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To Nicocles 2.1

When men make it a habit, Nicocles, to bring to you who are rulers of kingdoms articles of dress or of bronze or of wrought gold, note or other such valuables of which they themselves have need and you have plenty, it seems to me all too evident that they are not engaged in giving but in bargaining, and that they are much more skillful in disposing of their wares than those who are professedly in trade. 2.2For my part, I should think that this would be the finest and the most serviceable present and the most suitable for me to give and for you to receive—I could prescribe what pursuits you should aspire to and from what you should abstain in order to govern to the best advantage your state and kingdom.

For when men are in private life, many things contribute to their education: first and foremost, the absence of luxury among them, and the necessity they are under to take thought each day for their livelihood; 2.3next, the laws by which in each case their civic life is governed; furthermore, freedom of speech and the privilege which is openly granted to friends to rebuke and to enemies to attack each other's faults; besides, a number of the poets of earlier times note have left precepts which direct them how to live; so that, from all these influences, they may reasonably be expected to become better men. 2.4Kings, however, have no such help; on the contrary, they, who more than other men should be thoroughly trained, live all their lives, from the time when they are placed in authority, without admonition; for the great majority of people do not come in contact with them, and those who are of their society consort with them to gain their favor. Indeed, although they are placed in authority over vast wealth and mighty affairs, they have brought it about because of their misuse of these advantages that many debate whether it were best to choose the life of men in private station who are reasonably prosperous, or the life of princes. 2.5For when men look at their honors, their wealth, and their powers, they all think that those who are in the position of kings are the equals of the gods; but when they reflect on their fears and their dangers, and when, as they review the history of monarchs, they see instances where they have been slain by those from whom they least deserved that fate, other instances where they have been constrained to sin against those nearest and dearest to them, and still others where they have experienced both of these calamities, then they reverse their judgement and conclude that it is better to live in any fashion whatsoever than, at the price of such misfortunes, to rule over all Asia. 2.6And the cause of this inconsistency and confusion is that men believe that the office of king is, like that of priest, note one which any man can fill, whereas it is the most important of human functions and demands the greatest wisdom.

Now as to each particular course of action, it is the business of those who are at the time associated with a king to advise him how he may handle it in the best way possible, and how he may both preserve what is good and prevent disaster; but as regards a king's conduct in general, I shall attempt to set forth the objects at which he should aim and the pursuits to which he should devote himself. 2.7Whether the gift when finished shall be worthy of the design, it is hard to tell at the beginning; for many writings both in verse and in prose, while still in the minds of their composers, have aroused high expectations; but when completed and shown to the world have won a repute far inferior to their promise. 2.8And yet the mere attempt is well worth while—to seek a field that has been neglected by others and lay down principles for monarchs; for those who educate men in private stations benefit them alone, but if one can turn those who rule over the multitude toward a life of virtue, he will help both classes, both those who hold positions of authority and their subjects; for he will give to kings a greater security in office and to the people a milder government. 2.9

First, then, we must consider what is the function of kings; for if we can properly encompass the essence of the whole matter in a general principle note we shall, with this before us, speak to better purpose about its parts. I think that all would agree that it is a king's business to relieve the state when it is in distress, to maintain it in prosperity, and to make it great when it is small; for it is with these ends in view that the other duties which present themselves day by day must be performed. 2.10And surely this much is clear, that those who are able to do all this, and who pronounce on matters of so great moment, must not be indolent nor careless, but must see to it that they are superior to all others in intelligence; for it is evident that they will reign well or ill according to the manner in which they equip their own minds. note 2.11Therefore, no athlete is so called upon to train his body as is a king to train his soul; note for not all the public festivals in the world offer a prize comparable to those for which you who are kings strive every day of your lives.

This thought you must lay to heart, and see to it that in proportion as you are above the others in rank so shall you surpass them in virtue; 2.12and do not hold the view that while diligence is of use in all other matters it is of no avail to make us better and wiser; and do not deem us, the human kind, so unfortunate that, although in dealing with wild beasts we have discovered arts by which we tame their spirits and increase their worth, yet in our own case we are powerless to help ourselves in the pursuit of virtue. note On the contrary, be convinced that education and diligence are in the highest degree potent to improve our nature, 2.13and associate yourself with the wisest of those who are about you and send for the wisest men from abroad whenever this is possible. And do not imagine that you can afford to be ignorant of anyone either of the famous poets or of the sages; rather you should listen to the poets and learn from the sages and so equip your mind to judge those who are inferior and to emulate those who are superior to yourself; for it is through this training that you can soonest become such a man as we have assumed that one must be who is to perform properly the duties of a king, and to govern the state as he should. 2.14But note the strongest challenge to your task you will find in yourself, if only you consider it monstrous that the worse should rule the better, note and that the more foolish should give orders to men of greater wisdom; for the more vigorously you condemn folly in others, the more diligently will you train your own understanding. 2.15

This, then, should be the starting-point for those who set out to do their duty. But, in addition, one must be a lover of men and a lover of his country; for neither horses nor dogs nor men nor any other thing can be properly controlled except by one who takes pleasure in the objects for which it is his duty to care. You must care for the people and make it your first consideration to rule acceptably to them, 2.16knowing that all governments—oligarchies as well as the others—have the longest life when they best serve the masses. You will be a wise leader of the people if you do not allow the multitude either to do or to suffer outrage, but see to it that the best among them shall have the honors, note while the rest shall suffer no impairment of their rights; for these are the first and most important elements of good government. 2.17

When public ordinances and institutions are not well founded, alter and change them. If possible, originate for yourself what is best for your country, but, failing in this, imitate what is good in other countries. Seek laws that are altogether just and expedient and consistent with each other and, moreover, those which cause the fewest possible controversies and bring about the speediest possible settlements for your citizens; for all these qualities should be found in wise legislation. 2.18Make industry profitable for your people and lawsuits detrimental, in order that they may shun the latter and embrace the former with greater willingness. In pronouncing on matters about which there is mutual dispute, do not render decisions which exhibit favoritism or inconsistency, but let your verdicts on the same issues be always the same; for it is both right and expedient that the judgements of kings on questions of justice should be invariable, like wisely ordained laws. 2.19Manage the city as you would your ancestral estate: in the matter of its appointments, splendidly and royally; in the matter of its revenues, strictly, in order that you may possess the good opinion of your people and at the same time have sufficient means. Display magnificence, not in any of the extravagant outlays which straightway vanish, but in the ways which I have mentioned, and in the beauty of the objects which you possess, and in the benefits which you bestow upon your friends; for such expenditures will not be lost to you while you live, and you will leave to those who follow you a heritage worth more than what you have spent. 2.20

In the worship of the gods, follow the example of your ancestors, but believe that the noblest sacrifice and the greatest devotion is to show yourself in the highest degree a good and just man; for such men have greater hope of enjoying a blessing from the gods note than those who slaughter many victims. Honor with office those of your friends who are nearest of kin, but honor in very truth those who are the most loyal. 2.21Believe that your staunchest body-guard lies in the virtue of your friends, the loyalty of your citizens and your own wisdom; note for it is through these that one can best acquire as well as keep the powers of royalty. Watch over the estates of your citizens, and consider that the spenders are paying from your pocket, and the workers are adding to your wealth; for all the property of those who live in the state belongs to kings who rule them well. 2.22Throughout all your life show that you value truth so highly that your word is more to be trusted than the oaths of other men. note To all foreigners, see that the city offers security and good faith in its engagements; and in your treatment of those who come from abroad, make the most, not of those who bring you gifts, but of those who expect to receive gifts from you; for by honoring such men you will have greater esteem from the rest of the world. 2.23Deliver your citizens from their many fears, and be not willing that dread should beset men who have done no wrong; for even as you dispose others toward you, so you will feel toward them. Do nothing in anger, but simulate anger when the occasion demands it. Show yourself stern by overlooking nothing which men do, but kind by making the punishment less than the offense. 2.24

Be not willing to show your authority by harshness or by undue severity in punishment, but by causing your subjects one and all to defer to your judgement and to believe that your plans for their welfare are better than their own. Be warlike in your knowledge of war and in your preparations for it, but peaceful in your avoidance of all unjust aggression. note Deal with weaker states as you would expect stronger states to deal with you. note 2.25Do not be contentious in all things, but only where it will profit you to have your own way. Do not think men weak who yield a point to their own advantage, but rather those who prevail to their own injury. Do not consider that the great souls are those who undertake more than they can achieve, but those who, having noble aims, are also able to accomplish whatever they attempt. 2.26Emulate, not those who have most widely extended their dominion, but those who have made best use of the power they already possess; note and believe that you will enjoy the utmost happiness, not if you rule over the whole world at the price of fears and dangers and baseness, but rather if, being the man you should be, and continuing to act as at the present moment, you set your heart on moderate achievements and fail in none of them. 2.27

Do not give your friendship to everyone who desires it, but only to those who are worthy of you; not to those whose society you will most enjoy, but to those with whose help you will best govern the state. Subject your associates to the most searching tests, knowing that all who are not in close touch with you will think that you are like those with whom you live. When you put men in charge of affairs which are not under your personal direction, be governed by the knowledge that you yourself will be held responsible for whatever they do. 2.28Regard as your most faithful friends, not those who praise everything you say or do, but those who criticize your mistakes. Grant freedom of speech to those who have good judgement, in order that when you are in doubt you may have friends who will help you to decide. Distinguish between those who artfully flatter and those who loyally serve you, that the base may not fare better than the good. Listen to what men say about each other and try to discern at the same time the character of those who speak and of those about whom they speak. 2.29Visit the same punishment on false-accusers as on evil-doers.

Govern yourself no less than your subjects, and consider that you are in the highest sense a king when you are a slave to no pleasure note but rule over your desires more firmly than over your people. Do not contract any intimacy heedlessly or without reflection, but accustom yourself to take pleasure in that society which will contribute to your advancement and heighten your fame in the eyes of the world. 2.30Do not show yourself ambitious for those things which lie within the power of base men also to achieve, but show that you pride yourself on virtue, in which base men have no part. note Consider that the truest respect is shown you, not in the public demonstrations which are inspired by fear, but when people in the privacy of their homes speak with admiration of your wisdom rather than of your fortune. Let it not be known of men if perchance you take delight in things of small account, but let the world see that you are zealous about matters of the greatest moment. 2.31

Do not think that while all other people should live with sobriety, kings may live with license; on the contrary, let your own self-control stand as an example to the rest, realizing that the manners of the whole state are copied from its rulers. note Let it be a sign to you that you rule wisely if you see all your subjects growing more prosperous and more temperate because of your oversight. 2.32Consider it more important to leave to your children a good name than great riches; for riches endure for a day, a good name for all time; a good name may bring wealth, note but wealth cannot buy a good name; wealth comes even to men of no account, but a good name can only be acquired by men of superior merit. note Be sumptuous in your dress and personal adornment, but simple and severe, as befits a king, in your other habits, that those who see you may judge from your appearance that you are worthy of your office, and that those who are intimate with you may form the same opinion from your strength of soul. 2.33

Keep watch always on your words and actions, that you may fall into as few mistakes as possible. For while it is best to grasp your opportunities at exactly the right moment, yet, since they are difficult to discern, choose to fall short rather than to overreach them; note for the happy mean is to be found in defect rather than in excess. 2.34Try to combine courtesy with dignity; for dignity is in keeping with the position of a king and courtesy is becoming in his social intercourse. Yet no admonition is so difficult to carry out as this; for you will find that for the most part those who affect dignity are cold, while those who desire to be courteous appear to lower themselves; yet you should cultivate both these qualities and try to avoid the danger that attaches to each. 2.35Whenever you desire to gain a thorough understanding of such things as it is fitting that kings should know, pursue them by practice as well as by study; for study will show you the way but training yourself in the actual doing of things will give you power to deal with affairs.

Reflect on the fortunes and accidents which befall both common men and kings, for if you are mindful of the past you will plan better for the future. 2.36Consider that where there are common men who are ready to lay down their lives note that they may be praised after they are dead, it is shameful for kings not to have the courage to pursue a course of conduct from which they will gain renown during their lives. Prefer to leave behind you as a memorial images of your character rather than of your body. Put forth every effort to preserve your own and your state's security, but if you are compelled to risk your life, choose to die with honor rather than to live in shame. note 2.37In all your actions remember that you are a king, and take care never to do anything which is beneath the dignity of your station.

Do not suffer your life to be at once wholly blotted out, but since you were allotted a perishable body, seek to leave behind an imperishable memorial of your soul. note 2.38Make it your practice to talk of things that are good and honorable, that your thoughts may through habit come to be like your words. Whatever seems to you upon careful thought to be the best course, put this into effect. If there are men whose reputations you envy, imitate their deeds. Whatever advice you would give to your children, consent to follow it yourself. Make use of the precepts which I have given you or else seek better counsel. 2.39Regard as wise men, not those who dispute subtly about trifling matters, but those who speak well on the great issues; note and not those who, being themselves in sorry straits, hold forth to others the promise of a prosperous fortune, but those who, while making modest claims for themselves, are able to deal with both affairs and men, and are not upset by the vicissitudes of existence, but have learned to bear moderately and bravely both the good and the evil chances of life. note 2.40

And do not be surprised that in what I have said there are many things which you know as well as I. This is not from inadvertence on my part, for I have realized all along that among so great a multitude both of mankind in general and of their rulers there are some who have uttered one or another of these precepts, some who have heard them, some who have observed other people put them into practice, and some who are carrying them out in their own lives. 2.41But the truth is that in discourses of this sort we should not seek novelties, for in these discourses it is not possible to say what is paradoxical or incredible or outside the circle of accepted belief; but, rather, we should regard that man as the most accomplished in this field who can collect the greatest number of ideas scattered among the thoughts of all the rest and present them in the best form. 2.42

Moreover, this has been clear to me from the first, that while all men think that those compositions, whether in verse or prose, are the most useful which counsel us how to live, yet it is certainly not to them that they listen with greatest pleasure; nay, they feel about these just as they feel about the people who admonish them; for while they praise the latter, they choose for associates note those who share in, and not those who would dissuade them from, their faults. 2.43As a case in point, one might cite the poetry of Hesiod and Theognis and Phocylides; note for these, they say, have proved the best counsellors for human conduct; but in spite of what they say, people prefer to occupy themselves with each other's follies rather than with the admonitions of these teachers. 2.44And, again, if one were to make a selection from the leading poets of their maxims, as we call them, into which they have put their best thought, men would show a similar attitude toward them also; for they would lend a readier ear to the cheapest comedy note than to the creations of such finished art.

Yet why should I spend time in giving single instances? 2.45For if we are willing to survey human nature as a whole, we shall find that the majority of men do not take pleasure in the food note that is the most wholesome, nor in the pursuits that are the most honorable, nor in the actions that are the noblest, nor in the creatures that are the most useful, but that they have tastes which are in every way contrary to their best interests, while they view those who have some regard for their duty as men of austere and laborious lives. 2.46How, then, can one advise or teach or say anything of profit and yet please such people? For, besides what I have said of them, they look upon men of wisdom with suspicion, while they regard men of no understanding as open and sincere; and they so shun the verities of life that they do not even know their own interests: nay, it irks them to take account of their own business and it delights them to discuss the business of others; 2.47and they would rather be ill in body than exert the soul and give thought to anything in the line of duty. Observe them when they are in each other's company, and you will find them giving and taking abuse; observe them when they are by themselves, and you will find them occupied, not with plans, but with idle dreams. I am, however, speaking now not of all, but of those only who are open to the charges I have made. 2.48

This much, however, is clear, that those who aim to write anything in verse or prose which will make a popular appeal should seek out, not the most profitable discourses, but those which most abound in fictions; for the ear delights in these just as the eye delights in games and contests. Wherefore we may well admire the poet Homer and the first inventors of tragedy, seeing that they, with true insight into human nature, have embodied both kinds of pleasure in their poetry; 2.49for Homer has dressed the contests and battles of the demigods in myths, while the tragic poets have rendered the myths in the form of contests and action, so that they are presented, not to our ears alone, but to our eyes as well. With such models, then, before us, it is evident that those who desire to command the attention of their hearers must abstain from admonition and advice, and must say the kind of things which they see are most pleasing to the crowd. 2.50

I have dwelt on these matters because I think that you, who are not one of the multitude but a king over the multitude, ought not to be of the same mind as men at large; you ought not to judge what things are worthy or what men are wise by the standard of pleasure, but to appraise them in the light of conduct that is useful; 2.51especially, since the teachers of philosophy, however much they debate about the proper discipline of the soul (some contending that it is through disputation, note others that it is through political discussion, others that it is through other means that their disciples are to attain to greater wisdom), yet are all agreed on this, that the well-educated man must, as the result of this training in whatever discipline, show ability to deliberate and decide. 2.52You should, therefore, avoid what is in controversy and test men's value in the light of what is generally agreed upon, if possible taking careful note of them when they present their views on particular situations; or, if that is not possible, when they discuss general questions. And when they are altogether lacking in what they ought to know, reject them (for it is clear that if one is of no use in himself, neither can he make another man wise); 2.53but when they are intelligent and able to see farther than the rest, prize them and cherish them, knowing that a good counsellor is the most useful and the most princely of all possessions. And believe that those contribute most to the greatness of your reign who can contribute most to your understanding. 2.54

Now I, for my part, have offered you all the good counsels which I know, and I honor you with these gifts which I have at my command; and do you, recalling what I said in the beginning, desire that your other friends also shall bring you, not the usual presents, which you purchase at a much greater cost from those who give than from those who sell, but gifts of such a nature that, even though you make hard use of them every day without fail, you will never wear them out, but will, on the contrary, enlarge them and increase their worth.

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