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A considerable one, I replied; but pray observe whether Xenophon himself, in his descriptions of Socrates's and the Persian entertainments, hath not sufficiently explained them. But if you would have my thoughts,—first, men are pleased to be asked those questions to which they have an answer ready; such are those in which the persons asked have some skill and competent knowledge; for when the enquiry is above their reach, those that can return nothing are troubled, as if requested to give something beyond their power; and those that do answer, producing some crude and insufficient demonstration, must needs be very much concerned, and apt to blunder on the wrong. Now, if the answer not only is easy but hath something not common, it is more pleasing to them that make it; and this happens, when their knowledge is greater than that of the vulgar, as suppose they are well skilled in points of astrology or logic. For not only in action and serious matters, but also in discourse, every one hath a natural disposition to be pleased (as Euripides hath it)
To seem far to outdo himself.1

[p. 231] And all are delighted when men put such questions as they understand, and would have others know that they are acquainted with; and therefore travellers and merchants are most satisfied when their company is inquisitive about other countries, the unknown ocean, and the laws and manners of the barbarians; they are ready to inform them, and describe the countries and the creeks, imagining this to be some recompense for their toil, some comfort for the dangers they have passed. In short, whatever we are wont to discourse of though unrequested, we are desirous to be asked; because then we seem to gratify those whom otherwise our prattle would disturb and force from our conversation. And this is the common disease of navigators. But more genteel and modest men love to be asked about those things which they have bravely and successfully performed, and which modesty will not permit to be spoken by themselves before company; and therefore Nestor did well when, being acquainted with Ulysses's desire of reputation, he said,

Tell, brave Ulysses, glory of the Greeks,
How you the horses seized.

For man cannot endure the insolence of those who praise themselves and repeat their own exploits, unless the company desires it and they are forced to a relation; therefore it tickles them to be asked about their embassies and administrations of the commonwealth, if they have done any thing notable in either. And upon this account the envious and ill-natured start very few questions of that sort; they thwart and hinder all such kind of motions, being very unwilling to give any occasion or opportunity for that discourse which shall tend to the advantage of the relator. In short, we please those to whom we put them, when we start questions about those matters which their enemies hate to hear.

[p. 232]

1 Eurip. Antiope, Frag. 183.

2 Il. X. 544.

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