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They say that the gad-fly finds lodgement with cattle close by the ear, as does the tick with dogs ; so also the flatterer takes hold of ambitious men's ears with his words of praise, and once settled there, he is hard to dislodge. Wherefore in this matter especially it is necessary to keep the judgement awake and on the alert, to see whether the praise is for the action or for the man. It is for the action if they praise us in absence rather than in our presence ; also if they, too, cherish the same desires and [p. 301] aspirations themselves and praise not us alone but all persons for like conduct; also if they are not found doing and saying now this and now the opposite ; but, chief of all, if we ourselves know that we feel no regret for those actions for which we are praised, no feeling of shame and no wish that we had said or done the opposite. For if our own conscience protests and refuses to accept the praise, then it is not affected or touched, and is proof against assault by the flatterer. Yet, in some way that passes my knowledge, most people have no patience with efforts to console them in their misfortunes, but are more influenced by those who commiserate and condole with them ; and whenever these same people are guilty of mistakes and blunders, the man who by chiding and blaming implants the sting of repentance is taken to be an enemy and an accuser, whereas they welcome the man who praises and extols what they have done, and regard him as kindly and friendly. Now those who unthinkingly praise and join in applauding an act or a saying, or anything offered by another, whether he be in earnest or in jest, are harmful only for the moment and for the matter at hand; but those who with their praises pierce to the man's character, and indeed even touch his habit of mind with their flattery, are doing the very thing that servants do who steal not from the heap 1 but from the seed-corn. For, since the disposition and character are the seed from which actions spring, such persons are thus perverting the very first principle and fountain-head of living, inasmuch as they are investing vice with the names that belong to [p. 303] virtue. Amid factions and wars, Thucydides 2 says, ‘they changed the commonly accepted meaning of words when applied to deeds as they thought proper. Reckless daring came to be regarded as devoted courage, watchful waiting as specious cowardice, moderation as a craven's pretext, a keen understanding for everything as want of energy to undertake anything.’ And so in attempts at flattery we should be observant and on our guard against prodigality being called ‘ liberality,’ cowardice ‘self-preservation,’ impulsiveness ‘quickness,’ stinginess ‘ frugality,’ the amorous man ‘companionable and amiable,’ the irascible and overbearing ‘spirited,’ the insignificant and meek ‘kindly.’ So Plato 3 somewhere says that the lover, being a flatterer of his beloved, calls one with a snub nose ‘fetching,’ one with a hooked nose ‘kingly,’ dark persons ‘manly,’ and fair persons ‘children of the gods’ ; while ‘honey-hued’ is purely the creation of a lover who calls sallowness by this endearing term, and cheerfully puts up with it. And yet an ugly man who is made to believe that he is handsome, or a short man that he is tall, is not for long a party to the deception, and the injury that he suffers is slight and not irremediable. But as for the praise which accustoms a man to treat vices as virtues, so that he feels not disgusted with them but delighted, which also takes away all shame for his errors—this is the sort that brought afflictions upon the people of Sicily, by calling the savage cruelty of Dionysius and of Phalaris ‘ hatred of wickedness’ ; this it is that ruined Egypt, 4 by giving to Ptolemy's effeminacy, his religious mania, his hallelujahs, his clashing of cymbals, the name of [p. 305] ‘piety’ and ‘devotion to the gods’ ; this it is that all but subverted and destroyed the character of the Romans in those days, by trying to extenuate Antony's 5 luxuriousness, his excesses and ostentatious displays, as ‘blithe and kind-hearted actions due to his generous treatment at the hands of Power and Fortune.’ What else was it that fastened the mouthpiece and flute upon Ptolemy 6 ? What else set a tragic stage for Nero, and invested him with mask and buskins ? Was it not the praise of his flatterers ? And is not almost any king called an Apollo if he can hum a tune, and a Dionysus if he gets drunk, and a Heracles if he can wrestle ? And is he not delighted, and thus led on into all kinds of disgrace by the flattery ?