Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

How One Can Praise Oneself Without Exciting Envy
by [?]

Sec. I. To speak to other people about one’s own importance or ability, Herculanus, is universally declared to be tiresome and illiberal, but in fact not many even of those who censure it avoid its unpleasantness. Thus Euripides, though he says,

“If words had to be bought by human beings,
No one would wish to trumpet his own praises.
But since one can get words sans any payment
From lofty ether, everyone delights
In speaking truth or falsehood of himself,
For he can do it with impunity;”

yet uses much tiresome boasting, intermixing with the passion and action of his plays irrelevant matter about himself. Similarly Pindar says, that “to boast unseasonably is to play an accompaniment to madness,”[768] yet he does not cease to talk big about his own merit, which indeed is well worthy of encomium, who would deny it? But those who are crowned in the games leave it to others to celebrate their victories, to avoid the unpleasantness of singing their own praises. So we are with justice disgusted at Timotheus[769] for trumpeting his own glory inelegantly and contrary to custom in the inscription for his victory over Phrynis, “A proud day for you, Timotheus, was it when the herald cried out, ‘The Milesian Timotheus is victorious over the son of Carbo and his Ionic notes.'” As Xenophon says, “Praise from others is the pleasantest thing a man can hear,”[770] but to others a man’s self-praise is most nauseous. For first we think those impudent who praise themselves, since modesty would be becoming even if they were praised by others; secondly, we think them unjust in giving themselves what they ought to receive from others; thirdly, if we are silent we seem to be vexed and to envy them, and if we are afraid of this imputation, we are obliged to heap praise upon them contrary to our real opinion, and to bear them out, undertaking a task more befitting gross flattery than honour.

Sec. II. And yet, in spite of all this, there are occasions when a statesman may venture to speak in his own praise, not to cry up his own glory and merit, but when the time and matter demand that he should speak the truth about himself, as he would about another; especially when it is mentioned that another has done good and excellent things,[771] there is no need for him to suppress the fact that he has done as well. For such self-praise bears excellent fruit, since much more and better praise springs from it as from seed. For the statesman does not ask for reputation as a reward or consolation, nor is he merely pleased at its attending upon his actions, but he values it because credit and character give him opportunities to do good on a larger scale. For it is both easy and pleasant to benefit those who believe in us and are friendly to us, but it is not easy to act virtuously against suspicion and calumny, and to force one’s benefits on those that reject them. Let us now consider, if there are any other reasons warranting self-praise in a statesman, what they are, that, while we avoid vain glory and disgusting other people, we may not omit any useful kind of self-praise.

Sec. III. That is vain glory then when men seem to praise themselves that they may call forth the laudation of others; and it is especially despised because it seems to proceed from ambition and an unseasonable opinion of oneself. For as those who cannot obtain food are forced to feed on their own flesh against nature, and that is the end of famine, so those that hunger after praise, if they get no one else to praise them, disgrace themselves by their anxiety to feed their own vanity. But when, not merely content with praising themselves, they vie with the praise of others, and pit their own deeds and actions against theirs, with the intent of outshining them, they add envy and malignity to their vanity. The proverb teaches us that to put our foot into another’s dance is meddlesome and ridiculous; we ought equally to be on our guard against intruding our own panegyric into others’ praises out of envy and spite, nor should we allow others either to praise us then, but we should make way for those that are being honoured, if they are worthy of honour, and even if they seem to us undeserving of honour and worthless, we ought not to strip them of their praise by self-laudation, but by direct argument and proof that they are not worthy of all these encomiums. It is plain then that we ought to avoid all such conduct as this.