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On Curiosity
by [?]

On Curiosity.[608]

Sec. I. If a house is dark, or has little air, is in an exposed position, or unhealthy, the best thing will probably be to leave it; but if one is attached to it from long residence in it, one can improve it and make it more light and airy and healthy by altering the position of the windows and stairs, and by throwing open new doors and shutting up old ones. So some towns have been altered for the better, as my native place,[609] which did lie to the west and received the rays of the setting sun from Parnassus, was they say turned to the east by Chaeron. And Empedocles the naturalist is supposed to have driven away the pestilence from that district, by having closed up a mountain gorge that was prejudicial to health by admitting the south wind to the plains. Similarly, as there are certain diseases of the soul that are injurious and harmful and bring storm and darkness to it, the best thing will be to eject them and lay them low by giving them open sky, pure air and light, or, if that cannot be, to change and improve them some way or other. One such mental disease, that immediately suggests itself to one, is curiosity, the desire to know other people’s troubles, a disease that seems neither free from envy nor malignity.

“Malignant wretch, why art so keen to mark
Thy neighbour’s fault, and seest not thine own?”[610]

Shift your view, and turn your curiosity so as to look inwards: if you delight to study the history of evils, you have copious material at home, “as much as there is water in the Alizon, or leaves on the oak,” such a quantity of faults will you find in your own life, and passions in your soul, and shortcomings in your duty. For as Xenophon says[611] good managers have one place for the vessels they use in sacrificing, and another for those they use at meals, one place for their farm instruments, and another for their weapons of war, so your faults arise from different causes, some from envy, some from jealousy, some from cowardice, some from meanness. Review these, consider these; bar up the curiosity that pries into your neighbours’ windows and passages, and open it on the men’s apartments, and women’s apartments, and servant’s attics, in your own house. There this inquisitiveness and curiosity will find full vent, in inquiries that will not be useless or malicious, but advantageous and serviceable, each one saying to himself,

“What have I done amiss? What have I done?
What that I ought to have done left undone?”

Sec. II. And now, as they say of Lamia that she is blind when she sleeps at home, for she puts her eyes on her dressing-table, but when she goes out she puts her eyes on again, and has good sight, so each of us turns, like an eye, our malicious curiosity out of doors and on others, while we are frequently blind and ignorant about our own faults and vices, not applying to them our eyes and light. So that the curious man is more use to his enemies than to himself, for he finds fault with and exposes their shortcomings, and shows them what they ought to avoid and correct, while he neglects most of his affairs at home, owing to his excitement about things abroad. Odysseus indeed would not converse with his mother till he had learnt from the seer Tiresias what he went to Hades to learn; and after receiving that information, then he turned to her, and asked questions about the other women, who Tyro was, and who the fair Chloris, and why Epicaste[612] had died, “having fastened a noose with a long drop to the lofty beam.”[613] But we, while very remiss and ignorant and careless about ourselves, know all about the pedigrees of other people, that our neighbour’s grandfather was a Syrian, and his grandmother a Thracian woman, and that such a one owes three talents, and has not paid the interest. We even inquire into such trifling matters as where somebody’s wife has been, and what those two are talking in the corner about. But Socrates used to busy himself in examining the secret of Pythagoras’ persuasive oratory, and Aristippus, meeting Ischomachus at the Olympian games, asked him how Socrates conversed so as to have so much influence over the young men, and having received from him a few scraps and samples of his style, was so enthusiastic about it that he wasted away, and became quite pale and lean, thirsty and parched, till he sailed to Athens and drew from the fountain-head, and knew the wonderful man himself and his speeches and philosophy, the object of which was that men should recognize their faults and so get rid of them.