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Title: The Characters of Theophrastus

Author: Theophrastus

Translator: Charles E. Bennett

William A. Hammond

Release date: November 6, 2018 [eBook #58242]

Language: English



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The Characters of

A Translation, with Introduction

Charles E. Bennett
William A. Hammond

Professors in Cornell University

Longmans, Green, and Co.
91 and 93 Fifth Avenue, New York
London and Bombay


Copyright, 1902, by
Longmans, Green, and Co.

All rights reserved

[October, 1902]

The University Press
Cambridge, U. S. A.



In Profound Esteem




This translation of The Characters of Theophrastus is intended not for the narrow circle of classical philologists, but for the larger body of cultivated persons who have an interest in the past.

Within the last century only three English translations of The Characters have appeared; one by Howell (London, 1824), another by Isaac Taylor (London, 1836), the third by Professor Jebb (London, 1870). All of these have long been out of print, a fact that seemed to justify the preparation of the present work.


The text followed has been, in the main, that of the edition published in 1897 by the Leipziger Philologische Gesellschaft. A few coarse passages have been omitted, and occasionally a phrase necessary to the understanding of the context has been inserted. Apart from this the translators have aimed to render the original with as much precision and fidelity as is consistent with English idiom.

Charles E. Bennett.

William A. Hammond.

Ithaca, N.Y., August, 1902.



Introduction xi
Epistle Dedicatory 1
The Dissembler (I.)[1] 4
The Flatterer (II.) 7
The Coward (XXV.) 11
The Over-zealous Man (IV.) 14
The Tactless Man (XII.) 16
The Shameless Man (IX.) 18
The Newsmonger (VIII.) 21
The Mean Man (X.) 24
The Stupid Man (XIV.) 27
The Surly Man (XV.) 29
The Superstitious Man (XVI.) 31
The Thankless Man (XVII.) 35
[x]The Suspicious Man (XVIII.) 37
The Disagreeable Man (XX.) 39
The Exquisite (XXI.) 41
The Garrulous Man (III.) 46
The Bore (VII.) 48
The Rough (VI.) 51
The Affable Man (V.) 54
The Impudent Man (XI.) 56
The Gross Man (XIX.) 58
The Boor (IV.) 60
The Penurious Man (XXII.) 63
The Pompous Man (XXIV.) 66
The Braggart (XXIII.) 68
The Oligarch (XXVI.) 71
The Backbiter (XXVIII.) 74
The Avaricious Man (XXX.) 77
The Late Learner (XXVII.) 81
The Vicious Man (XXIX.) 84

[1] Numerals in parenthesis give the corresponding numbers of the characters as published in the edition of the Leipziger Philologische Gesellschaft.



“What stories are new?” asks Thackeray, subtle observer of men.

The Antiquity of Modern Character-Types
Accidental and Essential Types

“All types of all characters march through all fables: tremblers and boasters; victims and bullies: dupes and knaves; long-eared Neddies, giving themselves leonine airs; Tartuffes wearing virtuous clothing; lovers and their trials, their blindness, their folly and constancy. With the very first page of the human story do not love, and lies too, begin? So the tales were told ages before Æsop; and asses under lions’ manes roared in Hebrew; and sly foxes flattered in Etruscan; and wolves in sheep’s clothing gnashed their teeth in Sanscrit, no doubt. The sun shines[xii] to-day as he did when he first began shining; and the birds in the tree overhead, while I am writing, sing very much the same note they have sung ever since there were finches. There may be nothing new under and including the sun; but it looks fresh every morning, and we rise with it to toil, hope, scheme, laugh, struggle, love, suffer, until the night comes and quiet. And then will wake Morrow and the eyes that look on it; and so da capo.” All this is very true; the changes which may be observed in human nature are small, and the old types of Theophrastus are all about us nowadays and really look and act much the same as they did to the eyes of the ancient Peripatetic. Offices and institutions have somewhat changed, and many character-types due to new vocations have come into being since then, e.g. the newsboy, the bishop, the reporter, the hotel-clerk, and the[xiii] jockey. But these are only accidents of civilization, and the peculiarities of office or the type or professional character do not touch the vital essence of human nature, although they may modify its expression.

When one speaks of a coward, one means an intrinsic quality in human kind which is essentially the same whether found in a hoplite or in a modern infantryman, but which may express itself differently in the two cases. The types described by Theophrastus are types of such intrinsic qualities, and his pictures of ancient vices and weaknesses show men much as we see them now. They are not merely types of professions or callings.

Similarity between Greek and Modern Types
The Flatterer
The Officious Man

Apart from slight variations of local coloring and institutions, the descriptions of the old Greek philosopher might apply almost as well to the present[xiv] inhabitants of London or Boston as to the Athenians of 300 B.C. Then, as now, the flatterer plied his wily trade, indulging in smooth compliment of his hero’s person or actions. “As he walks with an acquaintance, he says: ‘Behold! How the eyes of all men are turned upon you! There is not a man in the city who enjoys so much notice as yourself. Yesterday your praises were the talk of the Porch. While above thirty men were sitting there together and the conversation fell upon the topic: “Who is our noblest citizen?” they all began and ended with your name.’” “If his friend essay a jest, the flatterer laughs and stuffs his sleeve into his mouth as though he could not contain himself.” But the flatterer of old could be subtle too. “He buys apples and pears, carries them to his hero’s house, and gives them to the children, and in[xv] the presence of their father he kisses them, exclaiming: ‘Chips of the old block!’” and “while his talk is directed to others in the company, his eye is ever fixed upon his hero.” Then as now there existed the officious man, always over-ready to undertake the impossible or to interfere in the affairs of others. “At a banquet, he forces the servants to mix more wine than the guests can drink. If he sees two men in a quarrel, he rushes in between, even though he knows neither one.” “If the doctor leave instructions that no wine be given the patient, he administers ‘just a little’ on the plea that he wants to set the sufferer right.”

The Tactless Man

There existed, of course, then as now, the tactless person, who “selects a man’s busiest hour for a lengthy conference, and who sings love ditties under his sweetheart’s window as she lies ill of a[xvi] fever.” “At a wedding, he declaims against womankind, and when a friend has just finished a journey, he invites him to go for a walk.” “If he happens to be standing by when a slave is flogged, he tells the story of how he once flogged a slave of his, who then went and hanged himself.”

The Mean Man

There was the mean man, too, who, if his servant broke a pot or plate, deducted its value from the poor fellow’s rations. “He permits no one to take a fig from his garden or cross his field, or even to pick up windfalls under his fruit trees. He forbids his wife to lend salt or lamp-wicks or a pinch of cummin, marjoram, or meal, observing that these trifles make a large sum in a year.”

The Thankless Man

There was also the thankless man whose pessimism is so gloomy as to cloud all view of his blessings. “When a friend has sent him something from his[xvii] table, he says to the servant who brings it: ‘He grudged me a dish of soup and a cup of wine, I suppose, and so couldn’t invite me to dinner.’” “If he secures a slave at a bargain after long dickering with the owner, he says: ‘I imagine I haven’t got much at this price.’ And to the person who brings him the glad tidings that a son is born to him, he retorts, ‘If you only add: “And half your fortune’s gone,” you’ll hit it.’”

Petty Vanity

Then we have the man who is ostentatious in trivial things. “When he has sacrificed an ox, he winds the head and horns with fillets, and nails them up, opposite the entrance of his house.” “When he parades with the cavalry he gives all his accoutrements to his squire to carry home, and throwing back his mantle stalks proudly about the market-place in his spurs.” When he is master of the prytany,[xviii] he craves the privilege of announcing to the people the result of the sacrifice; and as soon as he has delivered to the people the momentous intelligence that the sacrifice has resulted well, he hies him home and recounts his triumph to his wife in an ecstasy of joy.

The foregoing are but illustrations of the happy skill with which Theophrastus has delineated a number of character-types which are as universal as human nature and know no limits of age or of country. Here and there we meet a type in the Greek for which we have no exact counterpart in our customary modern modes of thought. Such a type may be seen in Theophrastus’s “The Disagreeable Man,” a person who seems a sort of general nuisance with a touch of the bore and the braggart. As a rule, however, the types are singularly like those we know to-day, and it is not difficult at once to provide[xix] them with appropriate modern labels. The treatment, though almost invariably brief, is invariably vigorous and trenchant. With a few bold strokes the character is drawn. There is absolutely no pretense of style, as we ordinarily understand it; yet each type is in its way a gem. Through them all runs that fidelity to truth which was the unfailing inspiration of all Greek art. It is this which makes The Characters a unique creation and vindicates their position as a part of the world’s literature.

The Earliest Attempt at Character-writing

It is largely for this reason that these slight sketches are here produced in English, exhibiting as they do, when we compare them with what we see around us, the essential identity of human nature in ages widely separated from each other in time and manners.[2][xx] There is, furthermore, an accidental interest in the work of Theophrastus, due to the fact that it is the first recorded attempt at systematic character-writing. Characters, to be sure, are portrayed in Homer and in the tragedians, but they are incidental to the narrative or to the dramatic plot, whereas in Theophrastus the business is with the delineation of a character as such.

The Influence of Theophrastus

He tells us what a man does, simply as an illustration of what he is, and this method of writing had a very intimate bearing on the evolution of the New Comedy under the leadership of Menander. There is a tradition,[xxi] in fact, that Theophrastus was the teacher of Menander, who in turn furnished models for Terence in his delineation of conventional dramatic types. The influence of Theophrastus was further directly and potently exerted on the so-called character-writers of the seventeenth century in England and France. The simple methods of these character-writers and their uninvolved sketches were succeeded by the more elaborate art of the novelists, in whose works individuals rather than types are described by exhibiting their development in long periods of time and under great diversity of circumstances.

The Youth of Theophrastus
Theophrastus and Aristotle
Theophrastus Chosen by Aristotle to be President of the Lyceum
Death of Theophrastus
His Writings and Genius
His Will

We have little information as to the personal history of Theophrastus, beyond what we learn from the extant fragments of his writings and from the meagre biography of Diogenes of Laërte. He was born at Eresus, a village on[xxii] the island of Lesbos, in 371 B.C., and his father was one Melantas, a fuller by trade. He first went to school to Alcippus in his native island, but afterwards travelled to Athens, the intellectual metropolis, and became a pupil of Plato at the Academy, with whom he appears to have studied until the Master’s death. Theophrastus was then in his twenty-fifth year. At that time he attached himself to Aristotle, who was some twelve years his senior and who had also been a member of the Academy, until Plato died scribens. During the twelve years which elapsed from the death of Plato until Aristotle established the new school of the Lyceum (in 335 B.C.), Theophrastus was probably with his new leader, at least part of the time, in Stagira or at the Macedonian court, where the youthful Alexander was under the tutorial discipline of Aristotle. Theophrastus[xxiii] was an intimate friend of Callisthenes, the unfortunate fellow-student and companion of Alexander, and it is probable that the two studied together at Pella. The story is told that Aristotle, in speaking of these two pupils, said: “Callisthenes needs a spur, but Theophrastus,[3] a bridle.” Many years later, when Aristotle was dead and Cassander (see Character VII.) had gained control of Alexander’s throne, Theophrastus was invited to an office at the court where he had spent his student days, and Ptolemy Soter, Cassander’s political ally, sent him an invitation to the court of Egypt. But he declined these calls into the social and political world, and maintained steadfastly his devotion to philosophy.[xxiv] It was a fashion for the rectors or presidents of the great schools of Athens, such as the Cynosarges, the Academy, and the Lyceum, before their death to name their successors in office. And so when Aristotle was asked who should succeed him in the presidency of the Lyceum, tradition tells of the delicate way in which he left record of his wish. His two most distinguished pupils were Theophrastus of Lesbos and Eudemus of Rhodes. Aristotle replied to the question as to his successor by asking for two sorts of wine,—Lesbian and Rhodian. After tasting of them he said: “They are both excellent; but the Lesbian is the sweeter.” Thereby it was known that he had decided in favor of Theophrastus, who on the death of Aristotle (322 B.C.) succeeded to the presidency of the Lyceum, over which he continued to preside for[xxv] thirty-five years. His administration was one of almost unparalleled success. Diogenes Laertius reports that two thousand students thronged to him. Although not born at Athens, he was one of the most popular and beloved members of that somewhat exclusive community. This is illustrated by the story of Agonides, who preferred against him a charge of atheism,—a charge similar to that which brought Socrates to martyrdom and drove Aristotle into exile and caused his early death; but instead of injuring Theophrastus, Agonides narrowly escaped paying a fine for his folly. Amongst his contemporaries Theophrastus was a great personal force by reason of his amiable character, his charities and lavish benefactions, the amenity of his manners, his great erudition, and gifts of oratory. He died in 287 B.C. in the eighty-fifth year of his age, and Diogenes[xxvi] Laertius says that “the whole population of Athens, honoring him greatly, followed him to the grave.” Theophrastus was one of the greatest polygraphs of antiquity. Two hundred and twenty-seven works[4] are attributed to him. The range of his learning is similar to that of Aristotle’s, with the emphasis laid rather more strongly on the side of natural science. His genius, however, is not marked by Aristotle’s profundity. He served his age rather as a great popularizer of science; he was not an originator of epoch-making ideas or theories. Yet as a local and popular force he surpassed Aristotle. His influence on subsequent ages, however, is less marked. Of the 227 works (containing 232,908 lines)[xxvii] attributed to Theophrastus, fragments of nine only are now extant, excluding certain insignificant remains.

It is doubtless true, however, that he influenced his own time as much by his administrative ability in the conduct of the Lyceum and by his oral utterances as by his written treatises. His prodigious industry was no doubt partially inspired by Aristotle as well as by the swift, stirring movement of the age immediately preceding and following the death of Alexander, in which his literary manhood was passed. “Time,” he says, “is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” He expressed his sense of the value of order in the apothegm: “Better trust a horse without bridle than a discourse without arrangement.” His estimate of oral converse at table is recorded in a rather brusque and un-Athenian remark said to have been made by[xxviii] him to a silent neighbor at dinner: “Sir, if you are an ignorant man, your conduct shows wisdom; but if you are a wise man, you act like a fool.” The genuinely kind character of Theophrastus, however, is amply illustrated by the provisions of his will, which evidences also his very considerable wealth. He had inherited from Aristotle the largest private library then known. This library, to which he had himself made notable additions, he bequeathed to Neleus, his nephew (Theophrastus never married), and by Neleus it was taken to Asia Minor, where it was hidden in a cellar to avoid the rapacity of the agents of the Attalid dynasty, who were seizing all available books for the Royal Library at Pergamon. And hereby hangs the curious old story of the loss of Aristotle’s works for one hundred and fifty years, until they were rediscovered, worm eaten, in the cellar of[xxix] Neleus at Scepsis. A Museum,—temple of the muses,—had been built by Theophrastus as the home of the Lyceum. In his will he provided that this should be maintained and beautified, that statues of the illustrious dead (particularly of Aristotle) should be completed, for which commissions had already been given to the renowned sculptor Praxiteles; further, that tablets with maps of the world engraved on them should be erected in the lower colonnade. In acknowledgment of the claims of religion, he also directed that an altar should be placed there. He devised the garden, promenade, and houses adjoining the garden to the joint control of Hipparchus, Neleus, Strato, and their successors, as a trust, enjoining that a school of philosophy should be maintained in them, and that the property should never be alienated from this purpose nor claimed as private possession. After[xxx] piously making provision for certain friends and the support of faithful attendants, he further directed that he should be buried in the school garden without unnecessary expense or ceremony.

The Characters
A Fragment from a Larger Work
Mimetic Delineations of Moral and Social Defects

Theophrastus is more generally known for his character sketches than for his scientific work, although his treatises on botany represented the highest attainments made by science in that field during antiquity and the Middle Ages. The treatise here translated (ἠθικοὶ χαρακτῆρες) sets forth thirty types of character striking to the Greek mind. They are probably a fragment or extract made by some epitomator from a larger treatise which was suggested by the abstract ethical analyses of Aristotle, as exhibited in the Nicomachean Ethics, and by the concrete dramatic representations of the New Comedy. The[xxxi] stage suggests the form, and Aristotle’s treatise the content. They represent moral and social defects and weaknesses, though not revolting vices, but they do this in a mimetic way by exhibiting persons as acting or speaking. Theophrastus was a contemporary of Philemon and Menander, and his life was spent in the era of the revival of comedy and the elaboration of current moral types for humorous presentation on the stage. So the characters of Theophrastus are, as it were, dramatis personae of his time. He shows us how a given type of man speaks and acts; the dramatization of his characters would require scarcely anything more than stage setting. His portrayal is not satire, but imitation; not caricature, but realistic delineation from life. Moreover, this description of generic types rather than of individuals belongs to the[xxxii] literary fashion of his age. Looked at from this mimetic point of view, The Characters of Theophrastus are historically all the more important, because our knowledge of Menander, the “tenth muse,” is so meagre, resting, as it does, upon scanty Greek fragments and a few Latin adaptations.

Greek Notion of Vice

These thirty sketches at the beginning of the post-classical age do not represent, properly speaking, vices, and yet they were vices to the mind of the Greek, who measured his morality largely by the canons of good form. Any violation of good taste or breach of courtesy was morally vicious. The disposition was to maintain in close unity the natures of beauty and goodness (καλοκἀγαθία); moderns discriminate sharply between the æsthetic and the moral. The social virtues of gentle breeding and the graces of politeness toward their[xxxiii] fellow men had for the classical Greeks an ethical nature, as is witnessed in Aristotle’s Ethics. Manners and morals were not sundered. What we call a social weakness, or defect, or boorish crudity, Theophrastus called a vice. It is necessary to bear this in mind when one reads the “moral characters,”[5] as they are called in the Greek title.

Virtues not Delineated
The Subject-matter of the Sketches

Amongst these characters there are no virtues, and one may ask: Why is it that in his portrayal of types Theophrastus has altogether omitted any description of good men? The answer is not to be found in the supposition that such characters were originally included in the work, but have since perished. The real ground for the omission is probably to be discovered[xxxiv] in the nature of the conditions under which Theophrastus wrote. These, as we have already indicated, were closely connected with the development of the New Comedy. The portrayal of a good character may be edifying, and may serve the conditions of tragedy, but it does not suit the purposes or surroundings of the comic stage, where the ludicrous elements of weak, eccentric, or faulty personalities are the materials employed. The aim of Theophrastus is both to amuse and to instruct, but his instruction is given by exposing to ridicule certain faults which he elevates into the striking tangibility of concrete character. The serious dignity and excellence of the good man, while it may suit the heroic conditions of the epic, the grave purpose of tragedy, or the aims of moral allegory, offers no material for such sketches as these. Theophrastus has no concern[xxxv] either with the grossly immoral or with the helplessly weak; the former awaken only disgust and hate, while the latter stir only feelings of pity, and neither of these emotions can be kept active in the true art of comedy. Rightly speaking, the art of Theophrastus has to do only with folly or with such eccentricities and weaknesses as have a humorous aspect. And it is only moral imperfections of this sort that we actually find in The Characters.

Ridicule as an Instrument of Instruction

As to the serious function of instruction which Theophrastus no doubt aims to combine with that of entertainment, there is no more skilful mode of inducing moral betterment than the discovery and exposure of the ludicrous. Most men would rather incur the charge of immorality than be exposed to the belittling laugh or derision of a community; they would rather be rogues than fools. The[xxxvi] portrait-painter of moral life makes use of the ludicrous when he desires to catch the popular attention, and there is nothing, one may safely say, that makes society at large prick up its ears and fall to gossiping so much as a satire in which some well-known person is subjected to ridicule.

Moral Folly

Moral folly is much the same everywhere; it is only the fool’s costume that changes in different countries. The folly of the miser is seen in his cheating himself of the real goods of life and in robbing himself of the respect of his fellows; the folly of the coward, in gaining personal safety by losing reputation for manliness; the folly of the flatterer, in his shallow self-serving which men see through, while they nudge their fellows and laugh at his weakness; the folly of the vain man, in the way in which he assumes impressive proportions to his own magnifying eye, while to others his personality[xxxvii] looks as small as it is; the folly of the tactless man, in consulting his own convenience rather than his neighbor’s, whereby he becomes a butt for his gaucherie; the folly of the boor, in his trampling awkwardly on the established usages of the polite world and thereby drawing upon himself the smilingly derisive attention of all observers. Throughout the list these characters represent some type of social foible or folly.

The Literary Art of Theophrastus
The Canons of his Art

In regard to the literary art of Theophrastus, as exhibited in these sketches, it must be looked at from the standpoint of an innovation in Greek letters; it is rare that any man both begins and perfects an art. There is nothing in the world so interesting as a character, but there is also nothing that is so difficult to portray briefly. Theophrastus was an acute observer and he was a plain realist. His art consists in the truthfulness[xxxviii] of his vision and in the direct simplicity with which he gives it expression. He does not seek to create a laugh by exaggeration or by the trick of a ludicrous situation that has no moral significance. His art is not possible without wit, keenness, and fineness of feeling. There is no exhibition of the satirist’s lash, but his criticism is made with that geniality which is more telling than the severest invective. These are not individual portraits. They lack, therefore, the detailed finish of such a portrait as is given in the much-elaborated modern novel with its varied facilities for exhibiting the individuality of one or several persons. On the contrary, these are merely outline sketches, as Theophrastus himself calls them, and are descriptive of a class, not of an individual. A simple line, however, does not constitute a sketch; to exhibit a character, the sketch must not only[xxxix] be clear but complete. The coward, e.g., is sketched in his fear at sea, where his timid imagination invents dangers, and he wishes to be put ashore; he is sketched on the field of battle, where he tries to impress his comrades by a courage that he does not feel; but when he hears the shouts of war and sees the soldiers fall, he shrinks faint-hearted to his tent and there searches for the sword he has himself hid; and again when the danger is over he resumes his bold exterior and proclaims his daring rescue of a comrade. We have here a pictorial sketch which, with its life and action, appeals to the reader’s eye. The coward is shown from various points of view, always in new lights, but he is always the coward. The canons of this species of literary art may be summarized as follows: 1.—Faithfulness to reality: The character must be an accurate report of nature[xl] and not a caricature. It must be executed in the spirit of realism. 2.—Brevity: It must be slight and swift, essentially of the nature of a sketch. 3.—Humor: It must have the sprightliness of statement that amuses while it instructs. 4.—Type: It must be illustrative of a generic or typical fault. In other words, the character must give embodiment to some fault that touches human nature in an essential and universal way. 5.—Concreteness: The fault as an abstraction must be translated by the artist’s power into a concrete personal form. The foible must be revealed in a genre picture of a living personality.

Imitators of Theophrastus
La Bruyère

Since Theophrastus, this form of character-writing has been cultivated at various times, but it flourished most amongst the minor essayists of the seventeenth century. It is of too slight a nature in itself to make a serious impression[xli] on any literary epoch. It suited, however, the temper of the seventeenth century, as the sprightly essay possessing no serious depth and aiming to touch life at many points. The chief imitators of Theophrastus and exponents of character-writing at this time were Bishop Hall, Bishop Earle, Sir Thomas Overbury, Nicholas Breton, Samuel Butler, and La Bruyère. Bishop Hall, contrary to the example of Theophrastus, includes virtues as well as vices in his book entitled Characters of Vertues and Vices (London, 1608). In the general structure of his composition he follows the model of Theophrastus closely. In the description of vices, however, he is much more entertaining than in his sketches of virtues, which are rather homilies and, as the panegyrics of a tedious preacher, provoke one to yawn. Virtue is not fitting material for this species of writing. The brilliant[xlii] but ill-starred Sir Thomas Overbury, in his Characters or Witty Descriptions of the Properties of Sundry Persons (London, 1614; went through eighteen editions), departs from the usage of Theophrastus in depicting for the most part amusing accidents of character and humorous peculiarities of trades and professions. Bishop Earle, on the other hand, in his Micro-cosmographie (London, 1628) confined his character delineation to mores hominum, to ethical types of men as such, in a spirit similar to that of his Greek model. The best known of all the imitators of Theophrastus, if he can be called an imitator at all, is La Bruyère, in his Les caractères ou les mœurs de ce siècle (Paris, 1688). The caractères of La Bruyère are really satires on certain thinly disguised contemporaries of his own and are executed in a spirited method totally different from that of Theophrastus,[xliii] but to which a translation of The Characters of Theophrastus is added. La Bruyère was a lover of the ancient classics, although his translation or paraphrase was hardly more than a pretext for writing down his own description of the manners of his time. It furnished him, perhaps, the first suggestion and the first impulse to the portrayal of the vices and weaknesses of his contemporaries on a much larger scale than Theophrastus had attempted.

[2] “I gather, too, from the undeniable testimony of his [Aristotle’s] disciple, Theophrastus, that there were bores, ill-bred persons, and detractors even in Athens, of a species remarkably corresponding to the English, and not yet made endurable by being classic; and, altogether, with my present fastidious nostril, I feel that I am the better off for possessing Athenian life solely as an inodorous fragment of antiquity.” George Eliot in Theophrastus Such, p. 27, Cabinet Edition.

[3] The original name of Theophrastus, according to tradition, was Tyrtamus, but owing to his divine speech Aristotle gave him the name which has come down to us.

[4] The following treatises are extant, either entire or in considerable parts: On Sensation, 1 bk.; On Smells, 1 bk.; Moral Characters, 1 bk.; History of Plants, 2 bks.

[5] A character (χαράσσειν “to engrave”) is the individuality which is engraved by habits and temperament on a man or group of men, and in a literary sense (as used by Theophrastus) it is the verbal delineation of this individuality.


Characters of Theophrastus

Epistle Dedicatory

Theophrastus to Polycles:

Many a time ere now I have stopped to think and wonder,—I fancy the marvel will never grow less,—why it is that we Greeks are not all one in character, for we have the same climate throughout the country, and our people enjoy the same education. I have studied human nature a long time, my dear Polycles, for I have lived nine and ninety years;[6] I have conversed with many men of divers characters,[2] and have been at great pains to observe both good and bad. I have fancied, therefore, I ought to set down in writing how men live and act. I shall describe their characters, each after its kind, and show you their besetting weaknesses. I dare say, Polycles, our children will be the better, if we leave them memorials of this sort; and as they study these patterns of good[7] and ill, they will elect, I think, to live and hold communion with men of the highest type. In this way they will strive to maintain the level of the highest. I turn now to my task. Yours it is to follow me and see if what I say is true. I begin my book with a description of the Dissembler,[3] omitting any preface and details about the word. And first of all I shall lay down a definition of dissembling, and with this in view shall describe the dissembler in his character and manner of life, exhibiting in such clearness, as I can, his various traits.

[6] This dedication is now thought to be spurious. The Characters were probably written in 319 B.C., at which time Theophrastus was not more than fifty-three years of age.

[7] This allusion to patterns of good men is a further proof of the spuriousness of the Epistle Dedicatory; no such types seem to have been written by Theophrastus. See Introduction, p. xxxi f.


I The Dissembler


Dissembling, generally speaking, is an affectation, whether in word or action, intended to make things seem other than they really are. The dissembler is a man, for instance, who accosts his enemies and engages readily in talk with them, to show that he bears no grudge, and who praises to their faces the very men he slanders behind their backs; and when these lose a suit at court, he professes sympathy for their misfortune. When men malign him, or the opposition’s loud, he is ever ready with forgiveness.

When others have suffered such ill-treatment as to have just cause for indignation, his comments on their wrongs are couched in non-committal[5] terms. And when a man is anxious to have an interview with him, he bids him come again, pretending that he has just reached home, that the hour is late, or that his health is too feeble to bear the strain.

He never admits anything he is doing, but at most will say that he is considering it. When a friend would borrow of him, or would solicit his contribution, he says “Business is dreadfully dull”; though at other times, when business is really dull, he reports a thriving trade. If he has received a bit of news, he will not admit he has heard it; and when he has witnessed an occurrence, he will not admit he has seen it; or if he does admit it, he protests he can’t recall it. And of one matter, he says he will examine it; of another,[6] that he doesn’t know; of others, that he is amazed; of yet others, that he had thought of that himself before. In short, he is a master of phrases like these: “I can’t believe it”; “I fail to comprehend”; “I’m dumfounded”; “By your account the fellow has become a different man”; “He certainly didn’t tell me that”; “The thing’s improbable”; “Tell that to the marines!”; “I’m at a loss how I can either doubt your story or condemn my friend”; “But see whether you’re not too credulous.”


II The Flatterer


Flattery is a cringing sort of conduct that aims to promote the advantage of the flatterer. The flatterer is the kind of man who, as he walks with an acquaintance, says: “Behold! how the people gaze at you! There is not a man in the city who enjoys so much notice as yourself. Yesterday your praises were the talk of the Porch. While above thirty men were sitting there together and the conversation fell upon the topic: ‘Who is our noblest citizen?’ they all began and ended with your name.” As the flatterer goes on talking in this strain he picks a speck of lint from his hero’s cloak; or if the wind has lodged a bit of straw in his locks,[8] he plucks it off and says laughingly, “See you? Because I have not been with you these two days, your beard is turned gray. And yet if any man has a beard that is black for his years, it is you.”

While his patron speaks, he bids the rest be silent. He sounds his praises in his hearing and after the patron’s speech gives the cue for applause by “Bravo!” If the patron makes a stale jest, the flatterer laughs and stuffs his sleeve into his mouth as though he could not contain himself.[8]

If they meet people on the street, he asks them to wait until master passes. He buys apples and pears, carries them to his hero’s[9] house and gives them to the children, and in the presence of the father, who is looking on, he kisses them, exclaiming: “Bairns of a worthy sire!” When the patron buys a pair of shoes, the flatterer observes: “The foot is of a finer pattern than the boot”; if he calls on a friend, the flatterer trips on ahead and says: “You are to have the honor of his visit”; and then turns back with, “I have announced you.” Of course he can run and do the errands at the market in a twinkle.

Amongst guests at a banquet he is the first to praise the wine and, doing it ample justice, he observes: “What a fine cuisine you have!” He takes a bit from the board and exclaims: “What a dainty morsel this is!” Then he inquires whether his friend is chilly, asks if he would like a[10] wrap put over his shoulders, and whether he shall throw one about him. With these words he bends over and whispers in his ear. While his talk is directed to the rest, his eye is fixed on his patron. In the theatre he takes the cushions from the page and himself adjusts them for the comfort of the master. Of his hero’s house he says: “It is well built”; of his farm: “It is well tilled”; and of his portrait: “It is a speaking image.”

[8] “A piece of witte bursts him with an overflowing laughter, and hee remembers it for you to all companies.” Earle’s Micro-cosmographie, “The Flatterer.”


III The Coward


Cowardice is a certain shrinking of the heart. A coward is a man who, as he sails along, imagines that the cliffs in the distance are pirate ships; if the waves are high, he asks if there’s anybody in the ship’s company who has not been initiated into the mysteries.[9] He bends over toward the helmsman and inquires whether he intends to keep to the high sea, and what he thinks of the weather; and to his companion says that he is in terror in consequence of a dream he has had; and he takes off his tunic and gives it to his slave, and begs to be set on shore.


In a campaign, when the infantry march forth, he bids his comrades stand by him and look sharp, urging the importance of finding out whether yonder object be the foe or not. When he hears the sound of battle, and sees men fall, he says to those about him that, in his haste, he has forgotten to take his sword; then he runs back to his tent, sends his servant out and bids him see where the enemy are; meanwhile he hides his weapon[10] under his pillow, and then wastes a long time hunting for it. While in his tent, seeing one of his companions brought wounded from the field, he runs out, bids the fellow “Cheer up!” and lends a hand to carry the stretcher. And then[13] he stays to tend the sufferer, washes his wounds, and sits by his side driving away the flies,—anything but fight the enemy.

When the trumpeter sounds the signal for a fresh onset, he exclaims as he sits in his tent: “Plague take him! He won’t let the poor fellow get to sleep with his eternal bugling.” Then, staining himself with blood from the other’s wound, he meets the troops as they return from battle, and pretending to have been in the thick of the fight, he exclaims, “I’ve saved a comrade!” And then he takes his demesmen and tribesmen into the tent, and assures each one of them that he himself brought the wounded man to the tent with his own hands.

[9] Apparently the reference is to the Samothracian mysteries, initiation in which was thought to ensure protection at sea in time of danger.

[10] “The sight of a sword wounds him more sensibly than the stroke, for before that comes hee is dead already.” Earle’s Micro-cosmographie, “The Coward.”


IV The Over-zealous Man


Over-zealousness is an excess in saying or doing,—with good intentions, of course. The over-zealous man is one who gets up in public and engages to do things which he cannot perform. In cases where no doubt exists in the mind of anyone else, he raises some objection—only to be refuted.

At a banquet, he forces the servants to mix more wine than the guests can drink. If he sees two men in a quarrel, he strives to part them though he knows neither one. Leaving the main road he leads his friends upon a by-path and presently cannot find his way. He accosts his commander and inquires when he[15] is going to draw up the troops for battle, and what orders he intends to issue for day after to-morrow.

He goes and tells his father that his mother is already asleep in her chamber. If the doctor gives instructions that no wine be given a patient, he administers “just a little,” on the plea that he wants to set the sufferer right. And when a woman dies, he has carved on the tombstone her husband’s name, and her father’s and her mother’s, along with the woman’s own name and her native place, and adds: “Worthy people, all of them.” In court, as he takes the oath, he remarks to the bystanders, “I have done this many a time before.”


V The Tactless Man


Tactlessness is the faculty of hitting a moment that is unpleasant to the persons concerned. The tactless man is the sort of person who selects a man’s busy hour to go and confer with him. He serenades his sweetheart when she has a fever. If an acquaintance has just lost bail-money on a friend, he hunts him up and asks him to be his surety. After a verdict has been rendered he appears at the trial to give evidence. At a wedding where he is a guest he declaims against womankind.

When a friend has just finished a long journey he invites him to go for a walk. He has a faculty for fetching a higher bidder for[17] an article after it has been sold; and in a group of companions he gets up and explains from the beginning a story which the others have just heard and have completely understood. He is anxious to give himself the trouble to do what nobody wants done, and yet what nobody likes to decline.

When men are in the midst of religious offerings and are making outlay of money, he goes to collect his interest. If he happens to be standing by when a slave is flogged, he tells the story of how he once flogged a slave, who then went away and hanged himself. If he is arbitrator in a dispute, he sets both contestants by the ears just at the moment when they are ready to settle their differences. When he wants to dance he takes a partner who is not yet merry.


VI The Shameless Man


Shamelessness may be defined as contempt for decency, joined with meanness of purpose. Your shameless fellow is one who robs a man and then returns to borrow money of him. He sacrifices a victim to the gods, and instead of making his supper from it, he salts the meat down and then gets a meal at the house of a friend. He calls a servant, and, taking bread and meat from the table, says in a voice that all can hear: “Try that, Tibios!”

When he goes to market, he reminds the butcher of all the patronage he has given him, and as he stands by the scales, throws in an extra piece, if he[19] can, or if not, a soup-bone. If he secures these, he rests content. If he fails, he snatches a piece of tripe from the bench and makes off with it laughing. He buys theatre tickets for friends that are staying in town and goes along with them to the performance, but does not contribute his share of the expense; and the next day you’ll find him taking his children and their tutor, too.

When anybody has found a bargain in any line, he demands to have a share. He goes to the neighbors and borrows barley, or sometimes even bran, and actually endeavors to make those who lend him these articles deliver them at his house. A favorite trick of his is to march up to the tubs in a private bath-house, draw a bucket of warm water,[20] dash it over his head, despite the loud protests of the attendant, and then say, as he leaves: “That’s a good bath; no thanks to you!”


VII The Newsmonger


Newsmaking is the concoction of false stories of what people say and do, at the gossip’s caprice. The newsmonger is one who straightway strikes an attitude and assumes a smiling air when he meets a friend, and asks: “Where have you been? What news? How is the situation? Have you any fresh word about it?” and then going straight on, he asks: “Is there no later report? Well! the current rumors are good.”

And without letting his friend reply, he keeps right on: “What! you haven’t heard a word about it! Then I think I have a feast of news for you.” He always has in readiness some unheard-of soldier[22] or a slave belonging to one Asteus, a piper, or Lycon, an obscure contractor, just back from the battle-field; and it is from one of these that he has heard the tidings. The authorities for his reports are of the sort that you can never get hold of. Such are the men he quotes when he tells how Polyperchon and the king carried the day and Cassander was taken prisoner.

If anybody asks: “Do you believe this?” he replies, “Why the story is noised all about the city, is constantly gaining ground, and the whole population is of one mind; everybody is agreed about the battle; it must have been a regular Death’s feast.” He reads a proof of it too in the faces of men in authority; for they all wear a changed look. He says he overheard that a man[23] had come from Macedonia who knows the whole history of the battle, and that he has been concealed now five days in a house with the authorities. There is a convincing pathos in his voice—you can imagine it!—as he tells his story and exclaims: “Luckless Cassander![11] ill-starred hero! Lo! the fickleness of fortune! Vain it was that he rose to power. But what I say is strictly between ourselves.” Then he trips off and repeats the story to every man in town.

[11] Cassander, the son of Antipater (died 319 B.C.) became involved in a struggle with Polyperchon, whom Antipater on his deathbed had appointed regent. Cassander met with many reverses, but finally (301 B.C.) secured undisputed possession of Macedonia and Greece.


VIII The Mean Man


Meanness is undue sparing of expense. The mean man is the sort of person who will go to a creditor’s house and demand a half-penny interest before the month is up. At dinner he counts the glasses each guest drinks, and amongst his fellow banqueters he pours the smallest offering to Artemis.

He counts up the price a friend pays for a cheap purchase, exclaiming that it takes his last penny. If a servant breaks a pot or plate he deducts its value from his rations. If his wife has lost a three-farthing piece, he turns the furniture, beds, and cupboards round and round, and hunts between the boards of the floor. When he[25] has anything to sell he puts the price so high that the buyer gets no bargain. He permits no one to take a fig from his garden or to cross his field, or even pick up an olive or a date that has fallen to the ground. He examines his boundary marks every day to see that they have not been touched.

And he is always ready in case of default to use the right of seizure and to collect compound interest. When he gives a banquet to his townsmen he cuts the meat in small pieces and sets a portion before each guest. He goes to market, but buys nothing. He forbids his wife to lend salt or a lamp-wick or a pinch of cummin, marjoram, or meal, a fillet or a sacrificial wafer, observing that these trifles make a large sum in the course of a year.


In a word, one may see that the mean man’s money chest is mouldy from being unopened, the key rusty, his cloak too scant to reach his thigh; that he uses a mean little oil jar, has his hair cropped to the scalp; he does not wear his boots until midday, and charges the fuller to use plenty of earth on his coat to keep it from soon getting soiled again.


IX The Stupid Man


Stupidity one may define as sluggishness in what a man says or does. The stupid man computes a sum, sets down the total, and then asks his neighbor: “How much does it all make?” When he is defendant in a suit and should go to court, he forgets all about it and puts off to his farm. When he goes to a play at the theatre he is the only spectator that is left behind on the benches asleep. He gets up in the night to go out, after he has gorged himself, and is bitten by the neighbor’s dog. He takes a thing and puts it away, but when he comes to look for it he cannot find it. If the death of a friend is announced to him that he may go to the funeral,[28] with a sorrowful air and tears in his eyes he says: “Thank God!” When he goes to receive payment of a debt, he takes witnesses with him. In the winter season he quarrels with his slave because cucumbers have not been provided. He forces his children to wrestle and to run until they fall into a fever. When he is roughing it in the country and himself cooks the vegetables, he puts salt in the pot twice and so makes the dish impossible. When it rains and others declare that the sky is darker than pitch, he exclaims: “How sweet it is to consider the stars!” And if he is asked, what is the mortality of the city,—how many bodies have passed through the Sacred Gates,—he replies: “Would that you and I had as many.”


X The Surly Man


Surliness is sullen rudeness of speech. The surly man is one who, when you ask him, “Who is that gentleman?” retorts “Don’t bother me!” and when you greet him on the street refuses to return your salutation. When he has anything for sale, he will not tell the purchaser what he charges, but instead inquires, “How much do I get for it?” When one would show him some attention and sends him a gift for the holidays, he says he is not in need of presents.

He accepts no excuse when by accident you smutch his clothes, or push against him in a crowd, or chance to tread upon his foot. If you ask for his contribution to[30] some object, he refuses to make one, though afterwards he may bring it around, declaring, however, that he’s throwing the money away. Sometimes he stumbles in the street, and then he curses the stone that tripped him up.

And he’s not a man to tarry many minutes for a friend who has an appointment with him. Singing, declamation, and dancing are amusements for which he has no taste; and it’s exactly like him to refuse to join even in prayer to the gods.


XI The Superstitious Man


Superstition is a crouching fear of unseen powers. The superstitious man is the sort of person who begins the day only after he has sprinkled himself, washed his hands with holy water, and taken a sprig of laurel in his mouth. If a weasel cross his path, he will not go a step further until some one else has crossed, or until he has thrown three stones over the way. If he sees a snake in his house, he prays to Sabazius[12] (provided it is a copperhead) or, if it be a sacred serpent, he straightway builds a shrine upon the spot.


As he passes by the consecrated stones at the cross-roads, he pours oil on them from his flask, falls on his knees, and prays before he goes further. If a mouse should gnaw through a leather flour-bag, he goes to the seer and asks what he shall do. If the seer bids him give the bag to the cobbler to be sewn up, he pays no heed to him, but goes his way and offers up the bag as a holy sacrifice.

He is given to purifying his house often by religious rites and insists it is haunted by Hecate. When he takes a walk and hears an owl hoot, he is terrified and cries out: “Athena! thine is the power!” and so walks on. He will not step on a grave, nor go up to a corpse, nor to a woman in confinement, but says it is not well to risk pollution. He orders his domestics to mull the wine on[33] the fourth and seventh of the month, while he goes out and buys myrtle, incense, and holy cakes; on his return he spends the livelong day in crowning the images of Hermaphroditus.

When he has had a vision, he goes to the soothsayer, the seer, or the augur, to ask to what god or goddess he must pray. He goes to the Orphic mysteries to be initiated into them. You will be sure to find him amongst the people who frequent the beach to besprinkle themselves. Every month he goes there with his wife, or if his wife is busy, then with the nurse and children.

If he observes any one at the cross-roads crowned with garlic, on his return he washes himself from head to foot, summons a priestess, and gives orders to celebrate rites[34] of purification either with an onion or a small dog. Whenever he sees a madman or an epileptic, he shakes with terror and spits in his bosom.

[12] A Thracian and Phrygian deity, whose worship was introduced at Athens in the fifth century. Sabazius represented the active powers of nature, and hence was often identified with Dionysus.


XII The Thankless Man


Thanklessness is an improper criticism of what one receives. The thankless man, when a friend has sent him something from his table, says to the servant who brings it, “He grudged me a dish of soup and a cup of wine, I suppose, and so wouldn’t invite me to dinner.” When his sweetheart kisses him, he says, “I wonder if you really do love me so in your heart.”

He blames Zeus, not for raining, but for not raining before. When he picks up a purse in the street, he says, “But I never found a treasure!” If he secures a slave at a bargain after long dickering with the owner, he says, “I imagine I haven’t got much at this[36] price.” To the person who brings the glad tidings that a son is born to him, he retorts, “If you only add, ‘And half your fortune’s gone,’ you’ll hit it.”

When he wins his case in court and secures a unanimous verdict, he abuses his attorney for having omitted many points in his brief. When his friends make him up a purse, and wish him joy, “Why so?” he exclaims. “Is it because I shall have to pay you all back and be grateful into the bargain, as though you had done me a favor?”


XIII The Suspicious Man


Suspicion is a kind of belief that everybody is fraudulent. The suspicious man is the sort of person who sends a servant to market and then sends another to watch him and find out the price he pays. When he carries the money himself, he sits down every hundred yards and counts it over. After he is in bed he asks his wife whether she locked the chest and shut the cupboard, and whether the hall-door bolt was pushed well in. If she answers “Yes!” he gets up, nevertheless, and lights a lamp; naked and barefoot he goes around and examines everything. Even then he finds it hard to go to sleep. When he goes to collect interest, he takes witnesses along,[38] lest his debtors deny the claims. He has his cloak dyed, not by the best workman, but by the fuller who can furnish good security. If any one asks the loan of a wine-set, he prefers not to lend it; but if a member of his family or a near relative wants it, he makes the loan; yet he scarcely does so until he has had it assayed and weighed and has received a guarantee for its safe return. He orders his footman not to fall behind him, but to go in front so that by watching him he may prevent his running away. If a purchaser has bought goods of him and says: “Charge the amount to me; I have no time now to send the money,” he replies: “Do not trouble yourself about it; when you have finished your business, I will go with you and get my pay.”


XIV The Disagreeable Man


Disagreeableness we may define as a kind of conduct which is annoying, although it may not be injurious. The disagreeable man will go to a friend and wake him out of a sound sleep to have a talk with him. He detains passengers who are on the point of embarking; others who have come to see him he bids wait until he has taken his walk. He takes the baby from its nurse, chews its food for it and feeds it, dandles it on his knee while he cooes to it and calls it “Papa’s little rascal!”

At table he tells the company how he once took hellebore and was[40] physicked through and through, and how his bile was blacker than the soup on the table. And he asks before the family: “I say, mammy, what day was it when you were confined and I was born?” He says he has cool cistern water at his house and a garden full of tender vegetables; that his cook is a perfect chef, and that his house is a regular hotel, for it is always full of company, and his guests are like leaky sieves,—do the best he can, it is impossible to fill them.

When he gives a dinner he exhibits his jester and shows him off before the company. To enliven his guests over their cups, he says that further pleasures have been arranged for them.


XV The Exquisite


Exquisiteness is a striving for honor in small things. The exquisite when invited to dinner, is eager to sit by his host. When he cuts off his son’s hair for an offering to the gods, no place but Delphi will answer for the ceremony. His attendant must be an Ethiopian.[13] When he pays a mina[14] of money he makes a point of offering a freshly minted piece. If he has a pet daw in the house, he must needs buy it a ladder and a brazen shield, that the daw may learn to climb the ladder carrying the shield.


When he has sacrificed an ox, he winds the head and horns with fillets, and nails them up opposite the entrance, in order that those who come in may see what he has been doing. When he parades with the cavalry, he gives all his accoutrements to his squire to carry home, and throwing back his mantle stalks proudly about the market-place in his spurs. When his pet dog dies, he raises a monument to the creature, and has a pillar erected with the inscription: “Fido, Pure Maltese.”[15] In the Asclepieion[16] he dedicates a brazen finger,[17] polishes it, crowns it with flowers, and anoints it every day with oil.


And he has his hair cut frequently. His teeth are always pearly white. While his old suit is still good, he gets himself a new one; and he anoints himself with the choicest perfumes.

In the agora he frequents the banker’s counters. If he visits the gymnasia, he selects those in which the ephebi[18] practise; and, when there’s a play, the place he chooses in the theatre is close beside the generals.

He makes few purchases for himself, but sends presents to his friends at Byzantium, and Spartan dogs to Cyzicus, and Hymettian honey to Rhodes; and when he does these things, he tells it about the town. Naturally, his taste runs[44] to pet monkeys, parrots, Sicilian doves, gazelles’ knuckle-bones, Thurian jars, crooked canes from Sparta, hangings inwrought with Persian figures, a wrestling-ring sprinkled with sand, and a tennis-court. He goes around and offers this arena to philosophers, sophists, fighters, and musicians, for their exhibitions; and at the performances he himself comes in last of all, that the spectators may say to one another, “That’s the gentleman to whom the place belongs.”

And, of course, when he is a prytanis[19] he demands of his colleagues the privilege of announcing to the people the result of the sacrifice; then putting on a fine garment and a garland of flowers, he advances[45] and says: “O men of Athens, we prytanes have made sacrifice to the mother of the gods;[20] the sacrifice is fair and good. Receive ye each your portion.” When he has made this announcement, he returns home and tells his wife all about it in an ecstasy of joy.[21]

[13] Among the Athenians, Ethiopian slaves were evidently highly prized.

[14] About $18 of our money.

[15] This breed of dogs is still known to dog-fanciers.

[16] The temple of Asclepios (Aesculapius).

[17] Fingers or hands of marble or metal were common among the Athenians as votive offerings.

[18] Young men between eighteen and twenty years of age, who were in training for the duties of citizenship.

[19] One of the committee of fifty which, in rotation, were charged with the administration of affairs at Athens.

[20] Cybele.

[21] A portion of Character XIX has been incorporated here, as belonging more fitly in this connection.


XVI The Garrulous Man


Garrulity is incessant heedless talk. Your garrulous man is one, for instance, who sits down beside a stranger, and after recounting the virtues of his wife tells the dream he had last night, and everything he ate for supper. Then, if his efforts seem to meet with favor, he goes on to declare that the present age is sadly degenerate, says wheat is selling very low, that hosts of strangers are in town, and that since the Dionysia[22] the weather is good again for shipping; and that, if Zeus would only send more rain, the crops would be much heavier, and that he’s proposing to have a farm[47] himself next year; and that life’s a constant struggle, and that at the Mysteries[23] Damippus set up an enormous torch;[24] and tells how many columns the Odeon has, and “Yesterday,” says he, “I had an awful turn with my stomach,” and “What day’s to-day?” and “In Boëdromion[25] come the Mysteries, and in Pyanopsion[25] the Apaturia, and in Poseideon[25] the country Dionysia,” and so on; for, unless you refuse to listen, he never stops.

[22] The festival of Dionysus.

[23] The religious celebration held in honor of Demeter (Ceres).

[24] Ancient works of art often exhibit representations of votive torches. They are usually depicted as wound with serpents.

[25] Various months of the Attic year.


XVII The Bore


We may define a bore as a man who cannot refrain from talking. A bore is the sort of fellow who, the moment you open your mouth, tells you that your remarks are idle, that he knows all about it, and if you’ll only listen, you’ll soon find it out. As you attempt to make answer, he suddenly breaks in with such interruptions as: “Don’t forget what you were about to say”—“That reminds me”—“What an admirable thing talk is!”—“But, as I omitted to mention”—“You grasp the idea at once”—“I was watching this long time to see whether you would come to the same conclusion as myself.” In phrases like this he’s so fertile that the person[49] who happens to meet him cannot even open his mouth to speak.

When he has vanquished a few stray victims here and there, his next move is to advance upon whole companies and put them to flight in the midst of their occupations. He goes upon the wrestling ground or into the schools, and prevents the boys from making progress with their lessons, so incessant is his talk with the teachers and the wrestling-masters.

If you say you are going home, he’s pretty sure to come along and escort you to your house.

Whenever he learns the day set for the session of the Assembly he noises it diligently abroad, and recalls Demosthenes’s famous bout with Aeschines in the archonship of Aristophon. He mentions, too, his own humble effort on a[50] certain occasion, and the approval which it won among the people. As he rattles on he launches invectives against the masses, in such fashion that his audience either becomes oblivious or begins to doze, or else melts away in the midst of his harangue.

When he’s on a jury he’s an obstacle to reaching a verdict, when he’s in the theatre he prevents attention to the play; at a feast he hinders eating, remarking that silence is too much of an effort, that his tongue is hung in the middle, and that he couldn’t keep still, even though he should seem a worse chatterer than a magpie; and when he’s made a butt by his own children, he submits,—when in their desire to go to sleep they say, “Papa, tell us something, in order that sleep may come.”


XVIII The Rough


Roughness is coarse conduct, whether in word or act. The rough takes an oath lightly and is insensible to insult and ready to give it. In character he is a sort of town bully, obscene in manner, ready for anything and everything. He is willing, sober and without a mask, to dance the vulgar cordax[26] in comic chorus. At a show he goes around from man to man and collects the pennies, quarrelling with the spectators who present a pass and therefore insist on seeing the performance free.

He is the sort of man to keep a hostelry,[27] or brothel, or to farm[52] the taxes. There is no business he considers beneath him, but he is ready to follow the trade of crier, cook, or gambler. He does not support his mother, is caught at theft and spends more time in jail than in his home. He is the type of man who collects a crowd of bystanders and harangues them in a loud brawling voice; while he is talking, some are going and others coming, without listening to him; to one part of the moving crowd he tells the beginning of his story, to another part a sketch of it, and to another part a mere fragment. He regards a holiday as the fittest time for the full exhibition of his roughness.

He is a great figure in the courts as plaintiff or defendant. Sometimes he excuses himself on oath from trial but later he appears with a bundle of papers in the[53] breast of his cloak, and a file of documents in his hands. He enjoys the rôle of generalissimo in a band of rowdy loafers; he lends his followers money and on every shilling collects a penny interest per day. He visits the bake-shops, the markets for fresh and pickled fish, collects his tribute from them, and stuffs it in his cheek.

[26] A lewd dance.

[27] Inn-keepers were in ill-repute in antiquity.


XIX The Affable Man


Affability is a sort of demeanor that gives pleasure at the sacrifice of what is best. The affable man is the kind of person who hails a friend at a distance, and after he has told him what a fine fellow he is, and has lavished brimming admiration on him, seizes both his hands, and is unwilling to let him go. He escorts the friend a step on his way, and as he asks “When shall we meet again?” tears himself away with praises still falling from his lips.

When summoned to court he wishes to please not merely the man in whose interest he appears, but his adversary too, that he may seem to be non-partisan; and of strangers[55] he says that they pronounce juster judgment than his townsmen. If he’s invited out to dinner he asks his host to call in the children, and when they come, he declares they’re as like their father as one fig is like another, and he draws them toward him, kisses them, and sets them by his side. Sometimes he joins in their sports, shouting “Strike!” and “Foul!”; and sometimes he lets them go to sleep in his lap in spite of the burden.[28]

[28] The remainder of the Greek text of this character has been thought to belong more properly with “The Exquisite,” No. XV.


XX The Impudent Man


Impudence is easy to define; it is conduct that is obtrusively offensive. The impudent man is one who, on meeting respectable women in the street, insults them as he passes. At a play, he claps his hands after all the rest have stopped, and hisses the players when others wish to watch in silence. When the theatre is still, he suddenly stands up and disgorges, to make the audience look around. When the market-place is crowded, he steps up to the stalls where nuts, myrtle-berries, or fruits are for sale, and begins to pick at them as he talks to the merchant; he calls by name people whom he doesn’t know, and stops those intent upon some errand. When a man has just[57] lost an important case and is now leaving the court, he runs up and tenders his congratulations.

He buys his own provisions,[29] too, and hires his own musicians, showing his purchases to every man he meets and inviting him to come and share the feast. Again, he takes his stand before a barber’s booth or a perfumer’s stall, and proclaims unblushingly his intention of getting drunk.

[29] To do one’s own marketing was considered a sign of niggardliness; hence such business was ordinarily delegated to slaves.


XXI The Gross Man


Grossness is such neglect of one’s person as gives offence to others. The gross man is one who goes about with an eczema, or white eruption, or diseased nails, and says that these are congenital ailments; for his father had them, and his grandfather, too, and it would be hard to foist an outsider upon their family. He’s very apt to have sores on his shins and bruises on his toes, and to neglect these things so that they grow worse.

His armpits are hairy like an animal’s for a long distance down his sides; his teeth are black and decayed. As he eats, he blows his nose with his fingers. As he talks, he drools, and has no sooner[59] drunk wine than up it comes. After bathing he uses rancid oil to anoint himself; and when he goes to the market-place, he wears a thick tunic and a thin outer garment disfigured with spots of dirt.

When his mother goes to consult the soothsayer, he utters words of evil omen; and when people pray and offer sacrifices to the gods he lets the goblet fall, laughing as though he had done something amusing. When there’s playing on the flute, he alone of the company claps his hands, singing an accompaniment and upbraiding the musician for stopping so soon.

Often he tries to spit across the table,—only to miss the mark and hit the butler.


XXII The Boor


Boorishness is ignorance of good form. The boor is the sort of man who takes a strong drink and then goes to the Assembly. He insists that myrrh has not a whit sweeter smell than onions. His boots are too big for his feet and he talks in a loud voice.

He distrusts even friends and kinsmen, while his most important secrets are shared with his domestics, and he tells all the news of the Assembly to his farm hands. Nothing awakens his admiration or startles him on the streets so much as the sight of an ox, an ass, or a goat, and then he stands agape in contemplation.[30][61] He is the sort of man who snatches a bite from the pantry and drinks his liquor straight.

He has clandestine talks with the cook and helps her grind the meal for his household. At breakfast he throws bits to the animals about the table. He answers the knock at the door himself and then whistles for his dog, takes him by the nose, and says: “Here’s the keeper of my house and grounds!” When a man offers him a coin he declines it, saying it is too worn, and takes another piece in its stead.

After loaning a plough, basket, sickle, or sack, he goes after it, unable to sleep for thinking of it. When he goes to town he inquires of[62] any chance passer-by: “What are hides selling for? What’s the price of bacon? Does the celebration of New Moon come to-day?” Then he remarks he must go down street and have his hair cut, and while in town must also run into the shop of Archias and buy the bacon. He sings in the public baths and wears hob-nailed boots.

[30] “Hee is sensible of no calamitie but the burning of a stacke of corne or the overflowing of a medow, and thinks Noah’s flood the greatest plague that ever was, not because it drowned the world, but spoyl’d the grasse.” Earle’s Micro-cosmographie, “A Plaine Country Fellow.”


XXIII The Penurious Man


Penuriousness is the grudging of expense and is due to great love of money and little love of honor. The penurious man, after a victory on the tragic stage, sets up a wooden chaplet to Dionysus, on which he inscribes his own name. If contributions from the public are asked for, he is silent or rises and quits the company. When he gives his daughter in marriage, he sells the sacrificial offerings, excepting the parts that belong by law to the priests. At the wedding, he employs only servants who will eat at home.

As trierarch[31] he takes the pilot’s blankets and spreads them on[64] deck for himself, while he puts his own away. He is the sort of man who keeps his children from school when a festival comes, and makes excuses for them on the plea of ill-health, that he may avoid the fee for tuition.

When he goes to market, he brings the meat home with him, carrying the vegetables in the folds of his cloak. He stays indoors when he sends his tunic to the cleaner. If he catches sight of a friend coming towards him and soliciting contributions, he sneaks off through a by-street and goes home by a roundabout way. He employs no maid for his wife, although she brought him a dowry, but hires a child from the woman’s market to accompany her on her errands.

He keeps his patched shoes until they are twice worn out, saying they[65] are still good, and tough as horn. When he gets up, he dusts the house and makes the beds, and when he sits down he lays aside the coat he is wearing in order to spare it.

[31] Commander of a galley.


XXIV The Pompous Man


Pompousness is contempt for everybody save one’s self. If you have urgent business, the pompous man will tell you that he will meet you after dinner on his walk. If he has done you a favor, he reminds you of it. When elected to office he declines, saying under oath he has no leisure. He is not disposed to make the first call on anybody. Tradesmen and hired men he orders to come to him by daybreak.

As he passes along the street, he does not greet the men he meets; he lowers his eyes and when it suits him raises them again. If he entertains friends he does not dine with them, but instructs some of his underlings to attend to the duties of entertainment.


He sends a messenger ahead when he makes a call, to say that he approaches. He allows no one to enter while he is at his oil-rub, his bath, or his dinner. When he is casting an account, he instructs a slave to set down the items, foot up the total, and arrange it in a statement for him. He does not write in a letter: “You would do me a favor,” but “I want this done,” and “I have sent for this and wish to have it,” and “See to it that my orders are followed precisely,” and “Have this done immediately.”


XXV The Braggart


Bragging is pretending to have excellences that one does not really possess. The braggart is the man who stands on the wharf and tells the bystanders how much capital he has invested in ships at sea, and tells how extensive is his business of loaning money, and how much he has made and lost by different ventures. As he talks thus magnificently, he sends his slave to his banker, where he has—exactly one shilling to his credit. On a journey he imposes on his travelling companion by telling him that he once served with Alexander, and how intimate were their relations, and how many jewelled cups he brought back from his campaigns.


As regards the Asiatic artists, he counts them better than those in Europe. And all this he tells you without having once set foot outside his native city. He claims further to have three letters from Antipater[32] bidding him come to Macedonia; but he declares that, though he has been guaranteed the privilege of exporting wood free of duty, he has refused to go, simply to avoid being suspected by his fellow-citizens of foreign leanings. The Macedonians, he says, in urging him so to come, ought to have considered this point.

In time of famine, he says, his expenditures for the poor amounted to over five talents; for he hadn’t the heart to refuse. When he’s with strangers, he often bids some one place the reckoning counters on[70] the table, and computing by six hundreds and by minae, glibly mentioning the names of his pretended debtors, he makes a total of twenty-four talents, saying that the whole sum had gone for voluntary contributions, and that, too, without including subscriptions for the navy or for other public objects.

At times he goes to the horse-market where blooded stock is for sale, and makes pretence of wanting to buy; and stepping up to the block, he hunts his clothes for two talents, upbraiding his servant for coming along without any money. Though he lives in a rented house, he represents it to those who do not know as the family homestead; yet adds that he thinks of selling it as being too small for the proper entertainment of his friends.

[32] A general of Alexander. Upon Alexander’s death he became king of Macedonia.


XXVI The Oligarch


Oligarchy is a love of power that clings tightly to personal advantage. The oligarch rises in the people’s councils, when assistants to the archon are elected for the management of a fête, and says: “These men must have absolute control.” And although others have suggested ten, he insists that one is enough, but he must be a man. The only line of Homer that stays in his memory is: “A crowd’s rule is bad; let there be one ruler.” He knows no other verse. He is, however, an adept at such phrases as this: “We must hold a caucus and make our plans; we must cut loose from mob and market; we must throw aside the annoyance[72] of petty office and of insult or honor at the masses’ whim; we or they must rule the state.”

At midday he goes out with his mantle thrown about him, his hair dressed in the mode and his nails fashionably trimmed; he promenades down Odeon Way ejaculating: “Sycophants have made the city no longer habitable. What outrages we endure in court from our persecutors! Why men nowadays go into office, is a marvel to me. How ungrateful the mob is! although one is always giving, giving.”

If, at the Assembly, a naked, hungry vagabond sits next to him, he complains of the outrage. “When,” he asks, “is a stop to be put to this ruin of our property by taxation for fêtes and navy? How odious is this crew of demagogues! Theseus,”[73] he says, “was the forefront of all this offending, for out of twelve cities, he brought the masses into one, to overthrow the monarchies. He met his just reward,—he was the first to fall a victim at their hands.” This is the way he talks to foreigners and to citizens of his own temper and party.


XXVII The Backbiter


Backbiting is a disposition[33] to vilify others. When the backbiter is asked “Who is so and so?” he begins, like the genealogists, with the man’s ancestry. “His father’s name was originally Sosias,[34] but amongst the soldiers it became Sosistratus, and upon registration in the deme, it was again changed to Sosidemus. His mother was a Thracian,—gentle blood! you see. At any rate this jewel’s name was Krinokoraka. Women of that name are of gentle blood in Thrace, so people say![75] The man himself, with an ancestry like that, is a foul fellow fit for the whipping-post.” In a company where his companions are maligning a man, he of course takes up the attack and says: “For my part I hate him of all men. He is a bad character, as one may see from his face, and as for his meanness, it has no parallel and here is a proof: His wife brought him a dowry of talents of money and yet after the birth of their first child, he gave her but three pence a day for household expenses and forced her to bathe in cold water on the festival of Poseidon in midwinter.” When he is seated with a group, he loves to talk about an acquaintance who has just risen and gone, and his biting tongue does not spare even the man’s kinsfolk. Of his own relatives and friends, he says the[76] vilest things and even maligns the dead. Backbiting is what he calls frankness of speech, democracy, and freedom; and there is nothing he enjoys so much.

[33] “Scandal, like other virtues, is in part its own reward, as it gives us the satisfaction of making ourselves appear better than others, or others no better than ourselves.” Benj. Franklin, Works, ed. Sparks, II., p. 540.

[34] Apparently a slave’s name.


XXVIII The Avaricious Man


Avarice is greedy love of gain. When the avaricious man gives a dinner, he puts scant allowance of bread on the table. He borrows money of a stranger who is lodging with him. When he distributes the portions at table, he says it is fair for the laborer to receive double and straightway loads his own plate. He engages in wine traffic, and sells adulterated liquors even to his friend. He goes to the show and takes his children with him, on the days when spectators are admitted to the galleries free. When he is the people’s delegate, he leaves at home the money provided by the city, and borrows from his fellow commissioners.


He loads more luggage on his porter than the man can carry, and provides him with the smallest rations of any man in the party. When presents are given the delegates by foreign courts, he demands his share at once, and sells it. At the bath he says the oil brought him is bad, and shouts: “Boy, the oil is rancid;” and in its stead takes what belongs to another. If his servants find money on the highway, he demands a share of it, saying: “Luck’s gifts are common property.” When he sends his cloak to be cleaned, he borrows another from an acquaintance and keeps it until it is asked for. He also does this sort of thing: he uses King Frugal’s measure with the bottom dented in, for doling out supplies to his household and then secretly brushes off the top. He[79] sells underweight even to his friend, who thinks he is buying according to market standard.

When he pays a debt of thirty pounds, he does so with a discount of four shillings. When, owing to sickness, his children are not at school the entire month, he deducts a proportionate amount from the teacher’s pay; and during the month of Anthesterion he does not send them to their studies at all, on account of the frequent shows, and so he avoids tuition fees. If he receives coppers from a slave who has been serving out, he demands in addition the exchange value of silver. When he gets a statement from the deme’s[35] administrator, he demands provision for his slaves at public cost.


He makes note of the half-radishes left on the table, to keep the servants from taking them. If he goes abroad with friends, he uses their servants and hires his own out; yet he does not contribute to the common fund the money thus received. When others combine with him to give a banquet at his house, he secretly includes in his account the wood, figs, vinegar, salt, and lamp-oil,—trifles furnished from his supplies. If a marriage is announced in a friend’s family, he goes away a little beforehand, to avoid sending a wedding present. He borrows of friends such articles as they would not ask to have returned, or such as, if returned, they would not readily accept.

[35] The deme was a local division.


XXIX The Late Learner


The late learner has a fondness for study late in life. He commits whole passages of poetry to memory when sixty years of age; but when he essays to quote them at a banquet his memory trips. From his son, he learns “Forward march!” “Shoulder arms!” “’Bout face!” At the feast of heroes he pits himself against the boys in the torch-race; and of course when he is invited to the temple of Hercules, he throws aside his mantle, and makes ready to lift the steer, that he may bend back its neck. He goes to the wrestling-grounds and joins in the matches.


At the shows he stays one performance after another until he has learned the songs by heart. If he is dedicated to Sabazius, he is eager to be declared the fairest; if he falls in love with some damsel, he makes an onset on her door, only to be assaulted by a rival and hauled before the court. He makes a trip to the country on a mare he has never before ridden, and, essaying feats of horsemanship on the road, he falls and breaks his head.

He joins a boys’ club too, and entertains the members at his house; he plays “ducks and drakes” with his servant, and competes at archery and javelin-throwing with his children’s tutor, and he expects the tutor, as though ignorant of these sports, to learn them from him. He wrestles at the baths, turning a bench nimbly[83] about to create the impression that he has been well trained in the art; and if women happen to be standing near, he trips a dance, whistling his own music.


XXX The Vicious Man


Viciousness is love of what is bad. The vicious man is one who associates with men convicted in public suits, and who assumes that, if he makes friends of these fellows, he will gain in knowledge of the world, and so will be more feared.

Of upright men, he declares that no one is by nature upright, but that all men are alike, and he even reproaches the man who is honorable. The bad man, he asserts, is free from prejudice, if one will but make the trial, and, while in some respects he admits that men speak truly of such a man, in others he refuses to allow it. “For,” says he, “the fellow is clever,[85] companionable, and a gentleman;” in fact, he maintains that he never met so talented a person. He supports him, therefore, when he speaks in the assembly or is defendant in court, and to those sitting in judgment he’s apt to say that one must judge not the man, but the facts; and he declares that his friend is the very watch-dog of the people, “for he watches out for evil-doers”; and he adds: “We shall no longer have men to burden themselves with a care for the common weal, if we abandon men like him.”

It’s the vicious man’s way to constitute himself the patron of all worthless scamps and to support them before the court in desperate cases; and, when he passes judgment, he puts the worst construction on the arguments of the opposing counsel.