previous next
Trials of cases on appeal1 before special arbitrators and the carrying of cases before foreign courts were first devised by the Greeks by reason of their mutual distrust, since they had need of the justice supplied by others than themselves, like any other non-indigenous necessity. Is it thus, then, that philosophers also, because of their disagreements with each other, refer some of their questions to the nature of irrational animals, as though to a foreign city, and submit the decision to the emotions and character and habits of these creatures as to a court that cannot be influenced or bribed? Or is this also a common charge against human depravity - that, being in doubt about the most necessary and important things, we seek among horses and dogs and birds how we ourselves should marry and beget and bring up children (as though we had no plain indication of Nature in ourselves) ; and that we term the traits which brute beasts have ‘characters’ and ‘emotions,’ and accuse our life of a great deviation [p. 333] and departure from Nature, confused and disordered as we are at the very beginning concerning even the first principles? For in dumb animals Nature preserves their special characteristics pure and unmixed and simple, but in men, through reason and habit, they have been modified by many opinions and adventitious judgements so that they have lost their proper form and have acquired a pleasing variety comparable to the variety of perfumes made by the pharmacist on the basis of a single oil. And let us not wonder if irrational animals follow Nature more closely than rational ones ; for animals are, in fact, outdone in this by plants, to which Nature has given neither imagination nor impulse, nor desire for something different, which causes men to shake themselves free from what Nature desires ; but plants, as though they were fastened in chains, remain in the power of Nature, always traversing the one path along which Nature leads them. Yet in wild beasts versatility of reasoning and uncommon cleverness and excessive love of freedom are not too highly developed; and though they have irrational impulses and desires and often wander about on circuitous paths, they do not go far afield, but ride, as it were, at the anchor provided by Nature, who points out to them the straight way, as to an ass which proceeds under bit and bridle. But in man ungoverned reason is absolute master, and, discovering now one way of deviation and innovation and now another, has left no clear or certain vestige of Nature visible.2

1 Plutarch is probably referring to the common practice of small states appealing to the greater, Athens or Rhodes, to arbitrate in disputes; the distrust was thus not of all other Greeks but of fellow-citizens. Cf. Schwyzer, Dial. Gr. Exempla, 83 for an inscription in which Argos regulates the relations between Cnossus and Tylissus circa 450 b.c.; see also M. N. Tod, International Arbitration among the Greeks (Oxford, 1913).

2 The text of this chapter is exceedingly corrupt: the restorations and suggestions adopted here claim only an approximation to the required thought.

load focus English (Goodwin, 1874)
load focus Greek (Gregorius N. Bernardakis, 1891)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: