While looking up some random phrases about the healing power of literature, I found myself reading Plutarch this morning. His words on citizenship and exile our powerful and pertinent in our transatlantic crisis of Politics (xenophobia and racism from the right) and Wars (the refugee crises and responses in Europe and Asia). Though his words are of course influenced by his experience of the Roman Empire, there is an essential humanity to them and a belief in common good and shared existence that is too often lost in modern discourse.
But don’t take my word for it, you can always read the whole essay.
Plutarch, De Exilio 600e7-601b5
“This is the character of your current exile from your customary country. For we have no country by nature, just as we have neither home, nor field, nor blacksmith’s, nor doctor’s office, as Aristôn said. But each of these things develops or, rather, is named and called so by the man inhabiting or using it. For a human being, as Plato says, “is not earthly born and immovable but comes from heaven” just as if the head raises the body up straight from its root stretching towards the sky. So Herakles said well “Am I Argive or Theban? I do not claim / one—every citadel in Greece is my homeland”. But Socrates put it better saying “I am neither Athenian nor Greek, but a citizen of the world,” as someone might claim to be Rhodian or Korinthian, because he did not lock himself within Sounion, Tainaros, or the Keraunian mountains.
As [Euripides] puts it: “Do you see the boundless light above / and the earth opening below with damp embrace?” These are the boundaries of our countries and no man is an exile, foreigner or stranger where there is fire, water, air; where we find the same rulers, overseers, and presidents: the same sun, moon, and star at day’s break; where the same laws exist for all under one order and single government: the summer and winter solstices, the Pleiades and Arcturus, the seasons of planting and harvesting that rise and set for us all; and where there is one king and ruler, god, who knows the beginning, middle and end of everything; who travels through all, guiding it with a straight force. Justice is his attendant as an avenger for those who transgress divine law. We all by nature follow this law in treating all people as our fellow citizens.”
Οἷόν ἐστιν ἡ νῦν σοι παροῦσα μετάστασις ἐκ τῆς νομιζομένης πατρίδος. φύσει γὰρ οὐκ ἔστι πατρίς, ὥσπερ οὐδ’ οἶκος οὐδ’ ἀγρὸς οὐδὲ χαλκεῖον, ὡς ᾿Αρίστων (St. V.
Fr. I 371) ἔλεγεν, οὐδ’ ἰατρεῖον· ἀλλὰ γίνεται μᾶλλον δ’ ὀνομάζεται καὶ καλεῖται τούτων ἕκαστον ἀεὶ πρὸς τὸν οἰκοῦντα καὶ χρώμενον. ὁ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος, ᾗ φησιν ὁ
Πλάτων (Tim. 90a), ‘φυτὸν οὐκ ἔγγειον’ οὐδ’ ἀκίνητον ‘ἀλλ’ οὐράνιόν’ ἐστιν, ὥσπερ ἐκ ῥίζης τὸ σῶμα τῆς κεφαλῆς ὀρθὸν ἱστάσης πρὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεστραμμένον. ὅθεν εὖ μὲν ὁ ῾Ηρακλῆς εἶπεν (Trag. adesp. 392)
‘᾿Αργεῖος ἢ Θηβαῖος· οὐ γὰρ εὔχομαι
μιᾶς· ἅπας μοι πύργος ῾Ελλήνων πατρίς.’
ὁ δὲ Σωκράτης βέλτιον, οὐκ ᾿Αθηναῖος οὐδ’ ῞Ελλην ἀλλὰ κόσμιος εἶναι φήσας, ὡς ἄν τις ῾Ρόδιος εἶπεν ἢ Κορίν-θιος, | ὅτι μηδὲ Σουνίῳ μηδὲ Ταινάρῳ μηδὲ τοῖς Κεραυνίοις ἐνέκλεισεν ἑαυτόν.
‘ὁρᾷς τὸν ὑψοῦ τόνδ’ ἄπειρον αἰθέρα,
καὶ γῆν πέριξ ἔχονθ’ ὑγραῖς <ἐν> ἀγκάλαις;’ (Eur. fr. 941, 1. 2)
οὗτοι τῆς πατρίδος ἡμῶν ὅροι [εἰσί], καὶ οὐδεὶς οὔτε φυγὰς ἐν τούτοις οὔτε ξένος οὔτ’ ἀλλοδαπός, ὅπου τὸ αὐτὸ πῦρ ὕδωρ ἀήρ, ἄρχοντες οἱ αὐτοὶ καὶ διοικηταὶ καὶπρυτάνεις ἥλιος σελήνη φωσφόρος· οἱ αὐτοὶ νόμοι πᾶσι, ὑφ’ ἑνὸς προστάγματος καὶ μιᾶς ἡγεμονίας τροπαὶ βόρειοι τροπαὶ νότιοι ἰσημερίαι Πλειὰς ᾿Αρκτοῦρος ὧραι σπόρων ὧραι φυτειῶν· εἷς δὲ βασιλεὺς καὶ ἄρχων· ‘θεὸς ἀρχήν τε καὶ μέσα καὶ τελευτὴν ἔχων τοῦ παντὸς εὐθείᾳ περαίνει κατὰ φύσιν περιπορευόμενος· τῷ δ’ ἕπεται Δίκη τῶν ἀπολειπομένων τοῦ θείου νόμου τιμωρός’ (Plat. Legg. 716a),ᾗ χρώμεθα πάντες ἄνθρωποι φύσει πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὥσπερ πολίτας.
But Plutarch’s sentiments may be alive and well in Canada…