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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Plutarch on Himself
By Plutarch (c. 45–120 A.D.)
 
From biography of Demosthenes, in the ‘Lives of Illustrious Men’: Translation of John Dryden and Arthur Hugh Clough

WHOEVER it was, Sosius, that wrote the poem in honor of Alcibiades, upon his winning the chariot race at the Olympian Games,—whether it were Euripides, as is most commonly thought, or some other person,—he tells us that to a man’s being happy, it is in the first place requisite he should be born in “some famous city.” But for him that would attain to true happiness, which for the most part is placed in the qualities and disposition of the mind, it is in my opinion of no other disadvantage to be of a mean, obscure country, than to be born of a small or plain-looking woman. For it were ridiculous to think that Iulis, a little part of Ceos, which itself is no great island, and Ægina, which an Athenian once said ought to be removed, like a small eye-sore, from the port of Piræus, should breed good actors and poets, 1 and yet should never be able to produce a just, temperate, wise, and high-minded man. Other arts, whose end it is to acquire riches or honor, are likely enough to wither and decay in poor and undistinguished towns; but virtue, like a strong and durable plant, may take root and thrive in any place where it can lay hold of an ingenuous nature, and a mind that is industrious. I for my part shall desire that for any deficiency of mine in right judgment or action, I myself may be as in fairness held accountable, and shall not attribute it to the obscurity of my birthplace.  1
  But if any man undertake to write a history that has to be collected from materials gathered by observation and the reading of works not easy to be got in all places, nor written always in his own language, but many of them foreign and dispersed in other hands,—for him, undoubtedly, it is in the first place and above all things most necessary to reside in some city of good note, addicted to liberal arts, and populous; where he may have plenty of all sorts of books, and upon inquiry may hear and inform himself of such particulars as, having escaped the pens of writers, are more faithfully preserved in the memories of men, lest his work be deficient in many things, even those which it can least dispense with.  2
  But for me, I live in a little town, where I am willing to continue, lest it should grow less; and having had no leisure, while I was in Rome and other parts of Italy, to exercise myself in the Roman language, on account of public business and of those who came to be instructed by me in philosophy, it was very late, and in the decline of my age, before I applied myself to the reading of Latin authors. Upon which that which happened to me may seem strange, though it be true; for it was not so much by the knowledge of words that I came to the understanding of things, as by my experience of things I was enabled to follow the meaning of words. But to appreciate the graceful and ready pronunciation of the Roman tongue, to understand the various figures and connection of words, and such other ornaments in which the beauty of speaking consists, is, I doubt not, an admirable and delightful accomplishment; but it requires a degree of practice and study which is not easy, and will better suit those who have more leisure, and time enough yet before them for the occupation.  3
 
Note 1. Simonides, the lyric poet, was born at Iulis in Ceos; and Polus, the celebrated actor, was a native of Ægina. [back]
 
 
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