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On Talkativeness
by [?]

“I blame you not, for though your words are bad,
Your acts are good:”

but we cannot feel so to the talkative man, for his want of tact in words destroys and undoes all the grace of his actions.

Sec. V. Lysias wrote a defence for some accused person, and gave it him, and he read it several times, and came to Lysias in great dejection and said, “When I first perused this defence, it seemed to me wonderful, but when I read it a second and third time, it seemed altogether dull and ineffective. Then Lysias laughed, and said, “What then? Are you going to read it more than once to the jury?” And yet do but consider the persuasiveness and grace of Lysias’ style;[554] for he “I say was a great favourite with the dark-haired Muses.”[555] And of the things which have been said of Homer the truest is that he alone of all poets has survived the fastidiousness of mankind, as being ever new and still at his acme as regards giving pleasure, and yet saying and proclaiming about himself, “I hate to spin out a plain tale over and over again,”[556] he avoids and fears that satiety which lies in ambush for every narrative, and takes the hearer from one subject to another, and relieves by novelty the possibility of being surfeited. But the talkative worry one’s ears to death with their tautologies, as people scribble the same things over and over again on palimpsests.[557]

Sec. VI. Let us remind them then first of this, that just as in the case of wine, which was intended for pleasure and mirth, those who compel people to drink it neat and in large quantities bring some into a disgusting condition of drunkenness, so with speech, which is the pleasantest social tie amongst mankind, those who make a bad and ill-advised use of it render it unpleasing and unfit for company, paining those whom they think to gratify, and become a laughing-stock to those who they think admire them, and objectionable to those who they think love them. As then he cannot be a favourite of the goddess who with Aphrodite’s charmed girdle[558] repels and drives away those who associate with him, so he who with his speech bores and disgusts one is without either taste or refinement.

Sec. VII. Of all other passions and disorders some are dangerous, some hateful, some ridiculous, but in talkativeness all these elements are combined. For praters are jeered at for their commonplaces, and hated when they bring bad news, and run into danger when they reveal secrets. And so Anacharsis, when he was feasted by Solon and lay down to sleep, and was observed with his left hand on his private parts, and his right hand on his mouth, for he thought his tongue needed the stronger restraint, was right in his opinion. For it would be difficult to find as many men who have been ruined by venereal excesses as cities and leading states that have been undone by the utterance of a secret. When Sulla was besieging Athens, and had no time to waste there, “for he had other fish to fry,”[559] as Mithridates was ravaging Asia, and the party of Marius was again in power at Rome, some old men in a barber’s shop happened to observe to one another that the Heptachalcon was not well guarded, and that their city ran a great risk of being captured at that point, and some spies who overheard this conversation reported it to Sulla. And he at once marched up his forces, and about midnight entered the city with his army, and all but rased it to the ground, and filled it with slaughter and dead bodies, insomuch that the Ceramicus ran with blood: and he was thus savage against the Athenians for their words rather than their deeds, for they had spoken ill of him and his wife Metella, jumping on to the walls and calling out in a jeering way,

“Sulla is a mulberry bestrewn with barley meal,”

and much similar banter. Thus they drew down upon themselves for words, which, as Plato[560] says, are a very small matter, a very heavy punishment.[561] The prating of one man also prevented Rome from becoming free by the removal of Nero. For it was only the night before the tyrant was to be murdered, and all preparations had been made, when he that was to do the deed going to the theatre, and seeing someone in chains near the doors who was about to be taken before Nero, and was bewailing his sad fortune, went up close to him and whispered, “Pray only, good sir, that to-day may pass by, to-morrow you will owe me many thanks.” He guessing the meaning of the riddle, and thinking, I take it, “he is a fool who gives up what is in his hand for a remote contingency,”[562] preferred certain to honourable safety. For he informed Nero of what the man had said, and he was immediately arrested, and torture, and fire, and scourging were applied to him, who denied now in his necessity what before he had divulged without necessity.