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THE PRECEPTS OF ISOCRATES FOR DEMONICUS

1. First of all, you are to worship the gods, not only by casting incense on their consecrated altars, but by faithfully keeping your vows. The one deed is perceived to be the work of an upright character, the other merely of wealth.

2. Above all else, take care to worship God, upon Whom alone your city’s safety depends. When on holy days your fellow citizens earnestly adore HIm by offering up public prayers, do you that too. Thus you will be pleasing to the gods, thus they will think you are law-abiding and respectful of your nation’s statutes.

3. Honor both your parents with great ceremony, so that you will yourself become dearer to your own children.

4. Exercise your body frequently with moderate exertion, not to gain strength so much as good health. This will easily come about if you make an end to your exercises when your body is not yet exhausted.

5. Do not indulge in self-praise, nor dissolve in inappropriate laughter; nor is it helpful to boast of your accomplishments. Such laughter demonstrates foolishness, and boasting shows stupidity, bearing the mark of folly.

6. Consider those things which are disgraceful to do as shameful to mention. Think disgraceful sayings to correspond with evil deeds.

7. Do not wear sad clothing, or frown. A happy expression suits your face. Sad garments betoken a gloomy life, and a furrowed brow ill befits a gentleman.

8. Propriety, moderation, and good habits befit a young man, as do careful modesty and justice in speech.

9. Never commit wrong with the thought that you can conceal it from others, for you are aware of yourself.

10. Cheerfully obey the law; always let those pleasures be sought which a glory worthy of the virtues provides for you. For pleasure joined with the good is the best of things, but it is the worst when joined with the bad.

11. Shun the lying slanders of the fickle, foolish multitude. The common people have many bad ideas and few good ones.

12. Always comport yourself as if you were acting in broad daylight. For the deceit that was formerly hidden soon becomes revealed.

13. Refuse to do that which you consider blameworthy in another man. Let yourself be seen to live in a way that matches what you say.

14. Gripped by a love of learning you will learn much. You, who were lately a dunce, will become learned.

15. Store up in your mind what you have learned, and apply effort to those things of which you are ignorant.

16. It is not more shameful to spurn a friend’s gift than to fail to learn from the good things you hear.

17. The leisure time that is given you free from money-making and business affairs should be reserved for listening to eloquent men. See how far the merchant fares over the seas, so that in his greed he may store up new wealth. How much less shameful it is for a young man to travel a short length by land so that he might become more educated.

19. Let your conversation flow gently, let your habits be so framed that you gain a reputation for being pleasant and sociable. You will easily become sociable if you greet every passerby and address him by name; and amiable, if you admit them to your home and conversation.

20. Be pleasant to your everyday acquaintances, but only joined in affection to those who are good men. Thus you will never appear to deserve the dislike of the former, but will be a dear friend to the latter.

21. Do not linger long, nor constantly revisit your friends. For all things pall when dragged on too long.

22. Frequently undertake arduous labors of your own choosing, so that you can withstand those imposed on you against your will.

23. Learn to maintain a sober moderation regarding those things by which it is shameful to have your mind overcome. These include anger, that momentary insanity, seductive pleasure, pain, and thirsty greed, which is worse than pain. Your anger will depart if you behave against those who offend you as you would hope others to be towards you when you are offensive. Conquer pleasure by thinking it disgraceful to rule over your servants while not being able to govern your senses. Your pain will be come trifling when you observe others being ill used by harsh fortune and recognize that you are human. If you can bring yourself to account praise rather than money as a gain, this affliction of greed will thirst no more.

24. Be much more concerned with keeping your word than with guarding money entrusted to your care. For a man ought to be considered more reliable in maintaining his good character than in abiding by his oath. Just as we should think all good men to be trustworthy, so nobody would say bad men are worthy of our faith.

25. Divulge your counsels to no man save perhaps him who would wish them to be kept secret no less than yourself.

26. If you are compelled to call on the gods to bear witness for you, this should be done only for two reasons: either to protect a friend who has fallen under suspicion, or that you might escape punishment when on trial yourself. You should be afraid to swear for gain, lest somebody say you have violated your oath out of greed.

27. Make no man your friend until first you have found out how he has behaved towards his former ones. For the disposition he displayed towards his former ones is the same as he will show towards you.

28. Make friendships slowly, but maintain them with great care. Think it equally shameful to trust in no friend as to chance to have one you have not had for long.

29. Do not test a friend to your own peril, nor be unaware of his character. You can get to know him if, being rich in truth, you feign poverty and oppression by great debt. And confide in him, as if they ere consequential, matters which are not harmfully disclosed or profitably kept secret. Thus, if he changes on you, there will be no injury associated with the discovery. But he remains constant, you may think he can keep silent about important things.

30. You can test a friend’s mind in adversity, whether he remains true when you have lost your wealth. As refined gold is tried in the furnace, so steady loyalty is tested in times of misfortune.

31. You can thus make a man your particularly friend if you do not wait until he asks for help. But whatever you do, you ought to do cheerfully, of your own free will offering your aid and assistance.

32. You should think it as shameful to be outdone in kindnesses by a friend as to be outdone in injuries by an enemy.

33. Not only he who is saddened by your misfortunes should be made your loyal friend, but much more he who rejoices in your prosperity and does not envy your doubled treasure. For there are those who grieve with a false face, but who are devoured by envy for great honor.

34. Let your discourse always be friendly towards an absent friend, lest you seem mindful only of those who are present.

35. Do not dress foppishly. Splendid garments have an arrogant formality, while plain ones are decorous.

36. Seek modest wealth, and let it its income suffice. What’s the point in chasing after shillings?

37. Scorn the rich man who does not know how to employ his wealth, for it is their use that make riches desirable. This is what happens to a man who owns a horse and does not know how to ply its reins with a skilled hand.

38. Always seek wealth derived from a farm (for the ownership of a farm is certain) rather than from money. Money is only pleasurable in the spending, but the ownership of a farm is useful.

39. If, after living a long time, you have riches, for two reasons you should cherish them: that you can make good your own losses or those of a friend. But for the rest take care not to be over-stingy in its use, but employ moderation and do not heap up wealth.

40. However matters fall out, embrace your lot with prudence, but never set a limit on your aspirations for greater prosperity.

41. Taunt no man for his catastrophes, for Fortune treats all alike, nor can any man foresee the future.

41a. Heap favors on good men, for the gratitude felt by a thankful man is more valuable than any treasury. But to do favors for bad men is no different than to feed fine food to ignorant dogs: they have no hesitation to bite the feeder while the food is still half-chewed in their mouths. In the same way, ingrates harm both those who help them and those who have done them injury.

42. You ought to hate flatterers just as much as those whom you seek wish to deceive you. Both set traps when they are believed, and they give you the lie even when you believe they are unable to do so.

43. If you chance to have some lad as a friend who will gratify you in shameful matters, the fellow will scarcely be the man who, if the occasion demands, will bravely court unpopularity for your sake in some honorable business.

44. Never be a harsh friend to your comrades, for a haughty spirit is intolerable even when directed against slaves. You will be amiable if you are not prompt to bitter quarrels, and if you strike nobody as pugnacious and fierce. If you are not difficult and your anger does not long endure, and if you do not heatedly issue threats with an arrogant mouth, and if you do not provoke an angry friend, even if he happens to give cause fpr offence, but if you keep your silence until his rage subsides, and when he is pacified you can think you have rebuked him sufficiently.

45. Do not introduce serious gestures into playful games, nor mix serious statements in with jokes. For anything is inelegant which not fit for the time or the place.

46. Whatever favors you display should be given with a smile, for certainly many people give and then regret having given.

47. It is not suitable to blame or find fault in things, for such behavior nourishes dislike and bitter resentment.

48. Shun cups foaming with their deadly lees and take care not to irritate your fellow banqueters. If you are invited and compelled to be present at parties, remember to leave the table sober. In the manner of a chariot whose driver has fallen out, the reins broken, which careers along aimlessly, the mind, smitten by overmuch wine, is not able to perform its usual tasks prudently.

49. By subduing your impulses, realize your humanity and stout-heartedly aspire to the stars.

50. Prudence far surpasses the ignorance of the common herd. In general they manage to make a profit on their deficiencies. But this ignorance tortures and burns the mind it occupies, and, being something that profits others, hurts itself.

51. People who have given offence by word alone have often paid a substantial penalty in actual deeds.

52. If you are courting a man’s friendship, praise him in the presence of those who you think will report what you say to him. For amity is created by praise, whereas discord is generated by stealthy bile, and usually dissolves friendships.

53. Make your conjectures on the basis of past history, for what has happened usually shows what will come to pass.

54. When you are about to do something, think it over much, but when you have formed your plan do not dither.

55. Pray to the gods for good luck and fortune, but look to yourself for counsel and protection.

56. If some scruple weighs on your mind, and you both desire and fear to share it with a friend, explain it to him as if it had to do with an affair he would think hardly concerned yourself. By thus asking him you will neither betray your real intention, nor will you learn his opinion any he less.

57. If perchance you wish to consult anyone else about your affairs, first learn how he manages his own. For no man is able to manage another’s business, if you see that he has badly handled his own.

58. Just as we are most concerned about preserving our health when we remember the pain of a former disease, so when you have a good understanding of the damages caused by rashness henceforth you will act with more caution.

59. Imitate great men, and thus you will be their great emulator, and one who loves their praise. This will procure you their affection, and your glory will be greater in the public eye.

60. Observe the laws of princes, but more than any law revere their way of life. Just as a leading citizen in a democracy must court the common people, so in a monarchy the king is to be cultivated in every manner. For he is far and away the most preeminent man.

61. When in a position of authority, if at all possible you must dismiss wicked assistants. For they err, and you bear the blame.

62. You should thus retire from public office so that you are more popular, but not wealthier. For a leading man, the praise of his fellow citizens ought to be no small aspiration to great accomplishment.

63. Never offer your protection to skulduggery or help those doing it, for a man does whatever he defends.

64. Search after wealth, but if it is perchance denied you, you should be content with your lot. And do not seem to love justice under compulsion, but rather to cleave to the best of your own free will.

65. Seek just poverty rather than ill-gotten gains. Wealth is surpassed by justice in that the one only helps the living, whereas the other does not perish on the sad pyre. Fortune can enrich bad men, but justice’ great glory never accrues to an unjust man.

66. Never take into your affections a man who turns cruel rapine to his own advantage. Rather, you should love the man who cultivates the right and suffers losses for justice’s sake. For even if the just do not surpass the wicked on any other score, hope alone makes them far superior.

67. Seek all the other enrichments of life, but above all care for your mind. For a sound mind in a healthy body is much preferable to your riches.

68. Be patient of physical toil, and devote your mind to study night and day. Do the latter so that you can foresee what must be done, and the other so that you can better accomplish whatever you wish.

69. Do not say anything except what you have planned in advance. For many men’s tongues are wont to run ahead of their brains.

70. Do not think anything in human affairs to be fixed, nor anybody to call anything his own for long. thus you will not be proud when Fortune smiles on you, or downcast in adversity.

71. There are two circumstances in which it is better to speak than to remain silent, either when business has to be transacted by conversation, or when you know what you say is true.

72. Be happy about the good things that befall you, but do not be tortured by the ills that Fortune brings.

73. Hide deep in your heart both the things that bring you joy and those that bring you sorrow. What is more absurd than to hide your coins in a chest but not be able to keep silent about your mind’s feelings?

74. You should think that no danger is more studiously to be avoided than a blot on your name. Death alone is feared by evil men; the good fear only loss of reputation and dishonor.

75. If you are able, lead a peaceful life with no contention. But if your enemies’ madness rouses you to arms, take care to preserve your security in a praiseworthy manner, and not to shame your nation.

76. Death takes off everyone indiscriminately, but the Fates have reserved an honorable end for good men.

Finis
I translated these as an undergraduate