We find a stirring anecdote in the history of Valerius Maximus that does not appear in any other ancient source. There was once a centurion named Mevius who fought for Octavian (who would eventually become Caesar Augustus) during the civil war between him and Antony. Of Mevius we know very little; even his full name has eluded history.Continue reading
So much has been written on the subject of self-confidence that a few more observations are unlikely to draw an objection. It seems to me that self-confidence rests on four pillars: (1) one must accurately and honestly assess one’s value; (2) self-confidence should never veer into the territory of arrogance or insolence; (3) self-confidence must be buttressed by demonstrated experience; and (4) while all can improve in self-confidence, it is essentially a character trait that comes easier to some than to others.Continue reading
There is an interesting passage in the writings of Valerius Maximus (III.3) that is open to different interpretations. It reads as follows:
There are two things that a man must learn to accept in life: the inherent ambiguities in choosing between alternatives, and the omnipresence of suffering. Consider the story told about Socrates in Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of the Philosophers (II.33): a young man asked the philosopher for his advice on whether he should get married. The old man told him that there were good arguments both for and against the proposition, and that he would regret whatever decision he made. “If you do not get married,” he said, “you may be lonely and your bloodline will die out; if you do get married, you may be henpecked, beset by financial strains, and dubious in-laws. You may also have to tolerate bad children.”
It is a feature of human nature to try to control our environment. We wish to exert some kind of influence over the outcome of events, and thereby enhance our own feelings of security and comfort. Yet there are many times when human labor will fall short; it will prove itself to be incapable of dealing with a situation, or unable to weigh the nuances of an evenly balanced pattern of fact. When these situations come about, we must step back from the work-shop; we must move away from the work-table, the field of conflict, or the courtroom, and Fortune take over the guidance of events.
Everyone has heard the tired phrase, “path of least resistance.” It represents a principle that I have no objection to. Of course there is no reason to make more work for oneself without good reason. No one is arguing with this idea. All things being equal, the shortest path to a goal is usually the best. But it occurred to me today to take this phrase and modify it a bit to create another principle, one perhaps equally valid, yet one far less frequently discussed. Let us consider this new phrase: the wrath of least persistence. What do I mean by this?
It is a good thing for us to cultivate our aggressive spirit. Life requires participation, and participation demands endurance and adrenaline; and he who enters battle with a spirit of meek submissiveness is likely to get precisely what he asks for. All this is true. Yet the patient endurance of the pack-mule may be just as valuable as the explosive fury of the panther: the former triumphs by being able to endure, while the latter may find itself fatally exhausted once its initial burst of energy is spent. Life more often demands the ability to absorb punishment than the ability to deliver it to others.
Among the many problems that we are faced with today is the lack of restraint, the lack of moderation, that is actively supported and encouraged by our culture. If you have something, you are told that you deserve more. If you want something, you are told that you deserve to have it. If something stands in the way of your getting something you think you deserve, you are told how to obtain that thing you desire. Few people pause to think that what they crave may carry a heavy burden in the long run.