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The greatest factor, however, in ridding ourselves of this affliction is the habit of beginning early to train and teach ourselves to acquire this self-control. It is, in fact, by habituation that the disease has come to increase, advancing, as it does, little by little. How this habit is acquired, we shall learn when we discuss the proper training. So first let us begin with the most trifling and unimportant matters. What difficulty is there about refraining from reading the inscriptions on tombs as we journey along the roads? Or what is there arduous in just glancing at the writing on walls when we take our walks? We have only to remind ourselves that [p. 503] nothing useful or pleasant has been written there: merely so-and-so ‘commemorates’ so-and-so ‘wishing him well,’ and someone else is the ‘best of friends,’ and much twaddle of this sort.1 It may seem that no harm will come from reading these, but harm you it does by imperceptibly instilling the practice of searching out matters which do not concern you. And as hunters do not allow young hounds to turn aside and follow every scent, but pull them up and check them with the leash, keeping their sense of smell pure and untainted for their proper task in order that it may keep more keenly to the trail,
With nostrils tracking down the paths of beasts2;
so one should be careful to do away with or divert to useful ends the sallies and wanderings of the busybody, directed as they are to everything that one may see and hear. For as eagles and lions3 draw in their claws when they walk so that they may not wear off the sharpness of the tips, so, if we consider that curiosity for learning has also a sharp and keen edge, let us not waste or blunt it upon matters of no value.

1 I quote Shilleto's note: ‘Plutarch rather reminds one, in his evident contempt for Epitaphs, of the cynic who asked, ‘Where are all the bad people buried?’ Where indeed?’

2 From an unknown poet: Empedocles? (cf. Diels, Hermes, xv. 176).

3 Cf. Moralia, 966 c. ‘Eagles’ is probably corrupt. Pohlenz suggests ‘cats.’

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