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Lecture XX

◄Lecture XIX - Lecture XXI►

On furnishings

Related to and in harmony with extravagance in houses is all the matter of furnishings within the house—couches, tables, coverlets, drinking cups, and similar objects—completely surpassing all needs and going far beyond necessity. There are ivory and silver, yes, even golden couches, tables of similar materials, coverlets of purple and other colors difficult to obtain, cups made of gold and silver, some of marble or some similar material rivalling gold and silver in costliness. All these things are eagerly sought for, although a pallet furnishes us a place to lie on no worse than a silver or ivory couch, and a rough cloak is quite as suitable to cover it as a purple or crimson coverlet; it is possible for us to eat quite safely from a wooden table without longing for one of silver. Yes, and one can drink from earthenware cups which are quite as good for quenching the thirst as goblets of gold; and the wine which is poured into them is not tainted, but yields a fragrance sweeter than from cups of gold or silver. In general, one would rightly judge what is good and bad in furnishings by these three criteria: acquisition, use, and preservation. Whatever is difficult to obtain or not convenient to use or not easy to protect is to be judged inferior; but what we acquire with no difficulty and use with satisfaction and find easy to keep is superior. For this reason earthenware and iron and similar vessels are much better than those of silver or gold, because their acquisition is less trouble since they are cheaper, their usefulness is greater since we can safely expose them to heat and fire (which cannot be done with others) , and guarding them is less of a problem, for the inexpensive ones are less likely to be stolen than the expensive ones. No small part of preserving them too is keeping them clean, which is a more expensive matter with costly ones. Just as a horse which is bought for a small price but is able to fulfill many needs is more desirable than one which does little although he was bought for a great price, so in the matter of furnishings the cheaper and more serviceable are better than the more costly and less serviceable ones. Why is it, then, that the rare and expensive pieces are sought after rather than those which are available and cheap? It is because the things which are really good and fine are not recognized, and in place of them those which only seem good are eagerly sought by the foolish. As madmen often think that black is white, so foolishness is next of kin to madness.[1] Now we should find that the best lawgivers— and I think first of all of Lycurgus, who drove extravagance out of Sparta and substituted frugality,[2] who preferred a life of deprivation as a means of producing courage to a life of excess, and who did away with luxury as a corrupting influence and considered the will to bear hardships the salvation of the state. Testimony to this is the endurance of the Spartan ephebes, who were made accustomed to bear hunger and thirst and cold, and even blows and other hardships. Trained in such noble and austere habits the ancient Lacedaemonians were the best of the Greeks and were so esteemed. Their very poverty they caused to be more envied than the King's wealth.[3] For my part, then, I would choose sickness rather than luxury, for sickness harms only the body, but luxury destroys both body and soul, causing weakness and impotence in the body and lack of self-control and cowardice in the soul. Furthermore, luxury begets injustice because it also begets covetousness. For no man of extravagant tastes can avoid being lavish in expenditure, nor being lavish can he wish to spend little; but in his desire for many things he cannot refrain from acquiring them, nor again in his effort to acquire can he fail to be grasping and unjust; for no man would succeed in acquiring much by just methods. In still another way the man of luxurious habits would be unjust, for he would hesitate to undertake the necessary burdens for his city without abandoning his extravagant life, and if it seemed necessary to suffer deprivation on behalf of his friends or relatives he would not submit to it, for his love of luxury would not permit it. Nay more, there are times when duties to the gods must be undertaken by the man who would be just toward them, by performing sacrifices, initiatory rites, or some such other service. Here, too, the wastrel will be found wanting. Thus he would in all ways be unjust toward his city, toward his friends, and toward the gods, in failing to do what it is his duty to do. So, then, as being also the cause of injustice, luxury and extravagance must be shunned in every way.

◄Lecture XIX - Lecture XXI►