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On Exile
by [?]

Sec. I. They say those discourses, like friends, are best and surest that come to our refuge and aid in adversity, and are useful. For many who come forward do more harm than good in the remarks they make to the unfortunate, as people unable to swim trying to rescue the drowning get entangled with them and sink to the bottom together. Now the discourse that ought to come from friends and people disposed to be helpful should be consolation, and not mere assent with a man’s sad feelings. For we do not in adverse circumstances need people to weep and wail with us like choruses in a tragedy, but people to speak plainly to us and instruct us, that grief and dejection of mind are in all cases useless and idle and senseless; and that where the circumstances themselves, when examined by the light of reason, enable a man to say to himself that his trouble is greater in fancy than in reality, it is quite ridiculous not to inquire of the body what it has suffered, nor of the mind if it is any the worse for what has happened, but to employ external sympathizers to teach us what our grief is.

Sec. II. Therefore let us examine alone by ourselves the weight of our misfortunes, as if they were burdens. For the body is weighed down by the burden of what presses on it, but the soul often adds to the real load a burden of its own. A stone is naturally hard, and ice naturally cold, but they do not receive these properties and impressions from without; whereas with regard to exile and loss of reputation or honours, as also with regard to their opposites, as crowns and office and position, it is not their own intrinsic nature but our opinion of them that is the gauge of their real joy or sorrow, so that each person makes them for himself light or heavy, easy to bear or hard to bear. When Polynices was asked

“What is’t to be an exile? Is it grievous?”

he replied to the question,

“Most grievous, and in deed worse than in word.”[913]

Compare with this the language of Alcman, as the poet has represented him in the following lines. “Sardis, my father’s ancient home, had I had the fortune to be reared in thee, I should have been dressed in gold as a priest of Cybele,[914] and beaten the fine drums; but as it is my name is Alcman, and I am a citizen of Sparta, and I have learned to write Greek poetry, which makes me greater than the tyrants Dascyles or Gyges.” Thus the very same thing one man’s opinion makes good, like current coin, and another’s bad and injurious.

Sec. III. But let it be granted that exile is, as many say and sing, a grievous thing. So some food is bitter, and sharp, and biting to the taste, yet by an admixture with it of sweet and agreeable food we take away its unpleasantness. There are also some colours unpleasant to look at, that quite confuse and dazzle us by their intensity and excessive force. If then we can relieve this by a mixture of shadow, or by diverting the eye to green or some agreeable colour, so too can we deal with misfortunes, mixing up with them the advantages and pleasant things we still enjoy, as wealth, or friends, or leisure, and no deficiency in what is necessary for our subsistence. For I do not think that there are many natives of Sardis who would not choose your fortune even with exile, and be content to live as you do in a strange land, rather than, like snails who have no other home than their shells, enjoy no other blessing but staying at home in ease.