Wealth and the Death of Culture

Plutarch, Moralia 832 [On Borrowing]

“Why do we need to talk about these guys when the lyric poet Philoxenos who had a share of the land in a Sicilian colony—safeguarding his lifestyle and his home and giving him a lot extra—when he saw that luxury and pleasure, and lack of the arts rose up together, said “By the gods, these good possessions will not ruin me! I should lose them!” He left his goods to others and sailed away.

People who are in debt are forced to beg, to be harvested for interest, enslaved and robbed-they hold on like Phineus, feeding winged Harpies who steal their food and swallow it whole, purchasing their grain, not at the right time, but before it is even harvested, buying up all the oil before the olives are picked.

“Well, I have wine,” he says, “for this much money” and gives an IOU for its cost. The grapes hang on the vine still and linger for the rising of Arcturus.”

καὶ τί δεῖ τούτους λέγειν, ὅπου Φιλόξενος ὁ μελοποιὸς ἐν ἀποικίᾳ Σικελικῇ, κλήρου μετασχὼν καὶ βίου καὶ οἴκου πολλὴν εὐπορίαν ἔχοντος, ὁρῶν δὲ τρυφὴν καὶ ἡδυπάθειαν καὶ ἀμουσίαν ἐπιχωριάζουσαν “μὰ τοὺς θεούς,” εἶπεν, “ἐμὲ ταῦτα τἀγαθὰ οὐκ ἀπολεῖ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐγὼ ταῦτα· καὶ καταλιπὼν ἑτέροις τὸν κλῆρον ἐξέπλευσεν.

οἱ δ᾿ ὀφείλοντες ἀπαιτούμενοι δασμολογούμενοι δουλεύοντες ὑπαργυρεύοντες ἀνέχονται, καρτεροῦσιν, ὡς ὁ Φινεύς, Ἁρπυίας τινὰς ὑποπτέρους βόσκοντες, αἳ φέρουσι τὴν τροφὴν καὶ διαρπάζουσιν, οὐ καθ᾿ ὥραν ἀλλὰ πρὶν θερισθῆναι τὸν σῖτον ὠνούμενοι, καὶ πρὶν ἢ πεσεῖν τὴν ἐλαίαν ἀγοράζοντες τοὔλαιον· καὶ “τὸν οἶνον ἔχω,” φησί, “τοσούτου” καὶ πρόσγραφον ἔδωκε τῆς τιμῆς· ὁ δὲ βότρυς κρέμαται καὶ προσπέφυκεν ἔτι τὸν ἀρκτοῦρον ἐκδεχόμενος.

Venus and Arcturus, by Paul van de Velde, 2018

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