Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plutarch on the Centrality of Character in Leadership

From Plutarch, on Pericles' (c.495-429 BC) character and leadership in ancient Greece
After this [i.e. overseeing the building of Athens] he was no longer the same man he had been before, nor as tame and gentle and familiar s formerly with the populace, so as readily to yield to their pleasures and to comply with the desires of the multitude, as a steersman shifts with the winds. Quitting that loose, remiss and, in some cases, licentious court of the popular will, he turned those soft and flowery modulations to the austerity of aristocratical and regal rule; and employing this uprightly and undeviatingly for the country's best inters, he was able generally to lead the people alone with their own wills and consents, by persuading and showing them what was to be done; and sometimes, too, urging and pressing them forward extremely against their will, he made them, whether they would or no, yield submission to what was for their advantage. In which, to say the truth, he did but like a skillful physician, who, in a complicated and chronic disease, as he sees occasion, at one while allows his patient the moderate use of such things as please him, at another while gives him keen pains and drugs to work the cure. For there arising and growing up as was natural all manner of distempered feelings among a people which had so vast a command and dominion, he alone, as a great master, knowing how to handle and deal fitly with each one of them, and in an especial manner making that use of hopes and fear, as his two chief rudders, with the one to check the career of their confidence at any time, with the other to raise them up and cheer them, when under any discouragement, plainly showed by this, that rhetoric, or that art of speaking, is, in Plato's language, the government of the souls of men, and that her chief business is to address the affections and passions, which are as it were the strings and keys to the soul, and require a skillful and careful touch to be played on as they should be. The source of this predominance was not barely his power of language, but, as Thucydides assures us, the reputation of his life, and the confidence felt in his character; his manifest freedom from every kind of corruption, and superiority to all considerations of money. Notwithstanding he had made the city Athens, which was great of itself, as great and rich as can be imagined, and though he were himself in power and interest more than equal to many kings and absolute rulers, who some of them also bequeathed by will their power to their children, he, for his part, did not make the patrimony his father left him greater than it was by one drachma.

Plutarch contemplating his letters, a bust of a bearded man in a toga, and a two handled bowl. 


Michael said...

Sorry that it's been a while since I stopped by the blog! Did you draw the Plutarch picture? It's really nice, and it makes me think of your other drawings.

John C. Majors said...

nope. Not me. It's straight out of the book: