A Quip, The Sense of a Man; A Sip, The Character of a Wine: Philostratus on Anecdotes

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 537

“This is another wonderful saying of that Lucius:

The Emperor Marcus [Aurelius] was excited about the philosopher Sextus from Boeotia, appearing at his lectures and visiting his home. Lucius, who had recently arrived in Rome, asked the emperor as he approached where he was going and why and Marcus responded “Learning is good, even for a man growing old. I am going to learn what I do not yet know from Sextus the Philosopher.” Then Lucius raised his hand to the sky and said “Zeus! The aging Emperor of Rome dons a writing tablet and goes to school, but my king Alexander died at thirty-two!”

These sayings suffice to show the character of the work Lucius performed in his philosophy. Such anecdotes, I suppose, give a sense of the man the way a taste betrays the character of a wine.”

Λουκίου τούτου κἀκεῖνο θαυμάσιον·

ἐσπούδαζε μὲν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ Μάρκος περὶ Σέξτον τὸν ἐκ Βοιωτίας φιλόσοφον, θαμίζων αὐτῷ καὶ φοιτῶν ἐπὶ θύρας, ἄρτι δὲ ἥκων ἐς τὴν ῾Ρώμην ὁ Λούκιος ἤρετο τὸν αὐτοκράτορα προιόντα, ποῖ βαδίζοι καὶ ἐφ’ ὅ τι, καὶ ὁ Μάρκος „καλὸν” ἔφη „καὶ γηράσκοντι τὸ μανθάνειν· εἶμι δὴ πρὸς Σέξτον τὸν φιλόσοφον μαθησόμενος, ἃ οὔπω οἶδα.” καὶ ὁ Λούκιος ἐξάρας τὴν χεῖρα ἐς τὸν οὐρανὸν „ὦ Ζεῦ,” ἔφη „ὁ ῾Ρωμαίων βασιλεὺς γηράσκων ἤδη δέλτον ἐξαψάμενος ἐς διδασκάλου φοιτᾷ, ὁ δὲ ἐμὸς βασιλεὺς ᾿Αλέξανδρος δύο καὶ τριάκοντα ἐτῶν ἀπέθανεν.” ἀπόχρη καὶ τὰ εἰρημένα δεῖξαι τὴν ἰδέαν, ἣν ἐφιλοσόφει Λούκιος, ἱκανὰ γάρ που ταῦτα δηλῶσαι τὸν ἄνδρα, καθάπερ τὸν ἀνθοσμίαν τὸ γεῦμα.

The sentiment in the final line is similar to the more famous assertion of Plutarch in the Life of Alexander (1.2-3)

“A brief deed or comment or even some joke often shows the imprint of a man’s character more than battles of a thousand corpses, the greatest campaigns or sieges of cities.”

ἀλλὰ πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησε μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι καὶ παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισται καὶ πολιορκίαι πόλεων.

The full text.


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