Page:Plutarch - Moralia, translator Holland, 1911.djvu/173

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151
Of Curiosity

Now if one do feed and nourish all that he can (be it but in lawful and allowable things) this vein and humour of curiosity, so as thereby it becometh in the end mighty and violent, it will not be an easy matter to restrain and hold it in when it shall break out and run on end to such things as be unlawful and forbidden, by reason that it is so used already to intermeddle and be doing. But such men as these break open and unseal letters (as I said), intrude themselves into the secret counsels of their friends; they will needs discover and see those sacred mysteries which it is not lawful for to see; in place whereunto there is no lawful access they love to be walking; inquire they do into the secret deeds and words of kings and princes; and notwithstanding there be nothing in the world that causeth tyrants, who must of necessity know all, so odious as this kind of people, who be called their ears (promoters, I mean, and spies), who hear all and bring all unto their ears. The first that ever had about him these otacoustes (as a man would say, princes' ears) was Darius the younger; a prince distrusting himself, suspecting also and fearing all men. As for those which were called prosagogidæ, that is to say, courries, spies and informers, the Dionysii, tyrants of Sicily, intermingled such among the Syracusans: whereupon, when the state was altered, those were the first that the Syracusans apprehended and massacred. Also those whom we call sycophants are of the confraternity, house and lineage of these curious persons, save only this difference there is, that sycophants inquire what evil any man hath either designed or committed; whereas our polypragmons hearken after and discover the very calamities and misadventures of their neighbours, which happen even against their will and purpose: and when they have so done, set them abroad to the view of the whole world.

Furthermore, it is said that the name aliterius came up first by occasion of this over-much meddling, called curiosity. For when there was (by all likelihood) a great famine at Athens, they that had corn kept it in and would not bring it abroad to the market, but privily and in the night ground the same into meal within their houses: Now these fellows, named aliterii, would go up and down closely hearkening where the quern or mill went, and thereupon took the said name. Semblably, as it is reported, the name of sycophants arose upon the like occasion: for when there was a law made, forbidding that any figs should be carried forth out of the land, such promoters as bewrayed the delinquents and gave information against those that con-