Plato's Laws V 3, Christmas Edition

Some advice that might be relevant to the holiday:

Ath. "Of all evils the greatest is one which in the souls of most men is innate, and which a man is always excusing in himself and never correcting; mean, what is expressed in the saying that 'Every man by nature is and ought to be his own friend.' Whereas the excessive love of self is in reality the source to each man of all offences; for the lover is blinded about the beloved, so that he judges wrongly of the just, the good, and the honourable, and thinks that he ought always to prefer himself to the truth. But he who would be a great man ought to regard, not himself or his interests, but what is just, whether the just act be his own or that of another. Through a similar error men are induced to fancy that their own ignorance is wisdom, and thus we who may be truly said to know nothing, think that we know all things; and because we will not let others act for us in what we do not know, we are compelled to act amiss ourselves. Wherefore let every man avoid excess of self-love, and condescend to follow a better man than himself, not allowing any false shame to stand in the way. There are also minor precepts which are often repeated, and are quite as useful; a man should recollect them and remind himself of them. For when a stream is flowing out, there should be water flowing in too; and recollection flows in while wisdom is departing. Therefore I say that a man should refrain from excess either of laughter or tears, and should exhort his neighbour to do the same; he should veil his immoderate sorrow or joy, and seek to behave with propriety, whether the genius of his good fortune remains with him, or whether at the crisis of his fate, when he seems to be mounting high and steep places, the Gods oppose him in some of his enterprises. Still he may ever hope, in the case of good men, that whatever afflictions are to befall them in the future God will lessen, and that present evils he will change for the better; and as to the goods which are the opposite of these evils, he will not doubt that they will be added to them, and that they will be fortunate. Such should be men's hopes, and such should be the exhortations with which they admonish one another, never losing an opportunity, but on every occasion distinctly reminding themselves and others of all these things, both in jest and earnest."

Whom should you follow? For those of you who are Christians -- the majority of you, as far as I know -- tomorrow's holiday perhaps provides an obvious answer. The Athenian is of course not thinking of that answer. However, one of the parts I did not quote from the Laws has to do with the proper ordering of the gods, which exist in a continuum with men. (If you want to read it, scroll to "heroes" at this link; note that 'demons' is a mistranslation by Jowett, a minister, who did not distinguish the Greek daemon from the evil Satanic spirits. Plato was not urging you to include demons in your prayers, but suggesting the right place for honoring the divine being that guards your family and lends you personally power and protection.) 

That is, it was thought possible that the best of men would rise into the lower levels of the divine; and of course, gods could mate with mortals and produce half-godly offspring, whose children would themselves have part of the divine in them as well. Likewise, your ancestors were to be honored in the same way as the various ranks of gods, though at a lesser rank themselves; and you, too, in time should be honored by your descendants as a member of that rank.

Certainly in my case, the best non-divine man I can think of to follow is my father. He is gone these last four years, but continues to set a good example in memory. He always loved Christmas; all our Christmases were good while he was around to make sure of it. It is right and proper to remember him on this holiday.

The Athenian is on pretty good ground with all of the recommendations in this section. I like the inclusion of the role of jesting in reminding each other playfully to do what's right. In this way we help each other, and as a community of friends we do better than any of us might do alone. Cf. the sidebar links regarding the Anglo-Saxon concept of frith, which is a similar concept: friendship makes us free, and provides us with strength.

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