Lecture VIII

◄Lecture VII - Lecture IX►

That kings also should study philosophy.

1 When one of the kings from Syria once came to him (for at that time there were still kings in Syria, vassals of the Romans),[1] amongst many other things he had to say to the man were the following words in particular. Do not imagine, he said, that it is more appropriate for anyone to study philosophy than for you, nor for any other reason than because you are a king. For the first duty of a king is to be able to protect and benefit his people, and a protector and benefactor must know what is good for a man and what is bad, what is helpful and what harmful, what advantageous and what disadvantageous, inasmuch as it is plain that those who ally themselves with evil come to harm, while those who cleave to good enjoy protection, and those who are deemed worthy of help and advantage enjoy benefits, while those who involve themselves in things disadvantageous and harmful suffer punishment.

2 But to distinguish between good and bad, advantageous and disadvantageous, helpful and harmful is the part of none other than the philosopher, who constantly occupies himself with this very question, how not to be ignorant of any of these things, and has made it his art to understand what conduces to a man's happiness or unhappiness. Therefore it appears that the king should study philosophy. 6Furthermore it is fitting for a king, or rather it is an absolute necessity for him, to arbitrate justice as between subjects so that no one may have more or less than his just deserts, but may receive honor or punishment as he deserves.

3 But how would anyone who was not just ever be able to manage this? And how would anyone ever be just if he did not understand the nature of justice? Here again is a reason the king should study philosophy, for without such study it would not be plain that he knew justice and the just. For one cannot deny either that the one who has learned it will understand justice better than the one who has not learned it, or that all who have not studied philosophy are ignorant of its nature. The truth of this statement appears from the fact that men disagree and contend with one another about justice, some saying that it is here, others that it is there.

4 Yet about things of which men have knowledge there is no difference of opinion, as for example about white and black, or hot and cold, or soft and hard, but all think the same about them and use the same words. In just the same way they would agree about justice if they knew what it was, but in their very lack of agreement they reveal their ignorance. Indeed I am inclined to think that you are not far from such ignorance yourself, and you ought therefore more than anyone else to concern yourself with this knowledge, the more disgraceful it is for a king than for a private citizen to be ignorant about justice.

5 In the next place it is essential for the king to exercise selfcontrol over himself and demand self-control of his subjects, to the end that with sober rule and seemly submission there shall be no wantonness on the part of either. For the ruin of the ruler and the citizen alike is wantonness. But how would anyone achieve self-control if he did not make an effort to curb his desires, or how could one who was undisciplined make others temperate? One can mention no study except philosophy that develops self-control. Certainly it teaches one to be above pleasure and greed, to admire thrift and to avoid extravagance; it trains one to have a sense of shame, and to control one's tongue, and it produces discipline, order, and courtesy, and in general what is fitting in action and in bearing. In an ordinary man when these qualities are present they give him dignity and self-command, but if they be present in a king they make him preeminently godlike and worthy of reverence.

6 Nov, since fearlessness and intrepidity and boldness are the product of courage, how else would a man acquire them than by having a firm conviction that death and hardships are not evils? For these are the things, death and hardships, I repeat, which unbalance and frighten men when they believe that they are evils; that they are not evils philosophy is the only teacher. Consequently if kings ought to possess courage, and they more than anyone else should possess it, they must set themselves to the study of philosophy, since they cannot become courageous by any other means.

7 It is also the prerogative of kings (if they enjoy any whatever) to be invincible in reason and to be able to prevail over disputants by their arguments, just as over their enemies by their arms. Thus when kings are weak in this, it stands to reason that often they are misled and forced to accept the false as the true, which is the price of folly and dense ignorance. Now philosophy by its nature confers upon its devotees perhaps more than anything else the ability to remain superior to others in debate, to distinguish the false from the true, and to refute the one and to confirm the other. Professional speakers, at any rate, whenever they enter into the give and take of argument with philosophers one can see confused and confounded and obliged to contradict themselves. And yet if such speakers, whose business it is to practice debate, are caught because they are inferior to the philosophers in argument, what is bound to happen to other men? Therefore if it is the ambition of anyone who is a king to be powerful in debate, he should study philosophy in order that he may not have to fear that anyone will prevail over him in this, for a king should be completely fearless and courageous and invincible.

8 In general it is of the greatest importance for the good king to be faultless and perfect in word and action, if, indeed, he is to be a "living law"[2] as he seemed to the ancients, effecting good government and harmony, suppressing lawlessness and dissension, a true imitator of Zeus and, like him, father of his people. But how could anyone be such a king if he were not endowed with a superior nature, given the best possible education, and possessed of all the virtues which befit a man? If, then, there is any other knowledge which guides man's nature to virtue and teaches him to practice and associate with the good, it should be placed beside philosophy and compared with it to see whether it or philosophy is better and more capable of producing a good king. Then the man who wished to become a good king would be wise to use the better one.

9 If, however, no other art professes the teaching and transmission of virtue, though there are some which are concerned solely with man's body and what is useful for it, while others which touch the mind aim at everything else but making it self-controlled,[3] yet philosophy alone makes this its aim and occupies itself with this, how a man may avoid evil and acquire virtue, if this I say is so, what else would be more serviceable to a king who wished to be good than the study of philosophy? How better or how otherwise could a man be a good ruler or live a good life than by studying philosophy? For my part, I believe that the good king is straightway and of necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher a kingly person.

10 Of these two propositions let us examine the former: Is it possible for anyone to be a good king unless he is a good man? No, it is not possible. But given a good man, would he not be entitled to be called a philosopher? Most certainly, since philosophy is the pursuit of ideal good. Therefore a good king is found to be forthwith and of necessity a philosopher also. Now again that the philosopher is entirely kingly you may understand from this. The attribute of a kingly person is obviously the ability to rule peoples and cities well and to be worthy to govern men. Well, then, who would be a more capable head of a city or more worthy to govern men than the philosopher? For it behooves him (if he is truly a philosopher) to be intelligent, disciplined, noble-minded, a good judge of what is just and of what is seemly, efficient in putting his plans into effect, patient under hardship. In addition to this, he should be courageous, fearless, resolute in the face of things apparently disastrous, and besides beneficent, helpful, and humane. Could anyone be found more fit or better able to govern than such a man? No one. Even if he does not have many subjects obedient to him, he is not for that reason less kingly, for it is enough to rule one's friends or one's wife and children or, for that matter, only oneself.

11 For, indeed, a physician who attends few patients is no less a physician than the one who attends many if, to be sure, he has skill and experience in healing. In the same way the musician who teaches only a few pupils is no less a musician than the one who teaches many, provided he knows the art of music. Likewise the horseman who trains only one or two horses is just as much a horseman as the one who trains many if he is skilled in horsemanship. And so the title of kingly person belongs to the one who has only one or two subjects just as well as to the one who has many, only let him have the skill and ability to rule, so that he may deserve the name of king. For this reason it seems to me that Socrates too called philosophy the statesmanlike and royal discipline, because one who masters it immediately becomes a statesman.[4]

12 When Musonius said these things, the king was glad at his words and told him that he was grateful for what he said and added, "In return for this, ask of me whatever you wish for I shall refuse you nothing." Then Musonius said, "The only favor I ask of you is to remain faithful to this teaching, since you find it commendable, for in this way and no other will you best please me and benefit yourself."

◄Lecture VII - Lecture IX►

1 The reference to the king from Syria furnishes a terminus post quem for the editing of the works of Musonius. There were no longer kings in Syria after 106 A.D.

2 The concept of the king as the embodiment of Law is expressed in a number of writers, perhaps first in Xenophon, Cyropaedia VIII, 1, n. Musonius' phrase νόμος έμψυχος 'living law' or 'law incarnate,' taken possibly from Philo (Moses II, 1, 4, ed. Colson, VI, p. 452), was used later by Clement of Alexandria (Stromata II, 438P).

3 He is probably referring to rhetoric.

4 Cf. Plato, Republic 473D.