Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5, Plutarch
Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5
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Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of 48 biographies of famous men, arranged in pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD. The surviving Parallel Lives comprises 23 pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman of similar destiny, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, or Demosthenes and Cicero. It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals described, but also about the times in which they lived.

Plutarch’s Lives Volume 5

Additional Lives, unpaired & Comparisons


The Life of Aratus

1. There is an ancient proverb, Polycrates, which the philosopher Chrysippus puts not as it really is, but as he thought better: —

“Who will praise a father, except happy sons?”

But Dionysodorus of Troezen corrects him, and restores the true form thus: —

“Who will praise a father, except unhappy sons?”

And he says that the proverb stops the mouths of those who, being worthless in themselves, take refuge in the virtues of certain ancestors and are forever praising them. But surely for a man in whom, to use Pindar’s words, “the noble spirit naturally displayes itself as inherited from sires,” and who, like thee, patterns his life after the fairest examples in his family line, — for such men it will be good fortune to be reminded of their noblest progenitors, ever and anon hearing the story of them, or telling it themselves. For it is not that they lack noble qualities of their own and make their reputation dependent on their praises of others, nay rather, they associate their own careers with the careers of their great ancestors, whom they hail both as founders of their line and as directors of their lives. And therefore, now that I have written the life of Aratus, who was thy countryman and forefather, and to whom thou thyself art no discredit in either reputation or influence, I send it to thee, not as though thou hadst not been at pains from the beginning to have the most precise knowledge of thy great ancestor’s career, but in order that thy sons Polycrates and Pythocles may be reared, now by hearing and now by reading, after examples found in their own family line — examples which it well becomes them to imitate. For it is the lover of himself, and not the lover of goodness, who thinks himself always superior to others.

2. The city of Sicyon, as soon as it had fallen away from its pure Doric form of aristocracy (which was now like a harmony dissolved) and had become a prey to factions and the ambitious schemes of demagogues, was without cease distempered and agitated, and kept changing one tyrant for another, until, after the murder of Cleon, Timocleides and Cleinias were chosen chief magistrates, men of the highest repute and influence among the citizens. But no sooner did the government appear to be somewhat settled than Timocleides died, and Abantidas the son of Paseas, attempting to make himself tyrant, slew Cleinias, and, of the friends and kinsmen of Cleinias, banished some and killed others. He tried to kill also the son of Cleinias, Aratus, left fatherless at the age of seven. But in the confusion which prevailed about the house the boy made his escape with the fugitives, and wandering about in the city, full of fear and helpless, by chance got unnoticed into the house of a woman who was a sister of Abantidas, but had married Prophantus the brother of Cleinias. Her name was Soso. This woman, who was of a noble nature, and thought it a divine dispensation that the boy had taken refuge with her, hid him in the house, and at night sent him secretly off to Argos.

3. Thus was Aratus stolen away from the peril that threatened him, and at once that vehement and glowing hatred of tyrants for which he was noted became a part of his nature and grew with his growth. He was reared in liberal fashion among the guests and friends of his father’s house at Argos, and since he saw that his bodily growth promised high health and stature, he devoted himself to the exercises of the palaestra, going so far as to win wreaths of victory in contesting the pentathlum. And indeed even his statues have plainly an athletic look, and the sagacity and majesty of his countenance do not altogether disown the athlete’s full diet and wielding of the mattock. Wherefore his cultivation of oratory was perhaps less intense than became a man in public life; and yet he is said to have been a more ornate speaker than some think who judge from the Commentaries which he left; these were a bye-work, and were composed in haste, off-hand, and in the words that first occurred to him in the heat of contest.

Some time after the escape of Aratus, Abantidas was slain by Deinias and Aristotle the logician. The tyrant was wont to attend all their public disputations in the market-place and to take part in them; they encouraged him in this practice, laid a plot, and took his life. Paseas also, the father of Abantidas, after assuming the supreme power, was treacherously slain by Nicocles, who then proclaimed himself tyrant. This man is said to have borne a very close resemblance to Periander the son of Cypselus, just as Orontes the Persian did to Alcmaeon the son of Amphiaraüs, and as the Spartan youth mentioned by Myrtilus did to Hector. Myrtilus tells us that when the throng of spectators became aware of this resemblance, the youth was trampled underfoot.

4. Nicocles was tyrant of the city for four months, during which he wrought the city much harm, and narrowly escaped losing it to the Aetolians when they plotted to seize it. By this time Aratus, now a young man, was held in marked esteem on account of his high birth, and of his spirit. This was showing itself to be not insignificant nor yet unenterprising, but earnest, and tempered with a judgement safe beyond his years. Wherefore the exiles from Sicyon had their minds fixed most of all upon him, and Nicocles was not neglectful of what was going on, but kept secret watch and ward over his undertakings, not because he feared any deed of so great daring and hazard as that in which Aratus finally engaged, but because he suspected that Aratus was in communication with the kings who had been on terms of friendship and hospitality with his father. And in truth Aratus had attempted to travel along that path. But since Antigonus​ neglected his promises and prolonged the time, and since the hopes derived from Egypt and Ptolemy ​ were a long way off, he resolved to overthrow that tyrant by his own efforts.

5. The first to whom he imparted his design were Aristomachus and Ecdelus. Of these, the one was an exile from Sicyon, and Ecdelus was an Arcadian of Megalopolis, a student of philosophy and a man of action, who had been an intimate friend of Arcesilaüs the Academic at Athens. These men eagerly adopted his proposals, and he then began conversations with the other exiles. A few of these took part in the enterprise because they were ashamed to disappoint the hope placed in them, but the majority actually tried to stop Aratus, on the ground that his inexperience made him over-bold.

While he was planning to seize some post in the territory of Sicyon from which he might sally forth and make war upon the tyrant, there came to Argos a man of Sicyon who had run away from prison. He was a brother of Xenocles, one of the exiles; and when he had been brought to Aratus by Xenocles, he told him that the part of the city’s wall over which he had climbed to safety was almost level with the ground on the inside, where it had been attached to steep and rocky places, and that on the outside it was not at all too high for scaling-ladders. When Aratus had heard this, he sent with Xenocles two servants of his own, Seuthas and Technon, to make an examination of the wall; for he was resolved, if he could, to hazard the whole enterprise on one secret and swift attempt, rather than in a long war and in open contests to match his private resources against those of a tyrant. So when Xenocles and his party came back with measurements of the wall which they had taken, and with a report that the place was by nature not impassable nor even difficult (although they declared that it was hard to get to it undetected owing to a certain gardener’s dogs, which were little beasts, but extraordinarily fierce and savage), Aratus at once undertook the business.

6. Now the laying in of arms was nothing unusual, since almost everybody at that time indulged in robberies and predatory forays; and as for scaling-ladders, Euphranor the engineer made them openly, since his trade screened him from suspicion; and he too was one of the exiles. As for men, each of the friends of Aratus in Argos furnished him with ten out of the few they had, and he himself equipped thirty of his own servants with arms. Through Xenophilus, the foremost of the robber captains, he also hired a few soldiers, to whom it was given out that a foray was to be made into the territory of Sicyon to seize the horses of Antigonus. And most of them were sent on ahead in small bands to the tower of Polygnotus, with orders to wait there. Aratus also sent on in advance Caphisias, lightly armed, with four companions; their orders were to come to the gardener’s when it was dark, pretending to be travellers, and after taking up quarters there for the night, to shut up him and his dogs; for there was no other way to get past them. The scaling-ladders, which could be taken apart, were packed in boxes, and thus concealed were sent on ahead in waggons.

In the meantime some spies of Nicocles appeared in Argos and were reported to be secretly going about and watching the movements of Aratus. As soon as it was day, therefore, Aratus left his house and showed himself openly in the market-place, conversing with his friends; then he anointed himself in the gymnasium, took with him from the palaestra some of the young men who were wont to drink and make holiday with him, and went back home; and after a little one of his servants was seen carrying garlands through the market-place, another buying lights, and another talking with the women that regularly furnished music of harp and flute at banquets. When the spies saw all this, they were completely deceived, and with loud laughter said to one another: “Nothing, you see, is more timorous than a tyrant, since even Nicocles, though master of so great a city and so large a force, is in fear of a stripling who squanders on pleasures and mid-day banquets his means of subsistence in exile.”

7. The spies, then, thus misled, left the city; but Aratus, immediately after the morning meal, sallied forth, joined his soldiers at the tower of Polygnotus, and led them on to Nemea. Here he disclosed his design, to most of them then for the first time, and made them exhortations and promises. Then, after giving out as watchword “Apollo Victorious,” he led them forward against Sicyon, quickening or retarding his progress according to the revolution of the moon, so as to enjoy her light while on the march, and as soon as she was setting to be at the garden near the wall. There Caphisias came to meet him; he had not secured the dogs (for they had bounded off before he could do this), but had locked up the gardener. Most of his men were disheartened at this and urged Aratus to retire; but he tried to encourage them, promising to lead them back if the dogs should prove too troublesome for them. At the same time he sent forward the men who carried the scaling-ladders, under the command of Ecdelus and Mnasitheus, while he himself followed after them slowly, the dogs already barking vigorously and running along by the side of Ecdelus and his party. However, they reached the wall and planted their ladders against it without mishap. But as the first men were mounting the ladders, the officer who was to set the morning-watch began making his rounds with a bell, and there were many lights and the noise of the sentries coming up. The invaders, however, crouched down just where they were on the ladders, and so escaped the notice of this party without any trouble; but since another watch was coming up to meet the first, they incurred the greatest danger. However, they escaped the notice of this guard also as it passed by, and then the leaders, Mnasitheus and Ecdelus, at once mounted to the top, and after occupying the approaches to the wall on either side, sent Technon to Aratus, urging him to hasten up.

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