The Greek Pilgrim's progress. Generally known as the Picture, by Kebes

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The author of The Picture was probably the Kebes who was a disciple of Sokrates, and one of the few witnesses of the latter's last words and moments, and who wrote three dialogues, of which the present one is the sole survivor, the Phrynichos and the Hebdome being lost. This our Picture seems genuine enough, the spirit being Sokratic, and the diction Boeotian. But even the casual reader will notice that the last discussion, on Good and Evil, is unnecessary, different, and probably Stoical. The use of the term Scientific Recognition may suggest another interpolation. Other similar conclusions may be reached by students who get the text from B. G. Teubner in Leipzig, or who study the German translation in Langenscheidt's Bibliothek.

But we are here interested only in the moral value of the work as we find it – the Pilgrim's Progress of Humanity, ignoring all limitations of sect, creed, age and race. Hence it is for all time that it will teach that neither sense-gratification, nor wealth, power, or honor can yield true contentment or happiness, which can come only from True Culture not necessarily valuable scientific training, but rather Virtue and Righteousness but if possible, all.

First: the Gate of Life and its Delusions.[edit]

1. Happening one day to be meditatively visiting a temple of Saturn, we reverently contemplated its votive inscriptions. Prominently affixed to the front of the temple, loomed up large a strange pictorial tablet, containing certain peculiar words, whose significance we were not able to fathom.

It seemed to represent, not some city or military camp, but a triple ring, formed by three concentric walled enclosures.

Within the outer circular wall might be seen a crowd of women; while outside, around the outer gate, surged a large mob, to whose entering streams a certain old man seemed, by his gestures, to be uttering some command.

2. We stood a long while, questioning with each other about the symbology of the Picture, then an Old man who chanced to pass by stopped, and addressed us, in the following words:

'O Strangers! Not exceptional is this your experience of uncertainty about this Picture: for it is a puzzle even to many of the local inhabitants, this votive symbol does not originate from this locality. A Stranger, full of understanding, and impressive with wisdom, arrived here long since, following with zeal the rule of life of Pythagoras or Parmenides in word and deed. It was he who dedicated to Saturn both Temple and Picture.'

'So you yourself saw and knew this man, did you?' asked I.

'Yes, indeed ! And what is more, I admired him for a long time during my youth.

'It was his way to indulge in many serious conversations. Many is the time that I have heard him expound this symbolic Picture!'

3. 'By Jupiter!' cried I, 'unless you happen to have a most pressing engagement elsewhere, do please explain the Picture to us also! I assure you that we are most anxious to understand the meaning of this symbol!'

'With pleasure, Strangers!' said he. 'But first you must hear that such an explanation is not without its very real dangers.'

'How so?' cried we all.

'Should you,' said he, 'understand and assimilate what I should say, you shall become wise and happy; but if not, you will live badly, having become foolish, unfortunate, bitter, and ignorant.

'For the explanation is not unlike the Sphinx's Riddle, that he propounded to all men. Whoever solved it was saved; but destruction by the Sphinx overtook those who could not. And this was the Sphinx's question: Within our life, What is a good? What is an evil? What is neither?

'If anyone does not solve this, the Sphinx destroys him, not all at once, as in ancient times, but gradually, in his whole life, he perishes away, just like victims tortured to death.

'But if he understands, he is saved, and attains felicity.

'Attention, therefore! and make sure you understand!'

4. 'Now, by Hercules! What Fires hast thou lit in us, if what thou saidst is true!'

'Why, surely!' said he.

'Start in to explain immediately, then! For we shall attend to some purpose, especially in view of the nature of the retribution.'

'Well,' said the Old man, pointing with a wand, 'do you see that outer circular wall?'

'Yes, indeed!'

'First, you must know that the name of this whole place is the Life. This innumerable multitude surging in front of the Gate, are they who are about to enter into Life.

'The Old man who holds in one hand a scroll, and with the other is pointing out something is the Good Genius.

'To those who are entering is he setting forth what they should do when they shall have entered; and he is pointing out to them which Way they shall have to walk in if they propose to be saved is 'the Life.'

5. 'Which way does he command them to go? And why?' said I.

'You see,' said he, 'by the side of the Gate by which the Multitude are to enter, a throne, on which is seated a Woman dressed stylishly – indeed, over-dressed, who holds in her hands as it were some sort of cups – do you see that?'

'Indeed I do,' responded I, 'but who is She?'

'Delusion is her name,' answered he, for the reason that She deludes and misleads every human being.'

'But what is her office?'

'She quenches the thirst of every soul that proceeds into Life, by making it drink of her very own essence.'

'And what might her drink be, I wonder?'

'Error and Ignorance' said he.

'Why so?'

'Because they would not enter into the Life, unless they were under that influence.'

'I wonder whether this Delusion is drunk by all, or only by some?'

'All drink,' said he; 'although there are degrees, some drinking more, others less.

6. 'Then, do you not see within the Gate a crowd of Women wearing the motley garb of Courtesans?'

'Indeed do I see them!'

'Well, their names are False Opinion, Desires, and Pleasures. Upon the entering souls fall these, each of them embracing and leading away a soul.'

'And whither? would I like to know!'

'Some to be saved, indeed; but others, alas! to be destroyed by Delusion.'

'O Good Genius of ours, how fateful is that Drink!'

'Surely, for each of those Courtesans promises to the soul that she has embraced that she will lead it to the best things and to a life happy and profitable; and she succeeds, for because of that Drink the souls themselves are not able to discover which is the veritable road in the Life but wander around as you see – for those who have already entered are cruising around, as if by chance.'

7. 'I see them indeed,' said I.

'But tell me, who can be that Woman, who seems to be both wild and blind, standing on a globular-shaped stone?'

'Her name,' answered he, is Luck.'

'Not only blind and wild is she, but deaf.'

'And what might her business be?'

'She circulates everywhere,' said he. 'From some she takes their substance, and freely gives it away to others. Then, again, she suddenly withdraws what she has given, and gives it to others without any plan or steadfastness. So you see that her symbol fits her perfectly.'

'Which symbol,' asked I.

'Why, the Globular Stone on which she stands.'

'And what does that betoken, I wonder?'

'That Globular Stone signifies that no gift of hers is safe or lasting; for whosoever reposes any confidence in her, is sure to suffer great and right grievous misfortune.'

8. 'But what is the wish and the name of that great multitude standing around her?'

'Oh! They are Known as the Unreflecting they who desire whatever Luck might throw them.'

'But then, how is it that they do not behave in the same manner? For some seem to rejoice, while others are agonizing, with hands outstretched?'

'Well, those who seem to rejoice and laugh are they who have received somewhat from her – and you may be sure that they call her Fortune! On the contrary, those who seem to weep and stretch out their hands are they from whom She has taken back what She had given – they call her Misfortune!'

'And what sort of things does She deal in, that they who receive them laugh, while they who lose them, weep?'

'Why, what to the great Multitudes seems Good – of course Wealth; then Glory, Good Birth, Children, Power, Palaces, and the like.'

'But such things, are they not really good?'

'That question, let us postpone!'

'Willingly,' said I.

9. 'Now, as you enter within the Gate, do you see the second circular enclosure, and without it, certain Women clad like courtesans?'


'Well, their names are Incontinence, Indulgence, Insatiableness, and Flattery.'

'And why do they stand there?'

'They are watching for those who may have received anything from the Luck-Goddess.'

'And then, what happens?'

'The Courtesans spring on those souls, embrace them, flatter them, and coax them not to go away, but to stay for a life of comfort, without effort or misadventure. Should, however, any soul be by them persuaded to enter into enjoyment, this seems a pleasant pastime until he is satiated, but no longer. For whenever he sobers up, he notices that he has not eaten, but that he has, by her, been devoured, and maltreated. Wherefore, when he has consumed all the goods he received from fortune, he is forced to slave to those Women, to suffer all things, to be dishonored, and on their account to do many pitiable deeds such as to steal, to profane temples, to perjure himself, to betray, to plunder.

'However, whenever he has degraded himself to the point of utter destitution, then is he handed over to Punishment.'

10. 'But who is she?'

'Do you not see behind them,' said he, 'something that looks like a small door, and a narrow, dank place?'

'Yes, indeed!'

'And you notice therein Women – shameful, bedraggled, and ragged?'

'Why yes!'

'Well, among them, the one who holds the whip is called Punishment; while the one who holds her head bent over to her knees is Sorrow; and the one who is pulling her own hair, is Grief.'

'But what about that Thing standing by them, – so repulsive, thin, and naked; and near to it that other similarly shameful female, – who is she?'

'Ah,' said he, that is Lamentation, and his sister is Despair. To these therefore is the soul handed over, and is punished by association with them. Hence, however, he is cast into another dwelling, into Unhappiness, where he ekes out his existence in every misery unless, indeed, to him unexpectedly, Repentance, having planned it, should meet him.'

11. 'Well, what happens, should Repentance chance to meet him?'

'She releases him from his evils, and associates with him another Opinion-and-Desire, who will lead him to genuine Culture – though indeed he might just as well he misled even then to Sham-Culture.'

'Well, what happens then?'

'In the case,' said he, 'that he is taken in charge by this Right-Opinion who will lead him to genuine Culture, he is, on being purified, by her saved, so that his life grows blissful and happy; – otherwise, again he wanders, to be deceived by Sham-Culture.'

12. 'By Hercules! What other great danger is here! Pray speak to me more definitely of Sham-Culture!'

'Well, do you see standing by the Gate of the inner enclosure a Woman seeming neat and well-groomed ?'

'Well, she is, by the unreflecting majority called Culture; but that is an error, for she is no more than a Sham.

'Nevertheless, those who are being saved must, in order to reach genuine Culture, first pass here.'

'So there is no other way?'

'No, there is not.'

13. 'And can you tell me who are those men, perambulating within the second enclosure?'

'Those,' said he, 'are the deluded Votaries of Sham-Culture – honestly, they labor under the impression that they are, right now, associating with genuine Culture!'

'And what might they be called?'

'Some,' answered he, 'are Poets; some, so-called Orators. Some are Reasoners; others are Musicians, Mathematicians, Geometricians, Astronomers, Critics, Aristippian Pleasure seekers, or Aristotelian Peripatetic scientists!'

14. 'But those Women who seem to circulate among them – indeed, they resemble the first, among whom was Pleasure, and her companions – who are they?'

'They are the very same,' said he.

'But how did they get in?'

'By altering their looks; for here they are needy-looking, and not as before.'

'And have those False-Opinions remained unchanged?' asked I.

'That potion which they received from Delusion remains active in them; so also Ignorance, Senselessness, Prejudice and other Badness. None of this fades out from them till they leave Sham-Culture, enter on the right road, and drink the purifying medicaments. Through this purification having sloughed off all their evils such as Prejudice and Ignorance, then, and not before, shall they be saved.

'Should they, however, elect to remain with Sham-Culture, they shall never be released; nor shall they be released from a single evil merely because of any Science.'

Second: The Road Upwards to Happiness.[edit]

15. 'What then is the Road that leads to genuine Culture,' asked I.

'Do you see up there,' said he, 'a place where no one dwells, and which seems to be desert?'

'I do.'

'Do you not see a small door, a path not much frequented, only a few are ascending on it, for it is almost impassable, rough and rocky?'

'Yes indeed,' said I.

'And do you not see something like a steep hill, whose only access is a narrow ascent between precipices?

'That then is the Road to Culture.'

'And difficult enough it seems!'

'But it leads up Culture's Rock, which is large, high, and inaccessible.

16. 'Now do you not further see, standing on the Rock, two healthy and well formed Women who stretch out their hands invitingly?'

'Yes, but who are they?'

'Self-Control and Endurance – two sisters.'

'But why are they extending their arms so invitingly?'

'They are exhorting the Pilgrims who reach that place not to despair, but to be of good courage, inasmuch as they will reach a fair road if only they will be brave for but a little while longer.'

'Encouragement is good; but what is the use of it? as I see, way up on the Road, a gap, where there is no road.'

'Those Women will themselves descend from the Cliff, draw the Pilgrims up to their present position. Then only will the Women bid the Pilgrims rest; and after a little while give them Strength and Courage, and promise to introduce them into the presence of genuine Culture.

'Then the Women point out to the refreshed Pilgrims the further road which, there, is fair, level, passable, and free from all evils, as you see.'

'Clearly, by Jupiter!'

17. 'Do you not behold, in front of that grove, a place which seems to be fair, grassy, and illuminated by a white light?'

'Yes, indeed!'

'Do you perceive in the midst of the meadow another enclosure, with its gate?'

'It is so, but what is the name of that place?'

'It is the Dwelling of the Blessed,' said he. 'Here abide all the Virtues, and Happiness.'

'Is it possible? How beautiful must that Place be!'

18. 'Now do you see by the Gate, a Woman, fair and composed, of middle, or rather of advanced age, clad in a simple, unadorned robe? She stands, not on a globe, but on a solidly founded cube. With her are standing two other but younger Women who seem to be her daughters.'

'So it looks.'

'Well, the Woman who is standing in the centre is Culture; the others are Truth and Conviction

'But why does Culture stand on a Cube?'

'As a sign that, for approaching Pilgrims, the Road to her is certain and safe as, indeed, is also the case with her Gifts.'

'And what might these her gifts be ?'

'Courage and Fearlessness!'

'But what do they consist of?' asked I.

'Courage and Fearlessness consist in the Realization that naught that ever could happen to us could prove to be a misfortune.'

19. 'By Hercules,' said I, 'what fine gifts! But why does She thus stand outside of the Circle?'

'In order to heal the new arrivals,' said he. 'She furnishes them the cleansing medicament; and whenever they have been purified, She introduces them unto the Virtues.'

'But how does this happen? I do not understand that.'

'But you will,' said he. 'It is as if an ambitious man should, on becoming sick, go to a physician, who first removes the cause of the sickness, thereby paving the way through convalescence to health. Should the sick man, however, not carry out the prescription, it is no more than fair that he should be abandoned to the ravages of the disease.'

'Oh, I understand that,' said I.

'Just so acts Culture,' resumed our Guide. 'Whenever any Pilgrim reaches her, She heals him and doses him with her own power, so as first to purify him from all the evils which lodged in him – Ignorance and Error, with which Delusion had infected the Pilgrim; Arrogance, Lust, Intemperance, Anger, Love-of-money, and all the rest of those evils with which the Pilgrim was affected in the first enclosure.'

20. 'Now when the Pilgrim is cleansed, whither does She send him?'

'In there unto Scientific-Recognition, and unto the other Virtues.'

'And which are these ?'

Said he: 'Do you not see within the Gate a choir of Women, who seem to be attractive, neat, with simple, unadorned robes, see how sweet they look in their simple garb, and not overdressed, as the others were?'

'I see,' said I. 'But what are their names ?'

'The first is Scientific-Recognition; the others are sisters of hers: Fortitude, Righteousness, Fairness, Wisdom, Poise, Freedom, Temperance, and Gentleness.'

'O you Kindly Guide of ours, what great things may we hope for!'

'Surely! But only on condition that you understand what you see, and take good heed to that which you have heard of me.'

'But we most surely do!' cried we all as if with one voice.

'Then shall you also be saved!' cried he.

21. 'Now, when they have received the Pilgrim, whither do they lead him?'

'To their mother Happiness,' said he.

'But who and where is she?'

'Following the Road up yon mountain which forms the heart of the Enclosures, you come to the temple-porch by which sits on a high throne a glorious Woman, decked nobly, but artlessly, and crowned with a splendid wreath of flowers. Well, she is Happiness.'

22. 'Now, whenever any one reaches hither, what does She do?'

'Happiness, with all the other Virtues, crown him as Victor in the greatest struggles, – namely, against the most terrible Beasts, who before, enslaved, tormented, and devoured him. All these now has he overcome and repelled from himself, holding himself well in hand, so that they, to whom he formerly slaved, now must serve him.'

23. 'I am anxious to know the identity of the wild Beasts you mentioned!'

'Ignorance,' said he, 'and Error. Or don't you consider them wild beasts?'

'And pretty savage, too!' agreed I.

'Then Sorrow, Despair, Love-of-Money, Intemperance and all other Badness. All these he now rules, instead of, as before, being ruled by them.'

'O glorious deeds,' cried I, 'and splendid victory! But what is the virtue of the Victor's crown?'

'It beatifies with Felicity unspeakable, he who with this Virtue is crowned, becomes very happy reposing his hopes of getting happiness and of retaining it not on others, but on himself.'

Third: Those Who Fail and Why.[edit]

24. 'Glorious the Victory you wot of! But after the the Pilgrim is crowned, what does he do, and whither does he proceed?'

'The Virtues who had welcomed him lead him to that place whence he came out, and point out to him how badly fare they who there exist so wretchedly, as it were enduring ship-wreck of their lives, erring and wandering, as if dragged around by Enemies such as Incontinence, Arrogance, Love-of-Money, Fancies, and other such Evils.

'By these Misfortunes they are unable to rescue themselves from this perpetual tossing by reaching the Mountain of Security.

'This they suffer only because they are not able to discover the road hither for they have forgotten the Instructions they received from the Good Genius.'

25. Then said I, 'You seem to speak rightly. But I am not yet quite clear on this point: namely, Why to the Pilgrim the Virtues point out that Place from which he came originally.'

Said our Guide: 'None of these things could the Pilgrim accurately understand or realize, himself being in doubt because of the Ignorance and Error which he had imbibed, so that he considered Good That-which-was-not-good, and evil That-which-was-not-evil. Wherefore, like those who remained there, the Pilgrim eked out a miserable existence.

'Now, however, since he has attained to Scientific-Recognition of what really is advantageous, he lives pleasantly, realizing how badly off those others are.'

26. 'Well now that he contemplates all these things, what will he do, and whither will he wend his way?'

'Whithersoever he may fancy; for now is he as safe anywhere as if in a Korykian Cave; fairly and safely will he dwell, whithersoever he may arrive, for just as the sick welcome the physician, so will all receive him with pleasure and gratitude.'

'And he fears no more that he shall suffer something from those Women, who, you say, are really wild Beasts?'

'No indeed! No more can he be troubled by Grief or Sorrow, by Incontinence or Love-of-Money, by Need or any other evil – for now he lords it over all those by whom he formerly was grieved.

'Just like a serpent-charmer, whose snakes, though they do to death all others but him, yet him they do not injure, because of an antidote against them which he possesses; just like this immune snake-charmer, is the crowned Pilgrim no more grieved by any of them, being immune because of the antidote which he possesses.'

27. 'To me it seems that you have spoken well. But tell me further this: Who are they who seem to be descending from the Mountain? For while some of them are crowned and are making gestures of joy, others are uncrowned, grieved and distressed; they seem to be so weary in head and limb as to be in real need of that their support by certain Women!'

'The crowned are those who were saved by Culture, and they are rejoicing at having reached her. The uncrowned, however, are those who were by Culture rejected, and are returning to an existence miserable and wretched; or are such as, while ascending to Endurance, became timorous and turned back, wandering around without a path.'

'And who are the Women supporting them?'

'Griefs, Sorrows, Faint-heartedness, Obscure-Contempt, and Ignorances.'

28. 'Why, I thought you said that all the evils accompanied them?'

'And they all do, by Jupiter! For whenever they return into the first enclosure unto Sensuality and Incontinence, they do not accuse themselves far from it! Straightway they speak ill of Culture, and of those who go to her; saying that they are wretched, miserable, and unhappy; and that on leaving their accustomed manner of life they live badly, enjoying no good thing that is, no thing that is accounted good among themselves.'

'And what goods may they be referring to?'

'Why, to Debauchery and Incontinence, to speak plainly, for their highest ideal is to feed like cattle.'

29. 'And what about those other Women who descend thence cheerful in mien, and all wreathed in smiles?'

'They are Opinions; and whenever they have successfully conducted any Pilgrim to Culture, and introduced him to the Virtues, they return to lead up others, to whom they announce the beatification of those they had led up before.'

'But why do not they themselves enter in among the Virtues, and stay?'

'Because it is not fitting for mere Opinions to enter in unto Scientific Recognition; their utmost capacity is to introduce a Pilgrim unto Culture. All that they then can do is to return and bring up others, Just as ships, when unloaded, return to be loaded again.'

30. 'To me it seems that you have interpreted these things very well; but there is one thing which you have not yet made plain to us – namely, What the Good Genius teaches these who are entering into Life.'

'To take heart, and be courageous, says he. Wherefore, do ye also take heart, for I shall interpret all things, and omit nothing.'

'Well spoken!' cried I.

Then the Old Man, again stretching forth his hand, said: Took at that Person who seems to be blind, standing on a stone globe, whose name, as I told you before, is Luck.'

'Well, we see.'

31. 'Well, he admonishes the souls not to trust her; nothing received from her should be considered reliable or safe: nor consider them his own, inasmuch as nothing hinders her from taking them back, and again giving them away to somebody else – why, that is a common occurrence. Wherefore, he admonishes, no man should let himself be moved by her gifts – neither to joy on receiving them, nor to sorrow on losing them; neither to praise, nor to blame them. For nothing done by her proceeds from Reflexion; only by chance, and just as things come, as I told you before.

'Wherefore the Good Genius admonishes men to take no notice of anything She does, and not to become like wicked bankers, who rejoice whenever they receive money from some man, and consider it their own; but, as soon as they receive notice of withdrawal, they become offended, and consider themselves grievously wronged, not remembering that they received the deposits on this very condition, that the depositor may withdraw it without difficulty.

'The Good Genius advises a similar attitude towards the gifts of the Goddess of Luck; and to remember that it is no more than her nature to take back what She gave, and again soon to give manifold other gifts, then again to withdraw not only this that She gave, but also whatever a man may have possessed before. Wherefore, he admonishes, accept whatever She may give; and as soon as you have possession of it, with it immediately depart to the blessings reliable and enduring.'

32. 'But what may these be?' asked I.

'That which is received from Culture.'

'And what may it be?'

'The veritable Scientific Recognition of what is advantageous and is a safe, reliable, enduring gift,' said he. 'To flee to her incontinently is his monition; and whenever the Pilgrim arrives to those Women who, as I said before, are called Incontinence and Sensuality, he is not to trust them but to depart from them, and proceed to Sham Culture. Here he should remain some little time, collecting from her Sham-Accomplishments whatever may be suitable for a traveling-ration to support him until he reach Genuine Culture.

'Whosoever disobeys this monition, or even only misunderstands it, perishes away miserably.'

Fourth: The Value of Science.[edit]

33. 'Now, Strangers, this is the meaning of the Picture. Do not hesitate to ask any additional questions about it; I shall be pleased to answer.'

'Well, then I will ask you what sort of accomplishments the Good Genius advises the Pilgrim to take from Sham-Culture?'

'Whatever a man may think might be of use to him.'

'And what is your advice in the matter?'

'The knowledge of languages, first; and then, sufficient of other Sciences to act, in the words of Plato, as a check-rein from eccentricities, misunderstand me not, they are not necessary, but advantageous to proceed more efficiently but, of course, they are not helpful Morally.'

'So then you declare formally that these Accomplishments do not aid Moralization?'

'By no means; for although a man must improve without them, still they have their place. For although we may catch the meaning by means of an interpreter, yet might it not be useless to understand the words themselves, if we care at all for accuracy. Yet nothing hinders our becoming better without those accomplishments.'

34. 'Well, then, according to what you say, the scientists have no advantage over other men in becoming better?'

'What advantage could they have, inasmuch as they are involved in the same delusion about the nature of Goods, just as the Unscientific, and are yet dominated by their vices? For nothing hinders a man from knowing languages, and being an expert in every scientific field, and still being intoxicated and incontinent, fond of money, unjust, traitorous, and even a fool.'

'Yes indeed! one can see many such!'

'What advantage, then, could these, merely because of their scientific accomplishments, have in the matter of moralization?'

35. 'Certainly not, according to what you say. But why then do they remain within the Second Enclosure, as if they still wished to approach unto Genuine-Culture?'

'And of what use to them is that proximity? For how often do you see later Pilgrims arriving from the first Enclosure with its Incontinence and other evils, and before them entering in unto Genuine-Culture in the third Enclosure, leaving those Scientists behind! Hence, what advantages have they? Are they not rather at the disadvantage of being less impressionable, and more incorrigible?'

'How so?' asked I.

'Why, because what is known by those who are in the Second Enclosure is never realize! As long as they hold to the speculative side of Opinion, they cannot possibly take any practical steps towards Genuine-Culture. Do you not see that, just as much as the more practical Pilgrim, they have the opportunity of making use of the Opinions who lead out from the First Enclosure. But are not Opinions useless without a meeting with Repentance, and without the resulting conviction that the Culture which they do possess is a sham, and a trap? Being satisfied with their abode, they never progress to Salvation.

'And you also, Strangers, you must practice what I said until you have attained unto its significance. Often, indeed, will you have to study afresh my instructions, nor relinquish the sacred Quest, relegating all other matters to secondary rank. If not, all you hear will remain useless.'

Fifth: What is Good and Evil?[edit]

36. 'Indeed we shall do so. But explain us this: how that which men receive from Luck – namely life, health, wealth honor, children, victory, and more such, are not goods; and again, how the absence thereof is not an evil? For what you have said seems to us to lack commonsense and reliability.'

'Very well, come on! Give me your views about what I shall ask you.'

'I shall most certainly do so,' said I.

'Well, if a man lives badly, is life to him a good?'

'It would seem not,' said I. 'Rather, an evil.'

'How then could life be a good, if, to him, it is an evil?'

'Well, I should say it was an evil to those who live badly, and a good to those who live well.'

'So then life might be both an evil and a good?'

'So I said.'

37. 'Come, do not express opinions so unlikely, for how could aught be at the same time good and evil? Did you ever hear of anything simultaneously useful and harmful, desired and scorned?'

'That, really, is unlikely; but if living badly is an evil for the living man, why, for such a man is not life itself not an evil ?'

'Yes; but life and living badly are not identical; – or do you think so?'

Our Guide answered, 'Neither do I. The evil lies in living badly, not in life itself. For were it an evil, it would be evil even to such as live righteously, in the degree that they are alive, if this was an absolute evil.'

'I agree with you.'

38. 'As therefore, life belongs to both those who live badly, and to those who live rightly, might it not then be possible that life is neither a Good nor an Evil; just as cutting and burning in themselves are neither harmful nor sanatory for the sick – it all depends on the time and manner the patient is cut or burned. Is it not thus also with life?'

'Yes, indeed, so it is.'

'Now consider the matter thus: What would you prefer, to live shamefully, or to die honorably, like a man?'

'I had rather die honorably.'

'So then even dying can be no evil, as it is often more desirable than living?'

'So it is.'

'Should we not also think likewise of health and sickness? For there are circumstances when health is unbearable.'

'You speak the truth,' said I.

39. 'Good! Let us consider wealth, in the same manner. Apparently, as is often seen, there are persons who possess wealth who live badly and shamefully.'

'By Jupiter, there are many such! So then wealth does not help them to a righteous life?'

'Evidently not, for they themselves are evil. Culture, not wealth, gives virtue.

'Very probably so at least, according to your argument,' grudgingly assented I.

'Surely!' asseverated he. 'How could Wealth be an absolute good since it does not always make for the improvement of its possessors?'

'Clearly not.'

'Acknowledge then that Wealth is not at all advisable for such as do not know how to use it!'

'I must say I think so!'

'Now then should that whose possession is often unbearable be considered an absolute good?'

'By no means!'

'Will not then a man live well as far as he knows how to employ wealth well and understandingly – and if not, badly?'

'What you say seems to be entirely true.'

40. 'Well, it seems to me that this is the cause of the restlessness and of the harm of men: they err in honoring Things as Goods, or scorning Things as evils; to lay values on Things, and to suppose that through Things one can improve, or for the sake of Things commit any, even godless actions. This however is the result of ignorance of what is the real Good, they ignore that no real Goods result front Evil Means. Hence many are those who have amassed Wealth through evil and shameful deeds such as treason, robbery, murder, eaves-dropping, theft, and other crimes.'

'So it is.'

41. 'If then out of evil means can arise no good end, as is evident; and if out of evil deeds can arise wealth, then can Wealth never be an absolutely good end?'

'An evident consequence!'

'But, then, none can attain unto Righteousness thro any evil action; as little as one can attain injustice or foolishness thro good deeds. Besides, both opposites cannot well coexist in one and the same thing. Wealth, Fame, Victory and other such external goods do not exclude badness. Consequently these things are neither Goods nor even evils, they are no more than external applications of the internal principle: Wisdom alone is a Good, while Foolishness is the only Evil.'

'It seems to me that you have proved your point.'


A glossary of technical terms.

  • Culture: paideia (παιδεία). The cultural education taught in the schools of ancient Greece. Cebes distinguishes between the Sham-Culture (pseudopaideia) of literary, rhetorical, and mathematical subjects where education begins, and a higher Genuine Culture (alêthinê paideia).
  • Delusion: apatê (ἀπάτη). Deception, deceit.
  • Good Genius: daimôn (δαίμων). Benevolent guardian spirit.
  • Happiness: eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία). Flourishing well, possessing a "good-spirit".
  • Luck: Tychê (Τύχη). Luck and fortune, often personified as a goddess.
  • Opinion: doxa (δόξα). Belief or popular opinion.
  • Repentance: metameleia (μεταμέλεια). Remorse, regret.
  • Righteousness: dikaiosyne (δικαιοσύνη) The correct and just way.
  • Science: mathêma (μάθημα). Knowledge, study, learning.
  • Scientific Recognition: epistêmê (ἐπιστήμη). Pure knowledge and understanding.
  • Virtue: aretê (ἀρετή). The highest ideals.