Talkativeness Essay About Myself
(Vol. VI) Plutarch, Moralia
p395 On Talkativeness
The work appears in pp395‑467 of Vol. VI of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1939. The Greek text and the English translation (by W. C. Helmbold) are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1967 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)
Loeb Edition Introduction
This charming essay, by far the best in the volume,º suffers from only one defect, its length. Though Plutarch again and again, by his narrative skill and naïve or unconscious humour, will delight even those who have hardened their hearts against him (I mean his editors), he cannot at last resist the temptation to indulge in what he considered scientific analysis and enlightened exhortation. He is then merely dull. But, taken as a whole, the essay is surely a success, and as organic and skilful a performance as any in the Moralia.
The work was written after De Curiositate and before De tranquillitate, De Capienda ex Inimicis Utilitate, and De Laude Ipsius.1 It stands in the Lamprias catalogue as No. 92.2
p397 (502b)11 It is a troublesome and difficult task that philosophy has in hand when it undertakes to cure garrulousness. For the remedy, words of reason, requires listeners; but the garrulous listen to nobody, for they are always talking. CAnd this is the first symptom of their ailment: looseness of the tongue become impotence of the ears.3 For it is a deliberate deafness, that of men who, I take it, blame Nature because they have only one tongue, but two ears.4 If, then, Euripides5 was right when he said with reference to the unintelligent hearer,
I could not fill a man who will not hold
My wise words flooding into unwise ears,
it would be more just to say to the garrulous man, or rather about the garrulous man,
I could not fill a man who will not take
My wise words flooding into unwise ears,
Dor rather submerging, a man who talks to those p399 who will not listen, and will not listen when others talk. For even if he does listen for a moment, when his loquacity is, as it were, at ebb, the rising tide immediately makes up for it many times over.
They give the name Seven-voiced6 to the portico at Olympia which reverberates many times from a single utterance; and if but the least word sets garrulousness in motion, straightway it echoes round about on all sides,
Touching the heart-strings never touched before.7
Indeed one might think that the babbler's ears have no passage bored through8 to the soul, but only to the tongue.9 Consequently, while others retain what is said, in talkative persons it goes right through in a flux; Ethen they go about like empty vessels,10 void of sense, but full of noise.
21 But if, however, we are resolved to leave no means untried, let us say to the babbler,
Hush, child: in silence many virtues lie,11
and among them the two first and greatest, the merits of hearing and being heard; neither of these can happen to talkative persons, but even in that which they desire especially they fail miserably. For in other diseases of the soul,12 such as love of money, love of glory, love of pleasure, there is at least the possibility of attaining their desires, but for babblers this is very difficult: they desire listeners and cannot p401 get them, since every one runs away headlong. FIf men are sitting in a public lounge or strolling about in a portico, and see a talker coming up, they quickly give each other the counter-sign to break camp. And just as when silence occurs in an assemblage they say that Hermes has joined the company, so when a chatterbox comes into a dinner-party or social gathering, 503 every one grows silent, not wishing to furnish him a hold; and if he begins of his own accord to open his mouth,
As when the North-wind blows along
A sea-beaten headland before the storm,13
suspecting that they will be tossed about and sea-sick, they rise up and go out. And so it is a talker's lot when travelling by land or sea, to find volunteer listeners neither as table-companions nor as tent-mates, but only conscripts; for the talker is at you everywhere, catching your cloak, plucking your beard, digging you in the ribs.
Then are your feet of the greatest value,
as Archilochus14 says, and on my word the wise Aristotle will agree. For when Aristotle himself was annoyed by a chatterer and bored with some silly stories, Band the fellow kept repeating, "Isn't it wonderful, Aristotle?" "There's nothing wonderful about that," said Aristotle, "but that anyone with feet endures you." To another man of the same sort, who said after a long rigmarole, "Poor philosopher, I've wearied you with my talk," "Heavens, no!" said Aristotle, "I wasn't listening." In fact, p403 if chatterers force their talk upon us, the soul surrenders to them the ears to be flooded from outside, but herself within unrolls thoughts of another sort and follows them out by herself. Therefore talkers do not find it easy to secure listeners who either pay attention or believe what they say; for just as they affirm that the seed of persons too prone to lusts of the flesh is barren, Cso is the speech of babblers ineffectual and fruitless.15
31 And yet Nature has built about none of our parts so stout a stockade as about the tongue,16 having placed before it as an outpost the teeth, so that when reason within tightens "the reins of silence,"17 if the tongue does not obey or restrain itself, we may check its incontinence by biting it till it bleeds. For Euripides18 says that "disaster is the end," not of unbolted treasuries or storerooms, but of "unbridled tongues." And those who believe that storerooms without doors and purses without fastenings are of no use to their owners, yet keep their mouths without lock or door, maintaining as perpetual an outflow as the mouth of the Black Sea, Dappear to regard speech as the least valuable of all things. They do not, therefore, meet with belief,19 which is the object of all speech. For this is the proper end and aim of speech, to engender belief in the hearer; but chatterers are disbelieved even if they are telling the truth. For as wheat shut up in a jar20 is found to have increased in quantity, but to have deteriorated p405 in quality, so when a story finds its way to a chatterer, it generates a large addition of falsehood and thereby destroys its credit.
41 Again, every self-respecting and orderly man would, I think, avoid drunkenness. For while, according to some, anger lives next door to madness,21Edrunkenness lives in the same house with it; or rather, drunkenness is madness, shorter in duration, but more culpable, because the will also is involved in it.22 And there is no fault so generally ascribed to drunkenness as that of intemperate and unlimited speech. "For wine," says the Poet,23
Urges a man to sing, though he be wise,
And stirs to merry laughter and the dance.
And what is here so very dreadful? Singing and laughing and dancing? Nothing so far —
But it lets slip some word better unsaid:24
this is where the dreadful and dangerous part now comes in. And perhaps the Poet has here resolved the question debated by the philosophers,25Fthe difference between being under the influence of wine and being drunk, when he speaks of the former as relaxation, but drunkenness as sheer folly. For what is in a man's heart when he is sober is on his tongue when he is drunk, as those who are given to proverbs say.26 Therefore when Bias27 kept silent at a p407 drinking-bout and was taunted with stupidity by a chatterer, 504 "What fool," said he, "in his cups can hold his tongue?" And when a certain man at Athens was entertaining envoys from the king,28 at their earnest request he made every effort to gather the philosophers to meet them; and while the rest took part in the general conversation and made their contributions to it, but Zeno29 kept silent, the strangers, pledging him courteously, said, "And what are we to tell the king about you, Zeno?" "Nothing," said he, "except that there is an old man at Athens who can hold his tongue at a drinking-party."
Thus silence is something profound and awesome and sober, but drunkenness is a babbler, for it is foolish and witless, and therefore loquacious also. BAnd the philosophers30 even in their very definition of drunkenness say that it is intoxicated and foolish talking; thus drinking is not blamed if silence attends the drinking, but it is foolish talk which converts the influence of wine into drunkenness. While it is true that the drunken man talks foolishness in his cups, the chatterer talks foolishness on all occasions, in the market-place, in the theatre, out walking, drunk or sober, by day, by night. As your physician, he is worse than the disease; as your ship-mate, more unpleasant than sea-sickness; his praises are more annoying than another's blame: we certainly have greater pleasure in company with clever rascals than with honest chatterboxes. In Sophocles,31 when Ajax p409 uses boisterous language, Nestor, in soothing him, says in words which show his knowledge of character,
CI blame you not: ill your words, but good your deeds.
But these are not our feelings toward the chatterer; on the contrary, the untimeliness of his words destroys and annuls all gratitude for any deed.
51 Lysias once composed a speech for a litigant and gave it to him. The man read it through a number of times and came to Lysias in despair and said that the first time he read it the speech seemed to him wonderfully good, but on taking it up a second and third time it appeared completely dull and ineffectual. "Well," said Lysias laughing, "isn't it only once that you are going to speak it before the jurors?" And consider the persuasiveness and charm of Lysias! For he is one who, for my part,
DI say has a fair portion in the violet-tressed Muses.32
And of the things said about the Poet this is the truest — that Homer alone has survived the fastidiousness of men,33 since he is ever new and his charm is ever at his best; yet none the less, he spoke and proclaimed that famous remark about himself,
I scorn to tell
A tale again that's once been clearly told:34
and he avoids and fears the satiety which lies in p411 ambush for every tale, leading his hearers from one narrative to another and soothing away the ear's surfeit by constant novelty. But babblers actually wear out our ears by their repetitions, just as though they were smudging palimpsests.35
61 Let this, then, be the first thing of which we remind them — Ethat just as wine, discovered for the promotion of pleasure and good fellowship, is sometimes misused to produce discomfort and intoxication by those36 who compel others to drink it undiluted in large quantities, so speech, which is the most pleasant and human of social ties, is made inhuman and unsocial by those who use it badly and wantonly, because they offend those whom they think they please, are ridiculed for their attempts at gaining admiration, and are disliked because of the very means they employ to gain affection. As, then, he can have no share in Aphroditê who uses her girdle to drive away and alienate those who seek his company, so he who arouses annoyance and hostility with his speech is no friend of the Muses and a stranger to art.
71 Now of the other affections and maladies some are dangerous, Fsome detestable, some ridiculous; but garrulousness has all these qualities at once; for babblers are derided for telling what everyone knows, they are hated for bearing bad news, they run into danger since they cannot refrain from revealing secrets. So it is that Anacharsis,37505 when he had been entertained and feasted at Solon's house and lay down to sleep, was seen to have his left hand placed p413 upon his private parts, but his right hand upon his mouth; for he believed, quite rightly, that the tongue needs the stronger restraint. It would not be easy, for example, to enumerate as many men who have been ruined by incontinent lust as is the number of cities and empires which a secret revealed has brought to destruction. When Sulla38 was besieging Athens, he had very little time to waste in the operations
Since other labour was pressing,39
Mithridates having ravaged Asia, and the party of Marius being again masters in Rome. BBut spies heard some old men in a barber's shop remarking to each other that the Heptachalcon40 was unguarded and that the city was in danger of being captured at that place; and the spies brought word of this to Sulla, who at once brought up his forces at midnight, led in his army, and almost razed the city to the ground, filling it with carnage and corpses so that the Cerameicus ran with blood. And Sulla's anger with the Athenians was due more to their words than to their deeds; for they used to revile him41 and Metella,42 leaping upon the walls and jesting,
Sulla is a mulberry sprinkled with meal;43
Cand with much similar idle banter they drew upon themselves, as Plato44 says, "a very heavy penalty for the lightest of things, words."
p415 The loquacity of one man, again, prevented Rome from becoming free by the removal of Nero.45 For but one night remained, after which the tyrant was to die, and all preparations had been made; but the man46 who was to kill him saw at the palace gates when on his way to the theatre a prisoner about to be led before Nero and lamenting his evil fortune. He approached the prisoner and whispered to him, "Only pray, my good man, that to‑day may pass by Dand to‑morrow you will be thankful to me." So the prisoner grasped the intended meaning, and reflecting, I suppose, that
He is a fool who leaves things close at hand
To follow what is out of reach,47
chose the surer rather than the more just way of safety. For he revealed to Nero what had been said to him by the man, who was immediately seized, and tortures and fire and the lash were applied to the conspirator as he denied, in the face of constraint, what he had revealed without constraint.
81 Zeno48 the philosopher, in order that even against his will no secret should be betrayed by his body when under torture, bit his tongue through and spat it out at the despot.49 And Leaena50 also has a splendid reward for her self-control. EShe was a courtesan belonging to the group led by Harmodius and Aristogeiton and shared in the conspiracy against p417 the tyrants51 — with her hopes, all a woman could do; for she also had joined in the revels about that noble mixing-bowl of Eros52 and through the god had been initiated into the secrets which might not be revealed. When, therefore, the conspirators failed and were put to death, she was questioned and commanded to reveal those who still escaped detection; but she would not do so and continued steadfast, proving that those men had experienced a passion not unworthy of themselves in loving a woman like her. And the Athenians caused a bronze lioness53 without a tongue to be made and set up in the gates of the Acropolis, representing by the spirited courage of the animal Leaena's invincible character, Fand by its tonguelessness her power of silence in keeping a holy secret.
No spoken word, it is true, has ever done such service as have in many instances words unspoken;54 for it is possible at some later time to tell what you have kept silent, but never to keep silent what once has been spoken — that has been spilled, and has made its way abroad.55 Hence, I think, in speaking we have men as teachers, but in keeping silent we have gods, and we receive from them this lesson of silence at initiations into the Mysteries. 506And the Poet56 has made the most eloquent Odysseus the most reticent, and also his son and his wife and his nurse; for you hear the nurse saying,57
I'll hold it safe like sturdy oak or iron.
p419 And Odysseus himself, as he sat beside Penelopê,
Did pity in his heart his wife in tears,
But kept his eyes firm-fixed within their lids
Like horn or iron.58
So full of self-control was his body in every limb, and Reason, with all parts in perfect obedience and submission, ordered his eyes not to weep, his tongue not to utter a sound, Bhis heart not to tremble or bark:59
His heart remained enduring in obedience,60
since his reason extended even to his irrational or involuntary movements and made amenable and subservient to itself61 both his breath and his blood. Of such character were also most of his companions; for even when they were dragged about and dashed upon the ground by the Cyclops,62 they would not denounce Odysseus nor show that fire-sharpened instrument prepared against the monster's eye, but preferred to be eaten raw rather than to tell a single word of the secret — an example of self-control and loyalty which cannot be surpassed. CTherefore Pittacus63 did not do badly, when the king of Egypt sent him a sacrificial animal and bade him cut out the fairest and foulest meat, when he cut out and sent him the tongue, as being the instrument of both the greatest good and the greatest evil.
p421 91 And Ino in Euripides,64 speaking out boldly concerning herself, says that she knows how to be
Silent in season, to speak where speech is safe.
For those who have received a noble and truly royal education learn first to be silent, and then to speak. For example, that famous king Antigonus,65 when his son asked him at what hour they were to break camp, said, D"What are you afraid of? That you alone may not hear the trumpet?" This was not, surely, because he would not entrust a secret to the man to whom he intended to leave his kingdom? No, he was teaching his son to be self-controlled and guarded about such matters. And the old Metellus,66 when on a campaign he was asked some such question, said, "If I thought my shirt was privy to that secret, I would have stripped it off and put it in the fire." And Eumenes,67 when he heard that Craterus was advancing, told none of his friends, but pretended that it was Neoptolemus. For his soldiers despised Neoptolemus, but both repulsed the reputation of Craterus and admired his valour. No one else knew the truth, Eand they joined battle, won the victory, killed Craterus without knowing it, and only recognized him when he was dead. So successfully did silence manoeuvre the contest and keep hidden so formidable an opponent that his friends admired Eumenes for not forewarning them rather than blamed him. And even if some do blame you, it is better that men should criticize you when they are already saved through mistrust than p423 that they should accuse you when they are being destroyed because you did trust them.
101 Yet, speaking generally, who has left himself the right to speak out boldly against one who has not kept silent? If the story ought not to have been known, it was wrong for it to be told to another; and if you have let the secret slip from yourself and yet seek to confine it to another, you have taken refuge in another's good faith Fwhen you have already abandoned your own. And if he turns out to be no better than yourself, you are deservedly ruined; if better, you are saved beyond all expectation, since you have found another more faithful on your own behalf than you yourself are. "But this man is my friend." Yet he has another friend, whom he will likewise trust as I trust him; and his friend, again, will trust another friend. Thus, then, the story goes on increasing and multiplying by link after link of incontinent betrayal. For just as the monad68 does not pass out of its own boundaries, 507 but remains once and for all one (for which reason it is called a monad), and as the dyad is the indeterminate beginning or difference (for by doubling it at once shifts from unity to plurality), so a story confined to its first possessor is truly secret; but if it passes to another, it has acquired the status of rumour. The Poet,69 in fact, says that "words" are "winged": neither when you let go from your hands a winged thing is it easy to get p425 it back again,70 nor when a word is let slip from the mouth is it possible to arrest and control it, but it is borne away
Circling on swift wings,71
and is scattered abroad from one to another. So when a ship has been caught by a wind, they try to check it, deadening its speed with cables and anchors, Bbut if a story runs out of harbour, so to speak, there is no roadstead or anchorage for it, but, carried away with a great noise and reverberation, it dashes upon the man who uttered it and submerges him in some great and terrible danger.
With but a little torch one might set fire
To Ida's rock; and tell one man a tale,
Soon all the town will know.72
111 The Roman Senate73 was once for many days debating in strict privacy a certain secret policy; and since the matter gave rise to much uncertainty and suspicion, a woman prudent in other respects, but yet a woman, kept pestering her husband Cand persistently begging to learn the secret. She vowed with imprecations upon herself that she would keep silent, and wept and moaned because she was not trusted. And the Roman, wishing to bring home her folly by proof, said, "Wife, you have won; listen to a terrible and portentous matter. We have been informed by the priests that a lark has been seen flying about with a golden helmet and a spear; we p427 are therefore examining the portent whether it be good or bad, and are in constant consultation with the augurs. But do you hold your tongue." So saying he went off to the Forum. DBut his wife at once seized the first maid to come into the room and beat her own breast and tore her hair. "Alas," she cried, "for my husband and my country! What will become of us?" wishing, and in fact instructing, the maid to ask, "Why, what has happened?" So when the maid asked the question, she told the tale and added that refrain common to every babbler, "Keep this quiet and tell it to no one!" The little maid had scarcely left her when she herself tells the tale to that fellow servant who, she saw, had least to do; and this servant, in turn, told it to her lover who was paying a visit. With such speed was the story rolled out74 into the Forum Ethat it preceded its inventor: he was met by an acquaintance who said, "Have you just now come down to the Forum from home?" "This very moment," said he. "Then you have heard nothing?" "Why, is there any news?" "A lark has been seen flying about with a gold helmet and a spear and the magistrates are going to convene the senate about the matter." And the husband laughed and said, "All praise to your speed, my wife! The story has even reached the Forum before me!" So he interviewed the magistrates and relieved them of their anxiety; but, by way of punishing his wife, as soon as he entered home, he said, "Wife, you have ruined me! The secret has been discovered to have been made public from my house; consequently I am to be exiled from my native land because you lack self-control." FWhen she denied it p429 and said, "What, didn't you hear it in company with three hundred others?" "Three hundred, nonsense!" said he. "You made such a fuss that I had to invent the whole story to try you out." Thus this man made trial of his wife cautiously and in complete safety, pouring, as it were into a leaky vessel, 508 not wine or oil, but water.75
But Fulvius,76 the friend of Caesar Augustus, heard the emperor, now an old man, lamenting the desolation of his house: two of his grandsons77 were dead, and Postumius,78 the only one surviving, was in exile because of some false accusation, and thus he was forced to import his wife's son79 into the imperial succession; yet he pitied his grandson and was planning to recall him from abroad. Fulvius divulged what he had heard to his own wife, and she to Livia; Band Livia bitterly rebuked Caesar: if he had formed this design long ago, why did he not send for his grandson, instead of making her an object of enmity and strife to the successor to the empire. Accordingly, when Fulvius came to him in the morning, as was his custom, and said, "Hail, Caesar," Caesar replied, "Farewell, Fulvius."80 And Fulvius took his meaning and went away; going home at once, he sent for his wife, "Caesar has found out," he said, "that I have not kept his secret, and therefore p431 I intend to kill myself." "It is right that you should," said his wife, "since, after living with me for so long a time, you have not learned to guard against my incontinent tongue. But let me die first." And, taking the sword, she dispatched herself before her husband.
121CPhilippides,81 the comic poet, therefore, made the right answer when King Lysimachus courteously asked him, "What is there of mine that I may share with you?" and he replied, "Anything you like, Sire, except your secrets." And to garrulousness is attached also a vice no less serious than itself, inquisitiveness.82 For babblers wish to hear many things so that they may have many things to tell. And they go about tracking down and searching out especially those stories that have been kept hidden and are not to be revealed, storing up for their foolish gossip, as it were, a second-hand stock of hucksters' wares; then, like children with a piece of ice,83 they are neither able to hold it nor willing to let it go. DOr rather, the secrets are like reptiles84 which they catch and place in their bosoms, yet cannot confine them there, but are devoured by them; for pipefish85 and vipers, they say, burst in giving birth, and secrets, when they escape, destroy and ruin those who cannot keep them.
Seleucus86 the Victorious lost his entire army and power in the battle against the Gauls; he tore off his p433 crown with his own hands and fled on horseback with three or four companions. When he had travelled a long journey through winding ways and trackless wilds, at length becoming desperate from lack of food he approached a certain farmhouse. By chance he found the master himself and begged bread and water from him. And the farmer gave him lavishly both these and whatever else there was in a farmstead, Eand while entertaining him hospitably, recognized the face of the king. In his joy at the fortunate chance of rendering service he could not restrain himself or dissemble as did the king, who wished to remain unknown, but he escorted the king to the highway and, on taking leave, said, "Fare well, King Seleucus." And Seleucus, stretching out his right hand to him and drawing him towards himself as though to kiss him, gave a sign to one of his companions to cut off the man's head with a sword:
Still speaking his head was mingled with the dust.87
But if the man had remained silent at that time and had mastered himself for a little while, Fwhen the king later won success and regained power, he would have earned, I fancy, an even larger reward for his silence than for his hospitality.
This man, it is true, had as something of an excuse for his incontinence his hopes and the friendly service he had rendered; 131 but most talkers do not even have a reason for destroying themselves. For example, people were once talking in a barber's shop about how adamantine88 and unbreakable the despotism of Dionysius was. The barber laughed and said, "Fancy your saying that about Dionysius, when I p435 have my razor at his throat every few days or so!" 509When Dionysius heard this, he crucified the barber.
It is not strange that barbers are a talkative clan, for the greatest chatterboxes stream in and sit in their chairs, so that they are themselves infected with the habit. It was a witty answer, for instance, that King Archelaüs89 gave to a loquacious barber, who, as he wrapped his towel around him, asked, "How shall I cut your hair, Sire?" "In silence," said Archelaüs. And it was a barber90 also who first announced the great disaster of the Athenians in Sicily, having learned it in the Peiraeus from a slave, one of those who had escaped from the island. Then the barber left his shop and hurried at full speed to the city,
Lest another might win the glory
Bof imparting the news to the city,
A panic naturally arose and the people gathered in assembly and tried to come at the origin of the rumour. So the barber was brought forward and questioned; yet he did not even know the name of his informant, but referred the origin to a nameless and unknown person. The assembly was enraged and cried out, "Torture the cursèd fellow! Put him on the rack! He has fabricated and concocted this tale! Who else heard it? Who believed it?" The wheel was brought and the man was stretched upon it. CMeanwhile there arrived bearers of the disastrous p437 news, men who had escaped from the slaughter itself. All, therefore, dispersed, each to his private mourning, leaving the wretched fellow bound on the wheel. But when he was set free late in the day when it was already nearly evening, he asked the executioner if they had also heard "how the general, Nicias, had died." Such an unconquerable and incorrigible evil does habit make garrulity.
141 And yet, just as those who have drunk bitter and evil-smelling drugs are disgusted with the cups as well, so those who bear ill tidings cause disgust and hatred in those who hear them. Therefore Sophocles92 has very neatly raised the question:
Gu. Is it in ear or soul that you are stung? —
DCr. But why seek to define where lies my pain? —
Gu. The doer grieves your heart, I but your ears.
Be that as it may, speakers also cause pain, just as doers do, but none the less there is no checking or chastening a loose tongue.
The temple of Athena of the Brazen House at Sparta was discovered to have been plundered, and an empty flask was found lying inside. The large crowd which had quickly formed was quite at a loss, when one of the bystanders said, "If you wish, I shall tell you what occurs to me about that flask. I think that the robbers, before undertaking so dangerous a task, drank hemlock and brought along wine, Eso that, if they should escape detection, by drinking the unmixed wine they might quench the poison and rid themselves of its evil effects,93 and so might get away safely; but if they should be caught, that they might p439 die an easy and painless death from the poison before they should be put to the torture." When he had said this, the explanation appeared so very complicated and subtle that it did not seem to come from fancy, but from knowledge; and the people surrounded him and questioned him one after another, "Who are you?" "Who knows you?" "How did you come to know this?" and at last he was put through so thorough an examination that he confessed to being one of the robbers.
Were not the murderers of Ibycus94 caught in the same way? They were sitting in a theatre, Fand when cranes came in sight, they laughed and whispered to each other that the avengers of Ibycus were come. Persons sitting near overheard them, and since Ibycus had disappeared and now for a long time had been sought, they caught at this remark and reported it to the magistrates. And thus the slayers were convicted and led off to prison, not punished by the cranes, 510 but compelled to confess the murder by the infirmity of their own tongues, as it were some Fury or spirit of vengeance. For as in the body the neighbouring parts are borne by attraction toward diseased and suffering parts, so the tongue of babblers, ever inflamed and throbbing, draws and gathers to itself some portion of what has been kept concealed and should not be revealed. Therefore the tongue must be fenced in, and reason must ever lie, like a barrier, in the tongue's way, checking its flow and keeping it from slipping, in order that we may not be thought to be less sensible than geese,95 of whom they relate that when from p441 Cilicia they cross Mt. Taurus, which is full of eagles, Bthey take a great stone in their mouths to serve as a bolt or bridle for their scream, and pass over at night unobserved.
151 Now if anyone were to ask,
Who is the most wicked and the most abandoned man,96
no one would pass the traitor by and name anyone else. So Euthycrates97 "roofed his house with the timber he got from Macedon,"98 as Demosthenes99 says, and Philocrates100 received much money and "bought strumpets and fish"; and to Euphorbus and Philagrus, who betrayed Eretria, the king101 gave land. But the babbler is a traitor who volunteers his services without pay: Che does not betray horses102 or city-walls, but divulges secrets connected with lawsuits, party strife, and political manoeuvres. No one thanks him, but he himself, if he can win a hearing, must owe thanks. The result is that the verse directed at the man who recklessly and injudiciously pours forth and squanders his own possessions,
You are not generous: it's your disease,
You love to give,103
fits the foolish talker also: "You are no friend or p443 well-wisher in revealing this: it's your disease, you love to be babbling and prating."
161 But these remarks are not to be regarded as an accusation against garrulity, but an attempt to cure it; for we get well by the diagnosis and treatment of our ailments, but the diagnosis must come first; Dsince no one can become habituated to shun or to eradicate from his soul what does not distress him, and we only grow distressed with our ailments when we have perceived, by the exercise of reason, the injuries and shame which result from them. Thus, in the present instance, we perceive in the case of babblers that they are hated when they wish to be liked, that they cause annoyance when they wish to please,104 that they are laughed at when they think they are admired, that they spend their money without any gain, that they wrong their friends, help their enemies, and destroy themselves. Consequently this is the first step in curing the disease — by the application of reason to discover the shameful and painful effects that result from it.
171 And the second is that we must apply our reasoning powers to the effects of the opposite behaviour, Ealways hearing and remembering and keeping close at hand the praises bestowed on reticence, and the solemn, holy, and mysterious105 character of silence, remembering also that terse and pithy speakers and those who can pack much sense into a short speech are more admired and loved, and are considered to be wiser, than these unbridled and headstrong talkers. Plato,106 in fact, commends such pithy men, declaring that they are like skilful throwers p445 of the javelin, for what they say is crisp, solid, and compact.107 And Lycurgus,108 constraining his fellow-citizens from their earliest childhood to acquire this clever habit by means of silence, made them concise and terse in speech. FFor just as the Celtiberians109 make steel from iron by burying it in the earth and then cleaning off the large earthy accumulation, so the speech of Spartans has no dross, but being disciplined by the removal of all superfluities, it is tempered to complete efficiency; for this capacity of theirs for aphoristic speech and for quickness 511 and the ability to turn out a neat phrase in repartee is the fruit of much silence.
And we must be careful to offer to chatterers examples of this terseness, so that they may see how charming and how effective they are. For example: "The Spartans to Philip: Dionysius in Corinth."110 And again, when Philip wrote to them, "If I invade Laconia, I shall turn you out," they wrote back, "If." And when King Demetrius111 was annoyed and shouted, "Have the Spartans sent only one envoy to me?" the envoy replied undismayed, "One to one."
And among the men of old also sententious speakers are admired, and upon the temple of the Pythian Apollo the Amphictyons inscribed, not the Iliad and the OdysseyBor the paeans of Pindar, but "Know thyself"112 p447 and "Avoid extremes" and "Give a pledge and mischief is at hand,"113 admiring, as they did, the compactness and simplicity of the expression which contains within a small compass a well-forged sentiment. And is not the god himself fond of conciseness and brevity in his oracles, and is he not called Loxias114 because he avoids prolixity rather than obscurity? And are not those who indicate by signs, without a word, what must be done,115 praised and admired exceedingly? So Heracleitus,116 when his fellow-citizens asked him to propose some opinion about concord, Cmounted the platform, took a cup of cold water, sprinkled it with barley-meal, stirred it with penny-royal, drank it up, and departed, thus demonstrating to them that to be satisfied with whatever they happen upon and not to want expensive things is to keep cities in peace and concord. And Scilurus,117 king of the Scythians, left behind him eighty sons; when he was dying, he asked for a bundle of spear shafts and bade his sons take it and break it in pieces, tied closely together as the shafts were. When they gave up the task, he himself drew all the spears out one by one and easily broke them in two, thus revealing that the harmony and concord of his sons was a strong and invincible thing, Dbut that their disunion would be weak and unstable.
181 If anyone will but review and recollect constantly these and similar instances, he may conceivably stop taking pleasure in foolish chatter. But as for me, that famous case of the slave puts me utterly to shame when I reflect what immense importance it p449 is to pay attention to what is said and to be master of our purpose. Pupius Piso, the orator, not wishing to be troubled, ordered his slaves to speak only in answer to questions and not a word more. Subsequently, wishing to pay honour to Clodius when he was a magistrate, Piso gave orders that he be invited to dinner and prepared what was, we may suppose, a sumptuous banquet. When the hour came, the other guests were present, but Clodius was still expected, Eand Piso repeatedly sent the slave who regularly carried invitations to see if Clodius was approaching. And when evening came and he was finally despaired of, Piso said to the slave, "See here, did you give him the invitation?" I did," said the slave. "Why hasn't he come then?" "Because he declined." "Then why didn't you tell me at once?" "Because you didn't ask me that." So a Roman slave, but the Athenian slave while digging will tell his master
On what terms the truce is made,118
so great in all things is the force of habit. And of this let us now speak.
191 For it is impossible to check the babbler by gripping the reins, as it were; his disease must be mastered by habituation. In the first place, then, when questions are asked of neighbours, Flet him accustom himself to remaining silent until all have refused a response:
For counsel's aim is not that of a race,119
as Sophocles120 says, nor, indeed, is this the aim of p451 speaking and answering. For in a race the victory is his who comes in first; but here, if another makes a sufficient answer, it is proper to join in the approval and assent and so acquire the reputation of being a friendly fellow. 512 But if such an answer is not made, then it is not invidious or inopportune both to point out the answer others have not known and thus to fill in the gap. And, in particular, let us be on our guard, when someone else has been asked a question, that we do not forestall him by taking the answer out of his mouth. For perhaps there are other times also when it is not seemly, another having been asked, to shoulder him aside and volunteer ourselves, since we shall seem to be casting a slur both on the man asked, as being unable to furnish what is demanded of him, and on the asker, as being ignorant of the source from which he can get help; and, in particular, such precipitancy and boldness in answering questions smacks of insolence. BFor one who tries to get in the answer ahead of the man who is questioned suggests, "What do you need him for?" or "What does he know?" or "When I am present, no one else should be asked about these matters." And yet we often ask people questions, not because we need an answer, but to elicit some friendly word from them, and because we wish to draw them on to friendly converse, as Socrates with Theaetetus and Charmides.121 So to take the answer out of another's mouth, to divert another's hearing and attract his attention and wrest it from some other, is as bad as to run up and kiss someone who wished to be kissed by somebody else, or to turn toward yourself someone who was looking at another; Csince, even if he who has been asked cannot give the p453 information, it is proper to practise restraint and conform oneself to the wish of the asker and thus to encounter with modesty and decorum the situation, an invitation, as it were, given to another. And it is also true that if persons who are asked questions make mistakes in their answers, they meet with just indulgence; but he who voluntarily undertakes an answer and anticipates another is unpleasant even if he corrects a mistake, and if he makes a mistake himself, he affords a malicious joy to one and all, and becomes an object of ridicule.
201 Then the second matter for diligent practice concerns our own answers; to these the chatterer must pay very close attention: Din the first place, that he may not inadvertently give a serious answer to those who provoke him to talk merely that they may insolently ridicule him.122 For some persons who require no information, but merely to divert and amuse themselves, devise questions and put them to men of this sort to set going their foolish twaddle. Against this talkers should be on their guard and not leap upon a subject quickly, or as though grateful that it is offered to them, but should first consider both the character of the questioner and the necessity for the question. And when it appears that the questioner is really anxious to learn, the babbler must accustom himself to stop and leave between the question and the answer an interval, in which the asker may add anything he wishes and he himself may reflect upon his reply Einstead of overrunning and obscuring the question by giving a long string of answers in a hurry while the question is still being asked. For although the Pythian priestess is accustomed to p455 deliver some oracles on the instant, even before the question is put — for the god whom she serves
Understands the dumb and hears when no man speaks123 —
yet the man who wishes to make a careful answer must wait to apprehend exactly the sense and the intent of him who asks the question, lest it befall, as the proverb124 has it,
They asked for buckets, but tubs were refused.
FIn any case this ravenous hunger for talking must be checked so that it may not seem as though a stream which has long been pressing hard upon the tongue were being gladly discharged at the instance of the question. Socrates, in fact, used to control his thirst in this manner — he would not allow himself to drink after exercise until he had drawn up and poured out the first bucketful, so that his irrational part might be trained to await the time dictated by reason.
211513 Furthermore, there are three kinds of answers to questions: the barely necessary, the polite, and the superfluous. For example, if someone asks, "Is Socrates at home?" one person may reply, as it were unwillingly and grudgingly, "Not at home." And if he wishes to adopt the Laconic style, he may omit the "At home" and only utter the bare negative. So the Spartans, when Philip wrote to ask if they would receive him into their city, wrote a large "No" on the paper and sent it back. Another will answer more politely, "He is not at home, but at the bank," and if he wants to give fuller measure may p457 add, "waiting there for some guests." BBut your over-officious and garrulous man, particularly if he happens to have read Antimachus125 of Colophon, will say, "He is not at home, but at the bank, waiting for some Ionian guests on whose behalf he has had a letter from Alcibiades who is near Miletus staying with Tissaphernes,126 the satrap of the Great King, who formerly used to help the Spartans, but now is attaching himself to the Athenians because of Alcibiades. For Alcibiades desires to be restored to his native country and therefore is causing Tissaphernes to change sides." And he will run on, reciting at full stretch the whole eighth book of Thucydides, and deluge the questioner until, before he has done, CMiletus is at war again and Alcibiades exiled for the second time.
Regarding this tendency especially, one must keep talkativeness within bounds by following the question step by step and circumscribing the answer within a circle to which the questioner's need gives the center and the radius.127 So when Carneades,128 who had not yet acquired a great reputation, was disputing in a gymnasium, the director sent and bade him lower his voice, which was a very loud one. And when Carneades said, "Give me something to regulate my voice," the director aptly rejoined, "I am giving you the person conversing with you." So, in making an answer, let the wishes of the questioner provide the regulation.
p459 221 Moreover, just as Socrates129 used to urge men to be on their guard against those foods which induce us to eat when we are not hungry, Dand against those liquids which induce us to drink when we are not thirsty, so it is with the babbler as regards subjects for talk: those in which he takes most delight and employs ad nauseam he should fear and stoutly resist when they stream in upon him. For example, military men130 are great tellers of war-stories, and the Poet introduces Nestor131 in that character, often narrating his own deeds of prowess. Again, as one might expect, those who have scored a victory in the law-courts or have had some unexpected success at the courts of governors or kings are attacked, as it were, by a malady which never leaves them, by the desire to call to mind and tell over and over again Ehow they made their entrance, how they were presented, how they argued, how they held forth, how they confuted some opponents or accusers, how they were applauded. For their delight is far more loquacious than that well-known insomnia in the comedy:132 it often fans itself into new flame and makes itself ever fresh with each successive telling. They are, therefore, ready to slip into such subjects on any pretext. For not only
Where one feels pain, there will he keep his hand,133
but also what causes pleasure draws the voice toward itself and twists the tongue from a desire to dwell perpetually on the joys of remembrance. So also with lovers, who chiefly occupy themselves with conversation p461 Fthat recalls some memory of the objects of their love; and if they cannot talk to human beings, they will speak of their passion to inanimate things:
O blessèd lamp, Bacchis thought you a god,
And greatest god you are if she thinks so.134
There is, however, really not a pin's difference135 to the chatterer what subjects may arise; 514 nevertheless he that has a greater weakness for one class of subjects than for the other should be on his guard against these subjects and force himself to hold back and withdraw as far as possible from them, since they are always able, because of the pleasure they give, to lure him on to dilate upon them. And talkers have this same difficulty with those subjects in which they think that they surpass all others because of some experience or acquired habit. For such a person, being self-centred and vain,
Will give the chief part of the day to that
In which he chances to surpass himself;136
the great reader will spend it in narrating tales, the literary expert in technical discussions, Bthe wide traveller and wanderer over the face of the earth in stories of foreign parts. We must, therefore, be on our guard against these subjects also, since garrulity is enticed by them, like a beast making for familiar p463 haunts. And Cyrus's137 conduct was admirable, because he challenged his mates to match themselves with him, not in those contests in which he was superior, but in those in which he was less skilled than they, so that he might cause no pain by surpassing them and might also have the advantage of learning something. CºBut the chatterer, on the contrary, if some topic comes up from which he can learn and find out something he does not know, thrusts it aside and diverts it, being unable to give even so small a fee as silence, but he works steadily around until he drives the conversation into the stale and well-worn paths of twaddle. Just so, in my native town, there was a man who chanced to have read two or three books of Ephorus, and would always bore everybody to death and put every dinner-party to rout by invariably narrating the battle of Leuctra and its sequel; so he got the nickname of "Epameinondas."138
231 Nevertheless, this is the least of the evils, and we should turn garrulity into these channels; for talkativeness will be less unpleasant when its excesses are in some learned subject. Yet such persons must accustom themselves to do some writing and so argue all by themselves. DSo Antipater139 the Stoic, since, as it seems, he could not and would not come to close quarters with Carneades140 and his violent attacks upon the Stoa, used to fill whole books with written disputations against him, and so earned the sobriquet of "Pen-valiant." But with the talker, such shadow-boxing141 p465 with the pen and such alarums, by keeping him away from the multitude, may perhaps make him less of a daily burden to his associates, just as dogs that vent their anger on sticks and stones are less savage to men. And it will also be very advantageous for chatterers to frequent invariably the company of their superiors and elders, Eout of respect for whose opinion they will become accustomed to silence.
And with these exercises in habituation it is proper to intermix and entwine that well-known vigilance and habit of reflection, at the very moment when we are about to speak and the words are hurrying to our lips, "What is this remark that is so pressing and importunate? What object is my tongue panting for? What good will come of its being said or what ill of its being suppressed?" For it is not as though the remark were some oppressive weight which one ought to get rid of, since it stays by you all the same even if it is spoken; when men talk, it is either for their own sake, because they need something, or to benefit their hearers, or they seek to ingratiate themselves with each other by seasoning with the salt of conversation Fthe pastime or business in which they happen to be engaged. But if a remark is neither useful to the speaker nor of serious importance to the hearers, and if pleasure or charm is not in it, why is it made? For the futile and purposeless can exist in speech as well as in deeds.
And over and above all else we must keep at hand and in our minds the saying of Simonides,142515that he had often repented of speaking, but never of holding p467 his tongue. We must remember also that practice is master of all things and stronger than anything else; since people can even get rid of hiccoughs and coughs by resisting them resolutely and with much pain and trouble. But silence, as Hippocrates143 says, not only prevents thirst, but also never causes sorrow and suffering.
The Editor's Notes:
1 I have thus combined the conclusions of Pohlenz, Brokate, and Hein.
2 Mr C. B. Robinson's translation, or paraphrase, of this and several other essays in this volume, arrived too late to be of service (see Plutarch, Selected Essays, Putnam, New York, 1937).
3 It suits Plutarch's humour in this passage, in which he speaks of garrulity as a disease, to invent one, and possibly two, pseudo-medical terms, ἀσιγησία, "inability to keep silent," and ἀνηκοΐα, "inability to listen." The figure is maintained in διαρρέουσι at the end of section d. Rouse suggests: "And here is the first bad symptom in diarrhoea of the tongue — constipation of the ears."
4Cf.Moralia, 39B; von Arnim, Stoic. Vet. Frag., I p68, Zeno, Frag. 310.
5 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p649, Frag. 899.
6 A portico on the east side of the Altis; cf. Pausanias, V.21.17, Pliny, Natural History, XXXVI.15.100.
7Cf.456C, 501A, supra.
8Cf. Aristophanes, Thesm., 18: δίκην δὲ χοάνης ὦτα διετετρήνατο.
9Cf. Philoxenus in Gnomologium Vaticanum, 547 (Wiener Stud., XI.234).
10Cf. the proverb: "Empty vessels make the loudest noise."
11 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p147, Sophocles, Frag. 78 (Frag. 81 ed. Pearson, vol. I p50), from the Aleadae.
14 Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus, II p182, Frag. 132.
15Cf.Life of Lycurgus, xix (51E‑F).
16Cf.Commentarii in Hesiodum, 71 (Bernardakis, vol. VII pp87‑88).
17 Homer, Il., V.226; σιγαλόεντα, of course, means "glossy" or "shining," but here it is probably used as a playful pun on σιγή.
18 Adapted from Bacchae, 386, 388.
20 Or a "pit," perhaps; cf.Moralia, 697D.
21Cf. Antiphanes, Frag. 295 (Kock, Com. Att. Frag., II p128): λύπη μανίας ὁμότοιχος εἶναί μοι δοκεῖ.
22Cf.Seneca, Epistulae Morales, LXXXII.18.
23 Homer, Od., XIV.463‑466; cf.Moralia, 645A; Athenaeus, V 179E‑F.
24Cf.De Vita et Poesi Homeri, 149 (Bernardakis, vol. VII, p421).
25Cf. Chrysippus, Frag. Mor. 644, 712 (von Arnim, Stoic. Vet. Frag., III pp163, 179).
I Promise: A Promise I Could Not Keep to My Sister Essay
553 Words3 Pages
I still remember it as if it were yesterday. The very day I ended my twin sister’s life. The sound of her pleading voice begging me to slow down will always haunt me for the rest of my life. I could never forgive myself. She was my sister, my bestfriend, we were one and now I’m lonely by myself.
“Brittany, slow down, you’re going too fast!”
“I know what I’m doing, we’re fine!”
“I don’t care, SLOW DOWN!” she yelled once more.
“Brianna relax nothing will happen, I promise.” I guess my promises are worthless, since something did happen. I was just a kid who was having fun, believing at sixteen I could handle going over the speed limit. My life was so perfect, but now I’m living in a sinkhole formed out of…show more content…
I still remember it as if it were yesterday. The very day I ended my twin sister’s life. The sound of her pleading voice begging me to slow down will always haunt me for the rest of my life. I could never forgive myself. She was my sister, my bestfriend, we were one and now I’m lonely by myself.
“Brittany, slow down, you’re going too fast!”
“I know what I’m doing, we’re fine!”
“I don’t care, SLOW DOWN!” she yelled once more.
“Brianna relax nothing will happen, I promise.” I guess my promises are worthless, since something did happen. I was just a kid who was having fun, believing at sixteen I could handle going over the speed limit. My life was so perfect, but now I’m living in a sinkhole formed out of my misery and regrets. I’ve been crying myself to sleep every night since the incident, thinking about my sister.
3 months earlier
“Come on Brianna, you’re never ready!”
“I’m almost done, stop complaining!”
“I’ll look better than you anyway, so why try?”
“We’re twins, stupid!” ( her favorite line to say when I say I look better than her)
Moments later we were finally on our way to the party. Music blasting, we were talking and laughing like we always did. We finally convinced our parents of letting us drive the car, well mostly me since I was licensed. When we pulled up to the party, Brianna became nervous. She was the shy one, while I was more of the outgoing, talkative one.
“Stop being a wimp, time to turn up!”