SAYINGS OF KINGS AND COMMANDERS PLUTARCH TO TRAJAN, SUPREME MONARCH? SUCCESS AND PROSPERITY
Artaxerxes, the king of the Persians, O Trajan, Emperor Most High and Monarch Supreme, used to think that, as compared with giving large gifts, it was no less the mark of a king and a lover of his fellow-men to accept small gifts graciously and with a ready goodwill; and so, on a time when he was riding by, and a simple labourer, possessed of nothing else, took up water from the river in his two hands and offered it to the king, he accepted it pleasantly and with a cheerful smile, measuring the favour by the ready goodwill of the giver and not by the service rendered by the gift.1 Lycurgus made the sacrifices in Sparta very inexpensive, 2 so that people might be able always to honour the gods readily and easily from what they had at hand. And so, with some such thought in mind, I likewise offer to you trifling gifts and tokens of friendship, the common offerings of the first-fruits that come from philosophy, 3 and I beg that you will [p. 11] be good enough to accept, in conjunction with the author's ready goodwill, the utility which may be found in these brief notes, if so be that they contain something meet for the true understanding of the characters and predilections of men in high places, which are better reflected in their words than in their actions. True it is that a work of mine comprises the lives also of the most noted rulers, lawgivers, and monarchs among the Romans and the Greeks; but their actions, for the most part, have an admixture of chance, whereas their pronouncements and unpremeditated utterance in connexion with what they did or experienced or chanced upon afford an opportunity to observe, as in so many mirrors, the workings of the mind of each man. In keeping herewith is the remark of Seiramnes the Persian who, in answer to those who expressed surprise because, while his words showed sense, his actions were never crowned with success, said that he himself was master of his words, but chance, together with the King, was master of his actions. 4 In the Lives the pronouncements of the men have the story of the men's actions adjoined in the same pages, and so must wait for the time when one has the desire to read in a leisurely way; but here the remarks, made into a separate collection quite by themselves, serving, so to speak, as samples and primal elements of the men's lives, will not, I think, be any serious tax on your time, and you will get in brief compass an opportunity to pass in review many men who have proved themselves worthy of being remembered.