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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Teaching of Virtue
By Plutarch (c. 45–120 A.D.)
 
From the Discourse ‘That Virtue may be Taught,’ in Plutarch’s ‘Miscellanies and Essays’: Translation of Mr. Patrick

MEN deliberate and dispute variously concerning virtue, whether prudence and justice and the right ordering of one’s life can be taught. Moreover, we marvel that the works of orators, shipmasters, musicians, carpenters, and husbandmen are infinite in number, while good men are only a name, and are talked of like centaurs, giants, and the Cyclops: and that as for any virtuous action that is sincere and unblamable, and manners that are without any touch and mixture of bad passions and affections, they are not to be found; but if nature of its own accord should produce anything good and excellent, so many things of a foreign nature mix with it (just as wild and impure productions with generous fruit) that the good is scarce discernible. Men learn to sing, dance, and read, and to be skillful in husbandry and good horsemanship; they learn how to put on their shoes and their garments; they have those that teach them how to fill wine, and to dress and cook their meat; and none of these things can be done as they ought, unless they be instructed how to do them. And will ye say, O foolish men! that the skill of ordering one’s life well (for the sake of which are all the rest) is not to be taught, but to come of its own accord, without reason and without art?  1
  Why do we, by asserting that virtue is not to be taught, make it a thing that does not at all exist? For if by its being learned it is produced, he that hinders its being learned destroys it. And now, as Plato says, we never heard that because of a blunder in metre in a lyric song, therefore one brother made war against another, nor that it put friends at variance, nor that cities hereupon were at such enmity that they did to one another and suffered one from another the extremest injuries. Nor can any one tell us of a sedition raised in a city about the right accenting or pronouncing of a word,—as whether we are to say [Greek] or [Greek],—nor that a difference arose in a family betwixt man and wife about the woof and the warp in cloth. Yet none will go about to weave in a loom or to handle a book or a harp, unless he has first been taught, though no great harm would follow if he did, but only the fear of making himself ridiculous (for as Heraclitus says, it is a piece of discretion to conceal one’s ignorance); and yet a man without instruction presumes himself able to order a family, a wife, or a commonwealth, and to govern very well. Diogenes, seeing a youth devouring his victuals too greedily, gave his tutor a box on the ear, and that deservedly, as judging it the fault of him that had not taught, not of him that had not learned, better manners. And what! is it necessary to begin from a boy to learn how to eat and drink handsomely in company,—as Aristophanes expresses it,
  “Not to devour their meat in haste, nor giggle,
Nor awkwardly their feet across to wriggle,”—
and yet are men fit to enter into the fellowship of a family, city, married estate, private conversation, or public office, and to manage it without blame, without any previous instruction concerning good behavior in conversation?
  2
  When one asked Aristippus this question, What, are you everywhere? he laughed and said, I throw away the fare of the waterman if I am everywhere. And why canst not thou also answer, that the salary given to tutors is thrown away and lost if none are the better for their discipline and instruction? But as nurses shape and form the body of a child with their hands, so these masters, when the nurses have done with them, first receive them into their charge, in order to the forming of their manners and directing their steps into the first tracks of virtue.  3
 
 
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