CHAPTER 28

That we ought not to he angry with men; and what are the small and the great things among men

What is the cause of assenting to anything? The fact that it appears to be true. It is not possible then to assent to that which appears not to be true. Why? Because this is the nature of the understanding, to incline to the true, to be dissatisfied with the false, and in matters uncertain to withhold assent. What is the proof of this? "Imagine, if you can, that it is now night." It is not possible. "Take away your persuasion that it is day." It is not possible. "Persuade yourself or take away your persuasion that the stars are even in number." It is impossible. When, then, any man assents to that which is false, be assured that he did not intend to assent to it as false, for every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, as Plato says; but the falsity seemed to him to be true. Well, in acts what have we of the like kind as we have here truth or falsehood? We have the fit and the not fit, the profitable and the unprofitable, that which is suitable to a person and that which is not, and whatever is like these. Can, then, a man think that a thing is useful to him and not choose it? He cannot. How says Medea?
"'Tis true I know what evil I shall do, But passion overpowers the better council.'"
She thought that to indulge her passion and take vengeance on her husband was more profitable than to spare her children. "It was so; but she was deceived." Show her plainly that she is deceived, and she will not do it; but so long as you do not show it, what can she follow except that which appears to herself? Nothing else. Why, then, are you angry with the unhappy woman that she has been bewildered about the most important things, and is become a viper instead of a human creature? And why not, if it is possible, rather pity, as we pity the blind and the lame, those who are blinded and maimed in the faculties which are supreme?

Whoever, then, clearly remembers this, that to man the measure of every act is the appearance- whether the thing appears good or bad: if good, he is free from blame; if bad, himself suffers the penalty, for it is impossible that he who is deceived can be one person, and he who suffers another person- whoever remembers this will not be angry with any man, will not be vexed at any man, will not revile or blame any man, nor hate nor quarrel with any man.

"So then all these great and dreadful deeds have this origin, in the appearance?" Yes, this origin and no other. The Iliad is nothing else than appearance and the use of appearances. It appeared to Paris to carry off the wife of Menelaus: it appeared to Helen to follow him. If then it had appeared to Menelaus to feel that it was a gain to be deprived of such a wife, what would have happened? Not only a wi would the Iliad have been lost, but the Odyssey also. "On so small a matter then did such great things depend?" But what do you mean by such great things? Wars and civil commotions, and the destruction of many men and cities. And what great matter is this? "Is it nothing?" But what great matter is the death of many oxen, and many sheep, and many nests of swallows or storks being burnt or destroyed? "Are these things, then, like those?" Very like. Bodies of men are destroyed, and the bodies of oxen and sheep; the dwellings of men are burnt, and the nests of storks. What is there in this great or dreadful? Or show me what is the difference between a man's house and a stork's nest, as far as each is a dwelling; except that man builds his little houses of beams and tiles and bricks, and the stork builds them of sticks and mud. "Are a stork and a man, then, like things?" What say you? In body they are very much alike.

"Does a man then differ in no respect from a stork?" Don't suppose that I say so; but there is no difference in these matters. "In what, then, is the difference?" Seek and you will find that there is a difference in another matter. See whether it is not in a man the understanding of what he does, see if it is not in social community, in fidelity, in modesty, in steadfastness, in intelligence. Where then is the great good and evil in men? It is where the difference is. If the difference is preserved and remains fenced round, and neither modesty is destroyed, nor fidelity, nor intelligence, then the man also is preserved; but if any of these things is destroyed and stormed like a city, then the man too perishes; and in this consist the great things. Paris, you say, sustained great damage, then, when the Hellenes invaded and when they ravaged Troy, and when his brothers perished. By no means; for no man is damaged by an action which is not his own; but what happened at that time was only the destruction of storks' nests: now the ruin of Paris was when he lost the character of modesty, fidelity, regard to hospitality, and to decency. When was Achilles ruined? Was it when Patroclus died? Not so. But it happened when he began to be angry, when he wept for a girl, when he forgot that he was at Troy not to get mistresses, but to fight. These things are the ruin of men, this is being besieged, this is the destruction of cities, when right opinions are destroyed, when they are corrupted.

"When, then, women are carried off, when children are made captives, and when the men are killed, are these not evils?" How is it then that you add to the facts these opinions? Explain this to me also. "I shall not do that; but how is it that you say that these are not evils?" Let us come to the rules: produce the precognitions: for it is because this is neglected that we cannot sufficiently wonder at what men do. When we intend to judge of weights, we do not judge by guess: where we intend to judge of straight and crooked, we do not judge by guess. In all cases where it is our interest to know what is true in any matter, never will any man among us do anything by guess. But in things which depend on the first and on the only cause of doing right or wrong, of happiness or unhappiness, of being unfortunate or fortunate, there only we are inconsiderate and rash. There is then nothing like scales, nothing like a rule: but some appearance is presented, and straightway I act according to it. Must I then suppose that I am superior to Achilles or Agamemnon, so that they by following appearances do and suffer so many evils: and shall not the appearance be sufficient for me? And what tragedy has any other beginning? The Atreus of Euripides, what is it? An appearance. The OEdipus of Sophocles, what is it? An appearance. The Phoenix? An appearance. The Hippolytus? An appearance. What kind of a man then do you suppose him to be who pays no regard to this matter? And what is the name of those who follow every appearance? "They are called madmen." Do we then act at all differently?