previous next
Another difference observable betwixt them in the resemblance thy bear to each other is, that a true friend will not rashly commend nor imitate every thing, but only what really deserves it; for, as Sophocles says,
He shares with him his loves, but not his hates,1

and will scorn to bear any part with him in any base and dishonorable actions, unless, as people sometimes catch blear eyes, he may chance insensibly to contract some ill habit or other by the very contagion of familiarity and conversation. Thus they say Plato's acquaintance learned his stoop, Aristotle's his lisp, and Alexander's the inclination of his neck and the rapidity of his speech. For some persons, ere they are aware, get a touch of the humors and infirmities of those with whom they converse. But now as a true friend endeavors only to copy the fairest originals, so, on the contrary, the flatterer, like the chameleon, which puts on all colors but the innocent white, being unable to reach those strokes of virtue which are worth his imitation, takes care that no failure or imperfection escape him. As unskilful [p. 111] painters, when they cannot hit the features and air of a face, content themselves with the faint resemblance in a wrinkle, a wart, or a scar, so he takes up with his friend's intemperance, superstition, cholericness, severity to his servants, distrust of his relations and domestics or the like. For, besides that a natural propensity to evil inclines him always to follow the worst examples, he imagines his assuming other men's vices will best secure him from the suspicion of being disaffected towards them; for their fidelity is often suspected who seem dissatisfied with faults and wish a reformation. Which very thing lost Dion in the good opinion of Dionysius, Samius in Philip's, Cleomenes in Ptolemy's, and at last proved the occasion of their ruin. And therefore the flatterer pretends not only to the good humor of a companion, but to the faithfulness of a friend too, and would be thought to have so great a respect for you that he cannot be disgusted at the very worst of your actions, being indeed of the same make and constitution with yourself. Hence you shall have him pretend a share in the most common casualties that befall another, nay, in complaisance, feign even diseases themselves. In company of those who are thick of hearing, he is presently half deaf, and with the dim-sighted can see no more than they do. So the parasites about Dionysius at an entertainment, to humor his blindness, stumbled one upon another and jostled the dishes off his table.

But there are others who refine upon the former by a pretended fellow-suffering in the more private concernments of life, whereby they wriggle themselves deeper into the affections of those they flatter; as, if they find a man unhappily married, or distrustful of his children or domestics, they spare not their own family, but immediately entertain you with some lamentable story of the hard fortune they have met with in their children, their wife, their servants, or relations. For, by the parallel circumstances they pretend [p. 112] to, they seem more passionately concerned for the misfortunes of their friends, who, as if they had already received some pawn and assurance of their fidelity, blab forth those secrets which they cannot afterwards handsomely retract, and dare not betray the least distrust of their new confidant for the future. I myself knew a man who turned his wife out of doors because a gentleman of his acquaintance divorced his, though the latter lady smelt the intrigue afterwards by the messages the flatterer sent to his wife after the pretended divorce and the private visits he was observed to make her. So little did he understand the flatterer who took these following verses for the description of a crab rather than his:—

The shapeless thing's all over paunch and gut:
Who can the monster's mighty hunger glut?
It crawls on teeth, and with a watchful eye
Does into every secret corner pry.

For this is the true portraiture of those sharpers, who, as Eupolis speaks, sponge upon their acquaintance for a dinner.

1 Soph. Antigone, 523.

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: