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

Sec. III. It is difficult then, someone may say, to distinguish between the flatterer and the friend, if they differ neither in the pleasure they give nor in the praise they bestow; for as to services and attentions you may often see friendship outstripped by flattery. Certainly it is so, I should reply, if we are trying to find the genuine flatterer who handles his craft with cleverness and art, but not if, like most people, we consider those persons flatterers who are called their own oil-flask-carriers and table-men, men who begin to talk, as one said, the moment their hands have been washed for dinner,[356] whose servility, ribaldry, and want of all decency, is apparent at the first dish and glass. It did not of course require very much discrimination to detect Melanthius the parasite of Alexander of Pherae of flattery, who, to those who asked how Alexander was murdered, answered, “Through his side into my belly”: or those who formed a circle round a wealthy table, “whom neither fire, nor sword, nor steel, would keep from running to a feast”:[357] or those female flatterers in Cyprus, who after they crossed over into Syria were nicknamed “step-ladders,”[358] because they lay down and let the kings’ wives use their bodies as steps to mount their carriages.

Sec. IV. What kind of flatterer then must we be on our guard against? The one who neither seems to be nor acknowledges himself to be one: whom you will not always find in the vicinity of your kitchen, who is not to be caught watching the dial to see how near it is to dinner-time,[359] nor gets so drunk as to throw himself down anyhow, but one who is generally sober, and a busybody, and thinks he ought to have a hand in your affairs, and wishes to share in your secrets, and as to friendship plays rather a tragic than a satyric or comic part. For as Plato says, “it is the height of injustice to appear to be just when you are not really so,”[360] so we must deem the most dangerous kind of flattery not the open but the secret, not the playful but the serious. For it throws suspicion even upon a genuine friendship, which we may often confound with it, if we are not careful. When Gobryas pursued one of the Magi into a dark room, and was on the ground wrestling with him, and Darius came up and was doubtful how he could kill one without killing both, Gobryas bade him thrust his sword boldly through both of them;[361] but we, since we give no assent to that saying, “Let friend perish so the enemy perish with him,”[362] in our endeavour to distinguish the flatterer from the friend, seeing that their resemblances are so many, ought to take great care that we do not reject the good with the bad, nor in sparing what is beneficial fall in with what is injurious. For as wild grains mixed up with wheat, if very similar in size and appearance, are not easily kept apart, for if the sieve have small holes they don’t pass through, and if large holes they pass with the corn, so flattery is not easily distinguished from friendship, being mixed up with it in feeling and emotion, habit and custom.

Sec. V. Because however friendship is the most pleasant of all things, and nothing more glads the heart of man, therefore the flatterer attracts by the pleasure he gives, pleasure being in fact his field. And because favours and good services accompany friendship, as the proverb says “a friend is more necessary than fire or water,”[363] therefore the flatterer volunteers all sorts of services, and strives to show himself on all occasions zealous and obliging and ready. And since friendship is mainly produced by a similarity of tastes and habits, and to have the same likes and dislikes first brings people together and unites them through sympathy,[364] the flatterer observing this moulds himself like material and demeans himself accordingly, seeking completely to imitate and resemble those whom he desires to ingratiate himself with, being supple in change, and plausible in his imitations, so that one would say,

“Achilles’ son, O no, it is himself.”[365]

But his cleverest trick is that, observing that freedom of speech, is both spoken of and reckoned as the peculiar and natural voice of friendship, while not speaking freely is considered unfriendly and disingenuous, he has not failed to imitate this trait of friendship also. But just as clever cooks infuse bitter sauces and sharp seasoning to prevent sweet things from cloying, so these flatterers do not use a genuine or serviceable freedom of speech, but merely a winking and tickling innuendo. He is therefore difficult to detect, like those creatures which naturally change their colour and take that of the material or place near them.[366] But since he deceives and conceals his true character by his imitations, it is our duty to unmask him and detect him by the differences between him and the true friend, and to show that he is, as Plato says, “tricked out in other people’s colours and forms, from lack of any of his own.”[367]