On the Firmness of the Wise Person XVII

Chrysippus says that a man was enraged because someone called him a sea-sheep; we have seen Fidus Cornelius, the son-in-law of Ovidius Naso, weeping in the Senate-house because Corbulo called him a plucked ostrich; his command of his countenance did not fail him at other abusive charges, which damaged his character and way of life; at this ridiculous saying he burst into tears.

So deplorable is the weakness of men’s minds when reason no longer guides them.

What of our taking offence if anyone imitates our talk, our walk, or apes any defect of our person or our pronunciation? as if they would become more notorious by another’s imitation than by our doing them ourselves.

Some are unwilling to hear about their age and grey hairs, and all the rest of what men pray to arrive at.

The reproach of poverty agonizes some men, and whoever conceals it makes it a reproach to himself; and therefore if you of your own accord are the first to acknowledge it, you cut the ground from under the feet of those who would sneer and politely insult you; no one is laughed at who begins by laughing at himself.

Tradition tells us that Vatinius, a man born both to be laughed at and hated, was a witty and clever jester. He made many jokes about his feet and his short neck, and thus escaped the sarcasms of Cicero above all, and of his other enemies, of whom he had more than he had diseases.

If he, who through constant abuse had forgotten how to blush, could do this by sheer brazenness, why should not he who has made some progress in the education of a gentleman and the study of philosophy?

Besides, it is a sort of revenge to spoil a man’s enjoyment of the insult he has offered to us; such men say, “Dear me, I suppose he did not understand it.”

Thus the success of an insult lies in the sensitiveness and rage of the victim; hereafter the insulter will sometimes meet his match; someone will be found to revenge you also.