Humility and Pride: The Masks We Wear Day-to-Day

The art of humility display goes back centuries. The first recorded humility tweet was written thousands of years ago by a Greek woman named Helen: “Humbled that Achilles and Agamemnon would go to all that trouble!” The tradition continued in biblical times with Jesus of Nazareth: “Humbled to be the Messiah. Couldn’t have done it without Dad.” And one can find high-water moments of humility display throughout the centuries that followed, for example, from the great British general the Duke of Wellington: “Wow. A beef dish. Truly humbled.”

David Brooks, Truly Humbled to be the Author of this Article, Atlantic, July 2022


Cicero, Letters to Friends 20.16

“They imagined that I would be a humbled person after this, when the country was actually making me prouder than I had been at any point in my life when it declared it could not live without me, a single citizen!”

abiectiore animo me futurum, cum res publica maiorem etiam mihi animum quam umquam habuissem daret cum declarasset se non potuisse me uno civi carere


Seneca, Moral Epistles 120, 21-22

“Those people I describe are like this, that kind of man Horace talks about, someone who is never the same or even really like himself. That’s how far he walks in the opposite direction. Did I mention that many are like this? It is the same way with most people. Everyone changes their plans and prayers daily. Someone wants a spouse, then only a bit of fun on the side. Someone wants to rule, then they act more officious than an enslaved person. One day, someone flexes to the point of derision, only to withdraw and shrink into more humility than those who are truly without pretense. They throw money about and then hoard it!

This is how a silly mind exposes itself. It takes this form and then another and then never looks like itself. This is, for me, the worst way to be. I do understand, it is hard to take the shape of one person alone. No one can truly be singular except for the wise person, so the rest of us try on different masks in turn. We seem sober and serious one moment and then wasteful and silly the next. We often change our roles and play a part against where we started.

For this reason, try to play the same character to the end of life’s game that you started at the beginning. Try to make people praise you. If you can’t, at least let them recognize you. Otherwise, when it comes to someone you saw yesterday, they can ask, “who is this person?” That’s how much change you allow. Goodbye!”


Homines isti tales sunt, qualem hunc describit Horatius Flaccus, numquam eundem, ne similem quidem sibi; adeo in diversum aberrat. Multos dixi? Prope est, ut omnes sint. Nemo non cotidie et consilium mutat et votum. Modo uxorem vult habere, modo amicam, modo regnare vult, modo id agit, ne quis sit officiosior servus, modo dilatat se usque ad invidiam, modo subsidit et contrahitur infra humilitatem vere iacentium, nunc pecuniam spargit, nunc rapit. 

Sic maxime coarguitur animus inprudens; alius prodit atque alius et, quo turpius nihil iudico, impar sibi est. Magnam rem puta unum hominem agere. Praeter sapientem autem nemo unum agit, ceteri multiformes sumus. Modo frugi tibi videbimur et graves, modo prodigi et vani. Mutamus subinde personam et contrariam ei sumimus, quam exuimus. Hoc ergo a te exige, ut, qualem institueris praestare te, talem usque ad exitum serves. Effice ut possis laudari, si minus, ut adgnosci. De aliquo, quem here vidisti, merito dici potest: “hic qui est?” Tanta mutatio est. Vale.

Hieronymous Bosch, he Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things – Pride, 1486

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