Do We Still Believe Anecdotes Reveal a Man’s True Nature?

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists (Introduction, 453)

“Xenophon the philosopher, the only philosopher who blessed philosophy in both word and deed (in respect to words he still exists in letters and writes of moral excellence; and he was the best in deeds, and through his examples he fathered generals. Alexander, I suggest, would not have been great if not for Xenophon), Xenophon says that it is necessary to record the minor deeds of serious men.”

Ξενοφῶν ὁ φιλόσοφος, ἀνὴρ μόνος ἐξ ἁπάντων φιλοσόφων ἐν λόγοις τε καὶ ἔργοις φιλοσοφίαν κοσμήσας (τὰ μὲν ἐς λόγους ἔστι τε ἐν γράμμασι καὶ ἠθικὴν ἀρετὴν γράφει, τὰ δὲ ἐν πράξεσί τε ἦν ἄριστος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐγέννα στρατηγοὺς τοῖς ὑποδείγμασιν• ὁ γοῦν μέγας ᾿Αλέξανδρος οὐκ ἂν ἐγένετο μέγας, εἰ μὴ Ξενοφῶν) καὶ τὰ πάρεργά φησι δεῖν τῶν σπουδαίων ἀνδρῶν ἀναγράφειν.

Speaking of Alexander, the sentiment of this passage reminds me of what Plutarch says in his Life of Alexander.

Plutarch 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.

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