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Illustrious ancestors haunted the lineage of the Marcii, surpassing in their achievements and their antiquity even those of the other great patrician families. Caius Marcius’ own father died when he was young and his widowed mother raised him. He grew up without a father, but he was likely brought up under the auspices of his great forefathers. Ancus Marcius had been a king of Rome. Publius and Quintus Marcius had built the aqueducts that brought in much of Rome’s water. And Censorinus had been chosen censor twice and, knowing the trials and temptations of that office better than any other man, he brought in a law that no one else should be censor more than once.

As a boy, Caius heard of how the Marcii built aquifers, and fought the enemies of Rome, and ruled with city, but he never saw his father drowse in front of the fire, laugh at his own jokes, or putter around the house. Perhaps it was because he grew up conscious of the greatness of his extraction and he was so unfamiliar with the more homely habits of men, or perhaps it was simply in his nature, but Caius was always severe and aloof in his bearing.

If he thought he was better than other men, he was also set on proving it. He took up sword and shield and spear at the earliest age and by constant training he made himself the best fighter among all his contemporaries. Inured to cold, and indifferent to hunger, he excelled all others in those abstemious habits in which the early Romans took such conspicuous pride. He was very young when he fought in his first battle, Tarquins last attempt to take back his throne, and he killed one of the enemy in single combat in the sight of his commander. For this, he was crowned with a garland of oak branches, the first of many decorations. As Plutarch describes it:

Marcius, having a spirit of this noble make, was ambitious always to surpass himself, and did nothing however extraordinary soever, but he thought he was bound to outdo it at the next occasion; and ever desiring to give continual fresh instances of his prowess, he added one exploit to another, and heaped up trophies upon trophies, so as to make it a matter of contest also among his commanders, the latter still vying with the earlier, which should pay him the greatest honour and speak highest in his commendation. Of all the numerous wars and conflicts in those days there was not one in which he returned without laurels and rewards.

Everything he did, he did to please his mother. He won his trophies so that he could carry them home to her. He earned the praises of his countrymen so that she could hear them. He conquered so that she could rejoice in his victories. Marcius loved his mother so dearly that he couldn’t stand to be parted from her, and when he took a wife, he brought her into his mother’s house rather than begin a household of his own.

The Romans warred almost incessantly with their neighbors and they were now investing, Corioli, the chief city of the Volscians, and an army of the enemy came against them to raise the siege. The consul Cominius divided his forces, taking by far the greater part of the army to meet the threat, and leaving a small force to continue the siege. The Volscians saw how few Romans opposed them and they opened their gates, fell upon them, and chased them into their trenches. Marcius, with just a few men, attacked them and drove them back into their own gates. Seeing that the gates stood open, he and his companions entered the city and when the gates were closed behind them, they found themselves shut in alone among their enemies. The Volscians surrounded them and tried to cut them down but despite being grievously outnumbered, Marcius and his men pushed the enemy back into the very center of the city and opened the gates to the rest of the Romans.


The Romans had taken Corioli but the main part of the armies were still outside the walls. Marcius was going their aid but the others had enough of fighting and were plundering the town. Marcius reproached them and begged them to go help their brothers but they had a chance to steal whatever they wanted and make themselves rich and almost all of them ignored his call. He and the few who remembered their duty ran out to reinforce the main army. Marcius and his men found them lined up and about to advance on the enemy and he placed himself in the center against the Antiates, the enemies’ best warriors. Exhausted and bleeding as he was, Marcius broke their lines and cut through their ranks. The battle won, Cominius was going to reward Marcius with a tenth part of all the treasure but having no use for money, Marcius refused the gift and took just one horse. The consul couldn’t reward Marcius so instead he honored him, giving him the name Coriolanus in memory of his contribution to taking the town and winning the battle.

After these exploits and the fame that came from them, Coriolanus’ fellow patricians put him up to be elected one of the consuls for that year. His reputation for courage and the services he’d rendered to the state should have carried him into office easily but he’d always despised the lower classes and done everything in his power to block any concession made to them. The plebeians were so poor that they couldn’t keep themselves out of debt and they couldn’t pay the debts they’d already contracted. These same men had fought in many campaigns and had won many victories, often making themselves even poorer by being away from their farms and trades while in the field. Despite their sacrifice, the senate did nothing to help them when the money-lenders seized their property and pressed them into indentured servitude.

When the senate next called upon the plebeians to come together and enlist in the legions, none of them answered the summons. Instead, they all left and camped on a hill called the Holy Mount on the River Anio. The plebeians didn’t vandalize or loot or commit crimes of any kind but simply exiled themselves from the city. The patricians sent the most moderate and popular from among themselves to entreat the plebeians to come back. The plebeians answered that since Rome was a rich man’s city, the poor had no place there and that they were not going to fight and die for their creditors.

The patricians had no choice but to grant the plebeians five officials, the tribunes of the people, to protect them against the rich and represent them in the government. Of all the patricians, Coriolanus was the most set against making any concession to the plebeians. He wasn’t rich but he was secure in life, and having enough and wanting no more, he gave no thought to money. He found it inexcusable for citizens to refuse the call to defend their country and had no use for their pleas that they were poor and hopelessly in debt. He urged the other patricians not to give in to the cowardly, insolent rabble.

When the senators put Coriolanus up for consul, the plebeians were so carried away with his the courage and magnanimity he’d shown at Corioli, and how much he’d done for his country, that they were inclined to give him their votes. But they observed how he kept company with the wealthiest and most powerful among the patricians. They remembered the harsh and indeed savage things he’d said about them. Why should they elect a man who hated them so utterly, who kept them down, who’d starve them if he could? To the surprise and indignation of the senate, two other men were elected to the consulship. And no one felt the affront more than Coriolanus himself.

Not long after this, a huge gift of grain came in from Sicily. The poor felt it was only fair that they should have a share in this gift and that the food should be distributed to relieve their hunger. Some of the senators wanted to use the gift to feed the hungry but Coriolanus stood up and opposed them. The disobedience of the plebeians should never be rewarded. The senate had been weak to grant the rabble those tribunes to represent them and they should abolish these officials at the first opportunity. The plebeians had refused to serve their country and they should be punished, not given free food. The rabble shouldn’t be conciliated with a dole and a share in the government. Every measure the senate takes to appease the poor made them more greedy and insolent.

The youngest, least experienced, and most impetuous among the patricians looked up to Coriolanus as a great warrior and they rose up to agree with him, letting loose with the same wild, furious rantings as their idol. A great crowd of the poorest and hungriest Romans had gathered outside the senate house and when they heard what Coriolanus had said, they were ready to storm the building. The tribunes came in to take Coriolanus into custody but the patricians rose in his defense, striking the tribunes and driving them away.

This inflamed the plebeians even more and they proposed to throw Coriolanus off the Tarpeian Rock. The patricians were just as unwilling to give up one of their own to the rabble. The conflict nearly led to a civil war and in the end, Coriolanus was banished from the city. Coriolanus left calmly but inwardly he was filled with the deadliest hate for the plebeians and for the patricians who’d betrayed him. Alone he couldn’t satisfy his revenge, so he went to the Volscians.

The man who’d killed so many of their countrymen, who’d made widows of so many of their women, and orphans of so many of their children, had put himself in their hands. Quite naturally, the Volscians wanted to kill him. But they realized that he now hated the Romans as much as they did, and that with their greatest warrior fighting for them, and with his intimate knowledge of the Romans and their weaknesses, they might be able to destroy their ancient enemies, they spared him and put him at the head of their armies.

Coriolanus led the Volscians against his own city and the Romans. He moved through their territories, taking town after town and laying waste to the country. The defection of one man had so tilted the balance that the Romans were powerless to defend themselves. He brought his army to Rome itself. The Romans couldn’t repel him and they had no choice but to plead with him to spare the city. They sent ambassadors to him, fellow patricians and old friends. Coriolanus felt that these old friends had deserted him out of cowardice and given him over to the mob. He heard their proposals and in his answer he refused their terms and complained of their ingratitude and their betrayal. He gave them his own harsh terms and sent them away. In their desperation, the Romans sent a delegation of priests to see him, hoping piety may succeed where friendship had failed but Coriolanus was unmoved and gave the bearers of the sacred mysteries terms no better than before. Finally, the Romans sent his own mother Volumnia, his wife Vergilia, and his son, to spare the city.

In Shakespeare’s play, Volumnia pleads with her son:

How more unfortunate than all living women

Are we come hither: since that thy sight which should

Make our eyes flow with joy, hearts dance with comforts,

Constrains them weep, and shake with fear and sorrow;

Making the mother, wife, and child to see

The son, the husband, and the father tearing

His country’s bowels out. And to poor we,

Thine enmity’s most capital: though barr’st us

Our prayers to the gods, which is a comfort

That all but we enjoy; for how can we,

Alas, how can we for our country pray,

Whereto we are bound-together with thy victory,

Whereto we are bound? alack, or we must lose

The country, our dear nurse; or else thy person,

Our comfort in the country. We must find

An evident calamity, though we had

Our wish, which side should win; for either thou

Must, as a foreign recreant, be led

With manacles thorough our streets, or else

Triumphantly tread on thy country’s ruin,

And bear the palm for having bravely shed

Thy wife and children’s blood. For myself, son,

I purpose not to wait on fortune till

These wars determine: if I cannot persuade thee

Rather to show a noble grace to both parts

Than seek the end of one, thou shalt no sooner

March to assault thy country than to tread-

Trust to’t, thou shalt not, on thy mother’s womb,

That brought thee to this world.

After this, Coriolanus broke camp and led his army away. The Volscians were unhappy with him and an assembly was called so that Coriolanus might explain himself. Tullus Aufidius had been a chief among the Volscians but his own people had forgotten him in preference for Coriolanus, a man who’d done them so many injuries. He’d grown envious of the Roman traitor now a Volscian hero, and there were others among the Volscians who resented or mistrusted him as well. Aufidius had brought together a band of conspirators to assassinate Coriolanus. Several speakers came up and denounced him for turning back from Rome when it may have so easily been taken. The crowd responded to the accusations, rumbling and growing more and more incensed. Yet when Coriolanus rose to speak, they fell quiet and seeing that they were about to give him a fair hearing, the conspirators rose up and killed him before he could address them.

Despite Coriolanus’ many splendid qualities, it seems petty in him to condemn an entire city for a personal affront and then to spare it upon the intercession of one woman. To be supercilious certainly isn’t commendable, but if it is consistent, it at least has a certain gruff equity in it. Yet Coriolanus despised the people and he craved praise and honors from them at the same time. If the plebeians were as cowardly, and fickle, and ignoble as he thought, then their acclamation and their votes should have meant nothing to him. This is the paradox of the misanthrope. The misanthrope wishes to spite, and injure, and mock mankind, but this bitter fascination is much like the spleen of a spurned lover than the lofty contempt to which they pretend. A true misanthrope wouldn’t rejoice in the failings of mankind or pen venomous maxims but would simply go off by himself and never give his species another thought. In his thirst for honors and distinction, both for his mother’s sake and his own, and in the spiteful revenge he wanted to take on his city for rejecting him, he showed himself simply a confused angry man.

Smugglers, Tariffs, and Cattle Drives

Smugglers, Tariffs, and Cattle Drives


Most of us have been the grudging payers of taxes, but Hamilton devoted much of his attention to the difficult and thankless job of collecting revenue. He found that commerce was the most useful and productive source of national wealth. In exalting commerce, he might be thought to be for the merchant against the farmer, taking the side of Northern factories against Southern plantations. He hastens to aver that there is no rivalry here but that what is good for commerce is just as beneficial for agriculture.

He points out that as commerce as flourished, land has risen in value. Trading and farming prosper simultaneously but does that mean that because the merchant is expanding his factories, sending more ships across the sea laden with his merchandise, and building a grand new manse in the best neighborhood, that the farmer is planting new fields, erecting more barns, and laying more money by? Hamilton thinks so:

It has been found, in various countries, that in proportion as commerce has flourished, land has risen in value. And how can it have happened otherwise? Could that which procures a freer vent for the products of the earth-which furnishes new incitements to the cultivators of land-which is the most powerful instrument in encreasing the quantity of money in a state-could that, in fine, which is the faithful handmaid of labor and industry in every shape, fail to augment the value of that article, which is the prolific parent of far the greatest part of the objects upon which they are exerted?

What exactly is a freer vent for the products of the earth. The products of the earth are now easily moved from place to place for the simple reason that foodstuffs are bulky and perishable. Great herds of cattle may be driven up from the huge ranches of South Texas to the stockyards of Kansas but only a part of what lumbers on the hoof is fit for the plate. Corn and grain may fill the hold of a great ship, but on a long journey, mold and insects will almost certainly ruin the whole load. In another century, railroads and refrigeration will carry the avocados, oranges, and lettuce of California across the continent to be enjoyed on the Atlantic coast but this lies in the future.

A freer vent may refer to the more modest but nevertheless rarely attained goal that the roads, muddy and bumpy as they are, should be free of brigands. The four horsemen rarely ride alone and where there is war, famine and pestilence aren’t far off. Havoc and slaughter are ruinous to the merchant and the farmer alike. The Thirty Years War carried off a third of Germany’s population, whether from starvation, plague, or the sword. The dead don’t eat, neither do they buy. A thriving merchant may be a more extravagant diner than a struggling one, but the farmer will plant more crops only if there are more mouths to feed. So also the merchant will find more hands to produce his goods and more purses to buy them. Peace, public safety, and order allow the present ravaged generation to multiply and bring forth a great wave of children to refill the land. A country at peace and not torn by strife will attract emigrants from lands not so blessed.

Commerce and agriculture shielded and nurtured under a strong and wise administration will both flourish, but measures helpful to the industrialist may be harmful to the planter. A young country, small and frail, will struggle to compete against the industries of great nations, long established and expert in their arts, far beyond them in resources and manpower. Those who venture to confront these foreign giants may ask their own government to confer the advantage of a tariff. Their fellow citizens can purchase these foreign goods only at an inflated price while the products of their countrymen may be bought for less.

The South Carolina farmer little cares about the fortunes of the Massachusetts industrialist but he knows that English goods are better and cheaper than Yankee ones. If tariffs make these English goods prohibitively expensive and force him to turn to the inferior alternatives pushed on him by his neighbors to the North, isn’t his anger understandable? Yet the colonial industrialist is entering a struggle against a far stronger foe, a struggle he cannot win unless sustained by his own government. If their own manufactures cannot make inroads upon their foreign competition, the former colonies will remain economic dependencies of the more advanced, wealthier, and more powerful nations across the sea. Is the merchant greedy or the farmer unpatriotic simply for consulting his own interests? The young nation nearly broke apart over this very question.

If the interests of commerce and agriculture do diverge, the fact remains that duties, imposts, and excises are the most reliable and productive sources of revenue. Hamilton explains, with some regret, that personal property is too invisible to be effectively taxed, and in his age that was very true. The means of recording and transmitting information were so slow and cumbersome that only a tiny fraction of all happenings could ever be set down. The number of human beings teeming across the globe has greatly increased in the interval but the capacity to store, assemble, arrange, and send data has grown thousands of times faster. Corporations can not only tally what we own and mark what we buy, but they can track the pattern of what items we splurge on, what videos we watch, what music we listen to. They profile our tastes and our vices, and they set before us an array of temptations selected to appeal specifically and only to us. We may find it convenient or nefarious that these entities have become so perfectly acquainted with out appetites and lusts, but the same facility makes it possible for the state to tax income and property.

In his own age, the public revenue had to rely on taxes upon consumption and duties. One item Hamilton found an especially fitting target for these duties was what he primly termed ardent spirits. He proposed a rate of duty of a shilling per gallon, and if this extra cost lessened the consumption, he felt this would favor the agriculture, economy, morals, and health of society. Hamilton didn’t live to witness the Nullification crisis but he did a great deal to provoke the Whiskey Rebellion.

Hamilton was certainly correct when he predicted that it would be quite easy to carry on smuggling between many small States but that it would be nearly impossible to smuggle goods into one unified Republic with a single border fronting the Atlantic Ocean. It is strenuous but certainly practicable to load a rowboat with some luxury, push off from a beach in North Carolina, row two or three leagues north to Virginia, pull the craft up onto an empty beach and unload it onto a cart. The whole enterprise can be fitted into one night’s work and the profits may well be sufficient reward for the exertion.

Yet if that duty doesn’t abruptly cut off at the North Carolina border but stretches from Key West to the northernmost tip of Maine, it can be avoided only by embarking from a foreign port. No Thor Heyerdahl is going to row from France to Virginia for so meager a payout. And any ship large enough to cross the Atlantic can’t be dragged up onto some deserted beach. Smugglers can try to anchor in deeper water offshore, load the contraband onto longboats, and then bring these onto land, but such a drawn out, laborious transfer will not easily escape detection.

Litigious Sons and Parricides

Litigious Sons and Parricides


Euthyphro comes upon Socrates sitting at the King’s Porch and wonders that he is here and not at the Lyceum. Socrates explains that he’s been indicted by a young man named Meletus for corrupting the youth:

It is no small thing, young as he is, to be knowledgeable in so great a matter; for he says he knows how the youth are being corrupted and who is corrupting them. No doubt he is wise, and realizing that, in my ignorance, I corrupt his comrades, he comes to the city as a mother to accuse me. He alone seems to begin his political career correctly; for the correct way to begin is to look after the young men of the City first, so that they will be as good as possible, just as a good farmer naturally looks after his young plants first and the rest later. So too with Meletus. He will perhaps first weed out those who blight the young shoots, as he claims; afterwards, he will obviously look after their elders and become responsible for many great blessings to the City, the natural result of so fine a beginning.

The bare facts of the indictment could be put forth very succinctly and most of this passage is an exercise in Socratic irony, a device in which Socrates professes to be unknowing and perplexed and entreats friend and foe alike to impart their great wisdom. In what follows, the same irony will be applied to Euthyphro, more gently yet still persistently. When Socrates uses this device so heavily and on a target widely acknowledged to be unworthy of such praise, it becomes difficult to believe he’s being ingenuous and not taunting his interlocutors.

It turns out that Euthyphro is here about a suit of his own, but he is the plaintiff and not the defendant. He has come to prosecute his own father for murder. The details of the case are unimportant, although any visitors to Athens should be forewarned that non-citizens evidently enjoy little protection from the laws. What is important is that Euthyphro is attacking his own father, an action that will brand him a monster and a parricide, and he must be very sure of himself. Plato makes sure that all of Socrates’ victims are appallingly smug so that they aren’t pitied when his hero runs them about in circles. Euthyphro is no exception, and he quickly avers that he knows the real nature of piety and holiness.

Socrates is delighted with this, rejoicing that if he tells the court that he’s been tutored in piety by the great Euthyphro and thereby rehabilitated, his indictment will surely be dismissed. And so it begins. Socrates gets Euthyphro to agree that all holy things are so by virtue of one common property and that the holy is what is loved by the gods. Socrates counters that the gods quarrel and disagree and that there is enmity between them.

Although poetry and myth furnish abundant examples of what the gods quarrel about, Socrates doesn’t avail himself of these sources but adopts a deductive approach. He and Euthyphro may disagree about quantities, larger and smaller and heavier and lighter but these are quickly sorted out by appealing to rulers and scales. But when they disagree about the good, the true, and the beautiful, there is no such ready and indisputable instrument to decide the question. Socrates makes leap that what is true for men must likewise be true for the gods and Euthyphro bounds after him without hesitating. Socrates is doubtful about many of the stories written about the gods, and in these stories, their strife did not begin in disagreements about aesthetics, axiology, or deontic logic but in envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, fear, and cuckolding. Socrates is not comfortable with gods who gobble their children, who marry one sibling and then lay with another only to be caught in the act, literally and with a net, who set nation to war against nation and topple great cities over the outcome of a beauty contest.

Socrates may wish the disagreements between the gods to be far more genteel than Homer portrayed, but he’s established that they do disagree about some things but it’s possible that they all agree about others. Euthyphro needs little coaxing to agree that what all the gods love is the holy and what all the gods hate is the unholy. Socrates is willing to allow that the gods may be unanimous and moves on to a much more abstract difficulty. Do the gods love the holy because it is holy or do is it holy only because the gods love it.

The Greeks have been faulted for elevating the grammatical rules of Indo-European languages into the very laws of the universe, and the next bit is a good example of this tendency. Socrates pulls Euthyphro into a rather confusing wrangle about states and participles. It is because of being led that the ‘leading’ exists, and it is because of the being carried that the ‘carrying’ exists. Kant’s Thalers may exist or they may not; anyone can see this and whether in fact they do exist or not is a question for his creditors. It is difficult to imagine what brand of philosopher would grant existence to this ‘carrying’ and ‘leading’, floating about in the air not tethered to any substance.

Socrates is trying to work around to the point that the gods love the holy because of this common property. He is more than willing to grant this and all that remains is to find out exactly what this property is. Those who followed in Plato’s footsteps and beyond became very skittish about asserting anything about the gods. Socrates had qualms about describing the gods as murderous lechers but later thinkers had similar qualms about describing the gods at all, even as good or benevolent. But all this lies in the future and we must return to the King’s Porch. Socrates has won back the point that the gods love the holy for a certain property and he can resume hounding poor Euthyphro.

The definition has run around in a circle, and Socrates laughs that Euthyphro is much like his own ancestor Daedalus, able to make his words run about. Euthyphro answers that if his words are roiling it is Socrates who set them to moving. Socrates demurs on the grounds that Daedalus could make only his own works move and that he must be far more skillful to make Euthryphro’s stateements run about. He then ends the banter by comparing himself to Daedalus and Tantalus as well, in his hunger for the truth of their inquiry.

Accusing Euthyphro of not delivering what he promised out of laziness, he asks if the just and the holy are one and the same or if the holy is only a part of the just. Euthyphro doesn’t follow and Socrates unhelpful digression on a line from a certain poem doesn’t make things any clearer. Socrates provides a second example in which the just and the holy are like even numbers and all numbers. Number is a more approximate term than even numbers, and number comprehends both even numbers and odd. No longer mystified, Euthyphro asserts that the holy involves ministering to the gods, and the remaining part of the just involves ministering to men.

Socrates is puzzled by what he means by ministering but suggests that he means it in the way that some men take care of domestic animals, horses, dogs, and cattle specifically. Somehow this unpromising beginning doesn’t show Euthyphro that it’s bound to lead into another morass and we are taken along with them into the bog. Undismayed, they stay with ‘ministering’ as the relation between an inferior being and a superior, but now invert the two so that men minister to the gods as a slave ministers to his master.

The relation is one of service and the end is to produce something of value. Slaves assist physicians, shipwrights, carpenters, generals and all yield some good, but what good follows from the service of men to the gods? Euthyphro has no better answer to this than what the gods love.

And they have described another circle. After another obligatory reference to Daedalus, Socrates is ready to begin again. Euthyphro is not. He pleads an urgent and suddenly remembered matter of business and makes good his escape. Abandoned, Socrates throws a few more ironic taunts at his retreating back and the dialogue ends.

Socrates has advanced nothing and merely run Euthyphro around in circles. He has humbled his presumptions and Euthyphro probably benefited from the rough treatment. He was about to prosecute his own father for murder and he should have ventured into something so grave with far more humility, caution, and circumspection. Socrates has flurried and bewildered his antagonist but is that all he’s prepared to offer. In other longer dialogues he puts forth his own proposals but in this dialogue he’s content to dismantle Euthyphro’s puerile righteousness.

Of the Inequalities Amongst Us

Of the Inequalities Amongst Us


Montaigne observed that a crown will not protect a king from the rain or sun, but he was taking synecdoche a little too far. A crown may be no help but a canopy will keep the sun and the rain off the royal head very nicely. This is true, but is it trivial? The pains and troubles inherent in a life of power and wealth has always been a popular theme for moralists.

When Diogenes heard that there was a thief about, he scoffed that he had nothing to fear since no thief could steal knowledge. If only there were some thief who could steal smug self-satisfaction.

Moralists wish to separate the great man from the fine clothes he wears, the great wealth he possesses, the palace in which he lives and judge him on what he is in himself. Weigh his power of mind and strength of body and then decide whether or not he really is great. They assume that what really defines us is our body and the faculties seated in that body. Everything else is external and adventitious, outward trappings signifying nothing. And it’s true; wealth and power can’t do everything. Henry IV couldn’t summon a good night’s sleep:

O sleep, O gentle sleep,

Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,

That thou wilt no more weigh my eyelids down,

And steep my senses in forgetfulness?

Why rather sleep, dost thou lie in smoky cribs,

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,

Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,

Under high canopies of costly state,

And lull’d with sounds of sweetest melody?

O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile

In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch

A watch-case or a common ‘larum bell?

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast

Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains

In cradle of the rude imperious surge,

And in the visitation of the winds,

Who take the ruffian billows by the top

Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging then

With deafening clamour in the slippery shrouds,

That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose

To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;

And in the calmest and most stillest night,

With all the appliances and means to boot,

Deny it to a king?

The king had grown old and feeble and nothing in the royal power could give him back youth and strength or banish insomnia. We must move past the chaff and get to the kernel. A horse isn’t admired for his caparison nor a hawk for her gesses.

But men aren’t horses or hawks. Epimetheus gave them nothing. When we get to the kernel, we come upon a frail, slow, ungainly creature that would have died out long ago if he depended upon limb, and claw, and fang. We are creatures of artifice. A katana is longer and sharper than any talon. Our houses are stronger, and snugger, and warmer than any warren. We eat fine foods and so we have no need for huge, grinding molars. Other primates may use a tool and then drop it, but we keep tools, we surround ourselves with tools, we enmesh ourselves with tools so closely and constantly that it becomes hard to tell where we end and the instrument begins. Our cells are always in our hands and how long will it be before they’re knit into our very flesh?

The rich man’s guards, attendants, and sumptuous bed won’t spare him from fever, gout, apoplexy or colic, but the science of medicine has come very far and the rich man’s doctors and the expensive medications he prescribes may heal him. Physicians have always hung about the wealthy but it has been just recently that their ministrations have benefited them rather than plaguing and killing them. And even when money was helpless against illness, it could keep a man warm, and safe, and fed. Money will buy fuel for the fireplace or furnace. Money will put food on the table. Money will put four thick walls and a solid door around a man and set his fastness in a safe neighborhood. No one knows more truly or more bitterly what money can do than those who don’t have it. Money can’t buy happiness but it can stave off much unhappiness.

The most active spirits want more than wealth. They crave glory, and power, and preeminence. And it isn’t just the Achilles and the Alexanders among us who hunger for renown. Sages vie as to who can denigrate power and glory most eloquently and memorably. Diogenes was himself one of the most ambitious and vainglorious of men. Alexander recognized him as a kindred spirit; if he couldn’t be Alexander, he’d be Diogenes. Alexander had Diogenes and Pyrrhyus had Cyneas. The same Cyneas made himself immortal by disdaining the pursuit of power and glory.

Animals as well as men will fight and die for power and preeminence. They duel, sometimes to the death, for territory and rank. The victor doesn’t mark his dominion and his station with crown, scepter, throne, pavilion, and stronghold, but his rank is acknowledged and entrenched with ritual of submission and while he can’t fence his territory in with ramparts, he does mark its borders against any interloper. The bear scores a tree as high as he can reach to communicate his great size to the challenger, who can heed the lesson and move on without the wounds that would have come from fighting and the shame that would have followed from losing. The king communicates his power through the jewels in his crown or on his finger, the dais on which he feasts, the magnificent robes he wears, and the thone on which he sits high above all other men, for the very same reason.