them all, kept [p. 109] his stable of horses, played the good fellow, and was universally obliging; and yet the same man at Sparta slaved close to the skin, wore his cloak, and never bathed but in cold water. When he sojourned in Thrace, he drank and fought like a Thracian; and again, in Tissaphernes's company in Asia, he acted the part of a soft, arrogant, and voluptuous Asiatic. And thus, by an easy compliance with the humors and customs of the people amongst whom he conversed, he made himself master of their affections and interests. So did not the brave Epaminondas nor Agesilaus, who, though they had to do with great variety of men and manners, and cities of vastly different politics, were still the same men, and everywhere, through the whole circle of their conversation, maintained a port and character worthy of themselves. And so was Plato the same man at Syracuse that he was in the Academy, the same in Dionysus's court that he was in Dixon's.

1 Eurip. Hippol. 218.

2 Odyss. XXII. I.

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 English (Frank Cole Babbitt, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: