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How One May Discern A Flatterer From A Friend
by [?]

Sec. I. Plato says,[348] Antiochus Philopappus, that all men pardon the man who acknowledges that he is excessively fond of himself, but that there is among many other defects this very grave one in self-love, that by it a man becomes incapable of being a just and impartial judge about himself, for love is blind in regard to the loved object, unless a person has learnt and accustomed himself to honour and pursue what is noble rather than his own selfish interests. This gives a great field for the flatterer in friendship, who finds a wonderful base of operations in our self-love, which makes each person his own first and greatest flatterer, and easily admits a flatterer from without, who will be, so he thinks and hopes, both a witness and confirmer of his good opinion of himself. For he that lies open to the reproach of being fond of flatterers is very fond of himself, and owing to his goodwill to himself wishes to possess all good qualities, and thinks he actually does; the wish is not ridiculous, but the thought is misleading and requires a good deal of caution. And if truth is a divine thing, and, according to Plato,[349] the beginning of all good things both to the gods and men, the flatterer is likely to be an enemy to the gods, and especially to Apollo, for he always sets himself against that famous saying, “Know thyself,”[350] implanting in everybody’s mind self-deceit and ignorance of his own good or bad qualities, thus making his good points defective and imperfect, and his bad points altogether incorrigible.

Sec. II. If however, as is the case with most other bad things, the flatterer attacked only or chiefly ignoble or worthless persons, the evil would not be so mischievous or so difficult to guard against. But since, as wood-worms breed most in soft and sweet wood, those whose characters are honourable and good and equitable encourage and support the flatterer most,–and moreover, as Simonides says, “rearing of horses does not go with the oil-flask,[351] but with fruitful fields,” so we see that flattery does not join itself to the poor, the obscure, or those without means, but is the snare and bane of great houses and estates, and often overturns kingdoms and principalities,–it is a matter of no small importance, needing much foresight, to examine the question, that so flattery may be easily detected, and neither injure nor discredit friendship. For just as lice leave dying persons, and abandon bodies when the blood on which they feed is drying up, so one never yet saw flatterers dancing attendance on dry and cold poverty, but they fasten on wealth and position and there get fat, but speedily decamp if reverses come. But we ought not to wait to experience that, which would be unprofitable, or rather injurious and dangerous. For not to find friends at a time when you want them is hard, as also not to be able to exchange an inconstant and bad friend for a constant and good one. For a friend should be like money tried before being required, not found faulty in our need. For we ought not to have our wits about us only when the mischief is done, but we ought to try and prevent the flatterer doing any harm to us: for otherwise we shall be in the same plight as people who test deadly poisons by first tasting them, and kill or nearly kill themselves in the experiment. We do not praise such, nor again all those who, looking at their friend simply from the point of view of decorum and utility, think that they can detect all agreeable and pleasant companions as flatterers in the very act. For a friend ought not to be disagreeable or unpleasant, nor ought friendship to be a thing high and mighty with sourness and austerity, but even its decorous deportment ought to be attractive and winning,[352] for by it

“The Graces and Desire have pitched their tents,”[353]

and not only to a person in misfortune “is it sweet to look into the eyes of a friendly person,” as Euripides[354] says, but no less does it bring pleasure and charm in good fortune, than when it relieves the sorrows and difficulties of adversity. And as Evenus said “fire was the best sauce,”[355] so the deity, mixing up friendship with life, has made everything bright and sweet and acceptable by its presence and the enjoyment it brings. How else indeed could the flatterer insinuate himself by the pleasure he gives, unless he knew that friendship admitted the pleasurable element? It would be impossible to say. But just as spurious and mock gold only imitates the brightness and glitter of real gold, so the flatterer seems to imitate the pleasantness and agreeableness of the real friend, and to exhibit himself ever merry and bright, contradicting and opposing nothing. We must not however on that account suspect all who praise as simple flatterers. For friendship requires praise as much as censure on the proper occasion. Indeed peevishness and querulousness are altogether alien to friendship and social life: but when goodwill bestows praise ungrudgingly and readily upon good actions, people endure also easily and without pain admonition and plainspeaking, believing and continuing to love the person who took such pleasure in praising, as if now he only blamed out of necessity.