On Anger, Book II, II

Whither, say you, does this inquiry tend? That we may know what anger is: for if it springs up against our will, it never will yield to reason: because all the motions which take place without our volition are beyond our control and unavoidable, such as shivering when cold water is poured over us, or shrinking when we are touched in certain places.

Men’s hair rises up at bad news, their faces blush at indecent words, and they are seized with dizziness when looking down a precipice; and as it is not in our power to prevent any of these things, no reasoning can prevent their taking place.

But anger can be put to flight by wise maxims; for it is a voluntary defect of the mind, and not one of those things which are evolved by the conditions of human life, and which, therefore, may happen even to the wisest of us.

Among these and in the first place must be ranked that thrill of the mind which seizes us at the thought of wrongdoing. We feel this even when witnessing the mimic scenes of the stage, or when reading about things that happened long ago.

We often feel angry with Clodius for banishing Cicero, and with Antonius for murdering him.

Who is not indignant with the wars of Marius, the proscriptions of Sulla? Who is not enraged against Theodotus and Achillas and the boy king who dared to commit a more than boyish crime? [24]

Sometimes songs excite us, and quickened rhythm and the martial noise of trumpets; so, too, shocking pictures and the dreadful sight of tortures, however well deserved, affect our minds.

Hence it is that we smile when others are smiling, that a crowd of mourners makes us sad, and that we take a glowing interest in another’s battles; all of which feelings are not anger, any more than that which clouds our brow at the sight of a stage shipwreck is sadness, or what we feel, when we read how Hannibal after Cannae beset the walls of Rome, can be called fear.

All these are emotions of minds which are loath to be moved, and are not passions, but rudiments which may grow into passions.

So, too, a soldier starts at the sound of a trumpet, although he may be dressed as a civilian and in the midst of a profound peace, and camp horses prick up their ears at the clash of arms.

It is said that Alexander, when Xenophantus was singing, laid his hand upon his weapons.