“Okay, I Hung Around With Tyrants…Socrates Did It Too!”

Petrarch, Against a Man of Noble Status (31-32):

It is time for the speech to return to me and vindicate me of the charge which you lay upon me, namely that of living with and enjoying the friendship of tyrants. As though it were necessary for people living together to share everything too, when we see that the worst people often live with the good, and the good often live with the worst. Did Socrates not take his place among the Thirty Tyrants in Athens? Did Plato not live with Dionysius, Callisthenes with Alexander, Cato with Catiline, Seneca with Nero? Virtue is not infected by its proximity to vice. For, even if trifling causes are enough to shake delicate spirits, contagion is unable to touch a solid mind. But to this calumny and many others which now already stupidity and anger have impeded me with, I think that I have already responded, and indeed broken the traps of their inane ramblings.

As for the present, I will say one thing. If you believe it, your jaw will drop; if you don’t, you will laugh at me. I place myself under no spirit except That one which gave spirit to me, or at any rate under one whom I am well convinced is a friend to Him – a rare type indeed. I will add that there are some souls of a similar disposition to which love has thrust me under a most pleasing yoke. It is not a light power, but so rare, that from youth up to this age I have been under only a very few such yokes. In this company were both the humble and the noble and some popes and some kings, but it was such that fortune and dignity did not matter – virtue and love drove the entire affair, so I was subjected to them freely, and I grieved greatly whenever death released me from such a service.

“Why sir, might I kiss your ass?”

Tempus est ut ad me ipsum sermo redeat, idque expurget quod michi obicis, convictum atque amicitiam tyrannorum, quasi simul agentibus omnia esse comunia sit necesse, cum sepe tamen inter bonos pessimi, inter pessimos boni habitent. An non inter triginta tyrannos Athenarum Socrates fuit? Plato cum Dyonisio, Callisthenes cum Alexandro, Cato cum Catilina, Seneca cum Nerone? Nec infecta est virtus in vicinitate nequitie; nam, etsi teneros animos sepe leves cause quatiant, solidas mentes morum contagia non attingunt. Huic tamen calumnie multisque aliis quibus non nunc primum me stultitia livorque impedit, uno pridem toto volumine respondisse videor et verborum inanium tendiculas confregisse. Quod ad presens attinet, unum dicam, quod si credas, stupeas, si minus, irrideas: animo quidem sub nullo sum, nisi sub Illo qui michi animum dedit, aut sub aliquo quem valde Illi amicum ipse michi persuaserim, rarum genus. Addam aliquot michi conformes animas, quibus me amor iugo subiecit amenissimo: non leve imperium sed tam rarum, ut ab adolescentia ad hanc etatem perpaucis talibus iugis obnoxius fuerim. Quo in genere et humiles et illustres et pontifices fuerant et reges, ita tamen ut in his fortuna nichil aut dignitas, sed totum virtus amorque ageret, quo illis sponte subicerer, graviteque doluerim quotiens tali me servitio mors absolvit.

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