Tag: Ancient law

167. Ab Urbe Condita (History of Rome), Books I-V, by Livy

167. Ab Urbe Condita (History of Rome), Books I-V, by Livy

Plot:   The first five books of Livy’s History of Rome, stretching from its establishment (dated around 757 BC) up to the Gaulish invasion of 390 BC.

My copy is the Penguin Black classic translated by Aubrey De Selincourt (ISBN 9780140448092)

My thoughts:  Livy is writing here on events 400-700 years before his time, so much is based on previous historians and legends. As he himself admits several times:

“one cannot hope for accuracy when dealing with a past so remote and with authorities so antiquated”  (Book II.21, page 132)

Or more poetically

“the mists of antiquity cannot always be pierced”  (Book IV.24 page 315)

The history of Rome traditionally starts with the arrival of Aeneas and his followers escaping the fall of Troy, and depending on the version, being either welcomed or victorious in securing a foothold in Laurentum in Italy. A string of kings from Aeneas’ lineage followed, until twin boys were conceived upon a Vestal Virgin by the god Mars. Cast adrift on the Tiber to drown, the twins Romulus and Remus were succoured by a she-wolf until found by the king’s herdsman. They grow to manhood, quarrel over who is rightfully King, and Romulus strikes Remus down.

Finding themselves short of enough women to ensure the survival of their settlement, the Romans approach their neighbouring cities, but no one is willing to allow their daughters to intermarry.  The Romans instead host a festival and then abduct the young women. After some years the Sabine tribe believe themselves strong enough to rescue the women, and the fierce battle is interrupted by the women forcing themselves between the warring armies to insist on peace.

Eventually the succession of kings is replaced with a Senate of aristocrats (patricians) and two elected consuls to act as magistrates and generals.

Books II, III and IV are a constant series of battles over a hundred years between the Romans and the various surrounding tribes. The clockwork predictability of these conflicts is only interrupted by equally regular internal political squabbles between the aristocratic class and the commoners (plebians) and their elected representatives the Tribunes;  who use their ability to muster and form armies from the common people to try and score political changes to do with agricultural land reform and party representation. This internal bickering is seen as weakness by their neighbouring cities, leading them to attack again, and so on and so on. This repetitive pattern soon becomes tedious to the non-scholar, and I started to wish for the excitement of the years of the end of the Republic.

Book V is remarkably more interesting, as it breaks the pattern – firstly by the Romans laying siege to the current enemy Falerii, and the episode where a Faleriian schoolteacher abducts the children of the city’s noble families and delivers them to the Romans as hostages, and the Roman general Camillus returns them to Falerii,  with the schoolteacher stripped, bound and being thwacked by the kids with sticks Camillus provides.

“Neither my people nor I, who command their army, happen to share your tastes. You are a scoundrel and your offer is worthy of you. As political entities, there is no bond of union between Rome and Falerii, but we are bound together nonetheless and always shall be, by the bonds of a common humanity. War has its laws as peace has, and we have learned to wage war with decency no less than with courage. We have drawn the sword not against children … but against men armed like ourselves …. These men, your countrymen, you have done your best to humble by this vile and unprecedented act … I shall bring them low … by the Roman arts of courage, persistence and arms.”

(Book V.27 , page 401)

The Faleriians were so impressed by Camillus that they immediately sued for peace and willingly put themselves under the dominion of Rome.

Of course, politics later interferes and Camillus is banished from Rome.

But then the local squabbles are superceded by the invasion of Italy by Gaulish tribes from beyond the Alps. For once, the Roman generals are overwhelmed and respond very ineffectively, and the Gauls literally walk into Rome through undefended open gates. The civilians and Senate are trapped inside the Captiol and are close to bribing the Gauls to leave them alone, when Camillus returns from exile and scares the Gauls away.

When a victorious Roman general returns to Rome, he may be granted a Triumph by the Senate (in which he enters the streets of the city with his troops) or the lesser honour of an Ovation (entering without his troops) – damned by faint praise!

Personal rating: The repetitive content of books II-IV made for monotonous reading, but book V saved the day and lifts it to a 5/10.

The reads in between: 

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King.

Stephen King’s latest horror/fantasy is a father-and-son joint work : an apocolyptic saga similar to The Stand and Desperation, but the characters are not as clear-cut good and evil.

“All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. if awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent….”

Only one woman seems immune to the sleeping sickness and some men will do anything to get control of her. A huge cast leads to a three-way battle and civilization-changing decisions. Not his best work but still eminently readable.

Next :  Chaereas and Callirhoe, by Chariton

154. Selected Political Speeches by Cicero (between 66 and 44 BC)

154. Selected Political Speeches by Cicero (between 66 and 44 BC)

Plot:  Moving beyond his defendant’s role in the murder court, these speeches show Cicero employing his oratorical talents to win political points for himself or others. My copy is again a Penguin Black Classic translated and introduced by Michael Grant (ISBN 0140442146)

The first speech is in support of Cnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) being given sole conduct of the war against King Mithridates VI of Pontus (Anatolia). While Pompeius seems to have had an outstandingly successful military career in Spain and Gaul, as well as defeating the Third Slave uprising led by Spartacus and the effective eradication of rampant piracy throughout the Mediterranean, Cicero’s outrageous flattery style is so OTT as to cast him as the Hero of the Ages:

“not so much an envoy of Rome as some visitant from Heaven itself”  (page 54)

“surely some special design of the Gods must have brought him into being for the express purpose of successfully terminating all the wars of our time”  (page 55)

The second chapter is a set of four speeches revealing a conspiracy by Catilina, a former corrupt governor of Tunisia and unsuccessful runner for Consulship on several occasions, who now decided to grab power in Rome by more direct and violent methods, plotting mass assassinations including Cicero. Cicero’s spies discovered the plot, and Cicero calls him out in public in front of the Senate.

“The darkness of night no longer avails to conceal your traitorous consultations”   page 79

Although obviously preferring that Catilina be executed as in the good old days, Cicero publicly calls on him to leave Rome immediately so that “the city will be relieved of those copious pestilential dregs of the community who are your accomplices … a rabble of elderly down-and-outs, rustic debauchees, bankrupt country bumpkins…”.   Once Catalina leaves Rome, Cicero celebrates that “Rome has  … brought up and spewed forth this pestilential object from its system”.

This action has later repercussions on Cicero, as another of his enemies –  Clodius (who has suffered defeat and embarrassment from Cicero’s successful court orations) instigates Cicero’s exile for his role in executing the Catilinian ringleaders. Recalled to Rome by Pompeius after sixteen months, Cicero first defends a young man Marcus Caelius on charges of stealing from, and plotting to poison Clodius’ sister Clodia (a supposedly sexually rampant and completely immoral beauty who numbered the poet Catullus among her admirers), and then defending Clodius’ killer Milo after their gangs came to blows on the Appian Way.

These later speeches are more interesting not so much for the oratory (still with their liberal doses of irony, sarcasm and outrageous exaggeration and flattery) as for the background events : the failure of the Republic’s Senate and Assembly to control the mob violence and murders in Rome, the formation of the First Triumvirate and the shifting allegiances of key players around those three men. Cicero continued to support Pompeius, but once Crassus is killed in battle with the Parthians. Pompeius and Caesar would not stay friends for long.

The penultimate speech in this collection occurs after the Civil War between Pompeius and Caesar, and has Cicero praising the victor Caesar for his generosity in forgiving supporters of Pompeius (including Cicero himself) but also beseeching Caesar to continue to repair the economic and social life of Rome. It also seems that Caesar also had some warning or presentiment that his life was in danger from assassins at this time (46 BC), two years before his death.

The last speech in this book is known as the First Phillipic, the first of fourteen attacks by Cicero on Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). This first one is apparently more moderate than subsequent ones, and in remarkably restrained style for Cicero, but nevertheless sealed his fate as an enemy of Antony – obviously Marc couldn’t take even mild criticism. Cicero would be killed by agents of the Second Triumvirate (Antony, Octavian and Lepidus), his head and hands cut off, and his tongue pierced with a hairpin by Fulvia, wife of Marc Antony and the widow of Clodius.

My thoughts:   Cicero is ranked by many as the ultimate orator, so I was expecting words and thoughts touching the sublime. Instead most of his speeches, particularly the politically motivated ones, are so completely exaggerated as to be laughable. Certainly he employs humour, wit and sarcasm throughout his speeches, but he is so lavish in praise of his clients that it becomes almost farcical. Of course, reading in translation from an ancient language would undoubtedly raise some vagaries, but this is stratospheres of level above what a modern day defending counsel would ever contemplate. It will be interesting to compare the style of his other works, particularly his other famous attacks on Marc Antony, and his personal letters.

Favourite lines/passages:

Firstly something we can all appreciate

“… For there is no other occupation on earth which is so appropriate to every time and every age and every place. Reading stimulates the young and diverts the old, increases one’s satisfaction when things are going well, and they are going badly, provides refuge and solace. It is a delight in the home, can be fitted in with public life; throughout the night, on journeys, in the country. It is a companion which never lets me down.”    Page 156

And for the sheer bitchiness, Cicero’s ‘praise’ of Clodia

“I never imagined I should have to engage in quarrels with women. Much less with a woman who has always been widely regarded as having no enemies, since she so readily offers intimacy in all directions”   page 184

“ every sort of pornographic rumour fits in perfectly with that lady’s reputation”  page 208

Personal rating:   Fun to read, hard to take seriously, yet interesting for the background events and personalities involved. 6.

The read in between:  The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton : ingenious short stories solved by a unusually bland detective and written in almost surreal style. Not my cup of tea, but ticks off my first read of Martin Edwards’ published list The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

Next :  The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.

153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

Plot:  Speeches for the defense made by Cicero in the Roman courts, defending accusations of murder. The Penguin edition is translated by Michael Grant (ISBN 9780140442885)

My thoughts: Cicero, even at the beginning of his career as a public speaker, gives such strong voice to his arguments. Although we don’t get to hear the prosecution’s argument directly in each case; Cicero takes each argument and tears them apart quite convincingly. There is also a lot of documented evidence for the nature of Roman political life and legal practice in his speeches.

The first case, In defence of Sextus Roscius, (80 BC), the young Cicero successfully defends a man whose father has been murdered by the very men who are prosecuting him in order to retain the extensive estates owned by the dead man, put on sale after the victim is posthumously put on the proscribed list of state enemies. Cicero paints the villains, a father and son related to the victim and both gladiators, and their highly placed conspirator, as ruthless assassins and opportunists who are not satisfied with their ill-gotten possessions, that they must secure their position by having the innocent and genuine owner of lands worth six million sesterii, condemned and executed.

The second trial (66 BC) has Cicero, now a praetor, defending Aulus Cluentius Habitus, against the charge of killing his stepfather Oppianicus. Most of Cicero’s speech is actually directed against the prejudice which his client carries from a famous earlier case where Oppianicus supposedly hired men to poison Cluentius, and after they were caught and found guilty, Oppianicus’ subsequent trial as the instigator of the plot became notorious for attempts to bribe the judges. Cicero convincingly swings the argument to suggest that only Oppianicus himself could have the means or motive to offer bribes. (It was later suggested that Cicero deliberately and knowingly misled the judges throughout this case.) He then paints such a repulsive picture of the defendant’s mother Sassia who Cicero insists is behind the whole plot to have her son Cluentius discredited and executed, that would easily match the worst excesses of any Greek tragedy.

The third trial presented is the defense of Gaius Rabirius, accused of executing a political radical and rebel Saturninus and his followers, thirty seven years after the fact, is just as much a defense of the state’s ability to act outside the law in times of emergency – such as internment without trial, as it is the defense of one man. Still a topical issue today, perhaps most recently with Guantanamo Bay. In this hearing, Cicero comes against Julius Caesar as one of the judges, and their relationship over the years is chequered to say the least.

The last case is presented, not in a court, but in private in Julius Caesar’s own home, defending King Deiotarus on a charge of plotting to assassinate Caesar himself. Cicero flatters Caesar to the heavens, and as always diverts suspicion of the alleged crime, painting it instead as a vindictive accusation against an innocent defendant by a despicable prosecutor and relative.

A disturbing aspect to these trials is the ability of the defendant to call his slaves as witnesses, where it was normal practice to torture them sufficiently before questioning to ensure they would tell the truth.

Favourite lines/passages:

There are crackingly good lines on almost every page. Here are a few from the first case:

“I would rather be crushed by the weight of the duty I am trying to perform than be accused of disloyalty or irresolution..”          page 36

“On the other hand you have my client, whom they have left with no possession in the world except utter ruin”               page 37

“Nature itself cries out against any suspicions of such horror”       page 62

Personal rating: 5/10

Kimmy’s rating : O tempora, O mores!  (How times have changed, and customs with them!)
Also in that year:
Since 150 BC:

Rome’s influence continues to grow as they indulge simultaneously in a Third Punic War against Carthage (149-146 BC) and a fourth Macedonian war (149-148 BC), razing the former and absorbing the latter as a province. They also control most of Greece and Spain, and create provinces in Africa and Gaul. Internally the Romans put down several slave uprisings, the third led by Spartacus, and establish a silk trade with China.

In the last years of the Roman Republic, Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Grassus and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) form a triumvirate rulership in 60 BC. More on this later.

In other news, the Nazca culture is developing in Peru.

Next :  More Cicero. This time his Political Speeches.



152. The Laws of Manu (2nd century BC – 3rd century AD)

Contents : An encyclopedic guide to life as an ancient Hindu.

My thoughts : I tried several times to read this work – hoping to see and appreciate some glimmer of Hindu thought. I understood the four castes : priests, ruler/warriors, commoners and servants; I saw how the Laws were couched to rate the priest caste highest by their control of the sacrificial requirements of ancient Indic life and expectations, and how the Laws dictated virtually every aspect of every man’s life – from what he can wear to his choice of wife, and how a man is born again by his knowledge and experience of the Vedas.

And while reading advice to the man in his second quarter of life, who has studied the Vedas and is now living in a household, I reached the sentence “A man who eats while his feet are still wet lives a long life”.  I realized I wasn’t getting enough from this personally to read a further two hundred pages.

Favourite lines/passages:

 Desire is never extinguished by the enjoyment of what is desired; it just grows stronger like a fire that flares up … and burns a dark path.       Chapter 2, [94]

Plus some advice on choosing a wife:

A man should not marry a wife who is a redhead or has an extra limb or is sickly or has no body hair, or too much body hair, or is sallow; or who is named after a constellation, a tree or a river, a mountain, a bird or a snake, or who has a low-caste name, or a menial or frightening name. He should marry a woman who does not lack any part of her body, and who has a pleasant name, who walks like a goose or an elephant, whose body hair is fine and her teeth are not too big.       Chapter 3, [8-10]

Personal rating:  2 (but did not finish)

Next :  A month of Cicero, starting with his Murder Trial speeches.

123. The Athenian Constitution (probably not written by) Aristotle, (c.332-322 BC)

123. The Athenian Constitution (probably not written by) Aristotle, (c.332-322 BC)

Plot:  Presumed a work of one of Aristotle’s students rather than the busy man himself, The Athenian Constitution charts the history of the government of Athens from its foundation through tyrannies, oligarchies and democracies, flicking back and forth between these styles of government, including the leaderships of Cylon, Draco, Solon, Pisistratus and Cleisthenes. It ends with a description of the present day (c.322 BC) democracy’s laws and government, at a time prior to the Macedonians stamping their presence on Greece.

My edition is the Penguin Black Classic translated by P. J. Rhodes (ISBN 9780140444315), with half of its 196 pages devoted to explanatory notes, diagrams and maps, glossaries and indexes.

My thoughts:    Occasional points of interest did surface while reading this short work. The first individual of note, Solon, was brought in as mediator between the rich few and the poor masses, and enacted moderate laws which proved unpopular to both sides despite their fairness, such as cancelling debts which led to enslavement if not paid, freeing existing slaves, and allowing everyone access to appeal to the courts if they believed themselves wronged. He ended up banishing himself from Athens for ten years after realising his unpopularity, having failed to redistribute all property as the people expected, nor restoring the notables to the highest position, and refusing to side with either side and thereby ignoring the opportunity to set himself up as tyrant.

“I gave to the people as much esteem as is sufficient for them,

Not detracting from the honour or reaching out to take it, …..

I stood holding my mighty shield against both,

And did not allow either to win an unjust victory”                   Solon, page 51

He also had the rather unusual idea of outlawing anyone who tried to stay neutral in future strife between parties.

The next ruler Pisistratus emerged from the resulting dissatisfaction, and had three attempts as tyrant – the second stint began with a triumphal procession through the city, with a flower seller from Thrace masquerading as Athena beside him in his chariot, lending her ‘holy’ support to his bid. Surprisingly he was a moderate ruler, and enjoyed good relationships with rich and poor alike. We tend to think of the word tyrant as a cruel ruler, but this was not always the case in Ancient Greece.

The last standout section is the reign of terror of The Thirty, an oligarchy arising from the loss of the Peloponnesian War with Sparta, and their joint tyranny over Athens, executing 1,500 of their rich or powerful peers to guarantee their grasp on power, and inviting into Athens a garrison of 700 Spartan soldiers.  Eventually democracy is restored, and the author spends the last third of the book describing current conditions, including the separation of powers between the ruling Council, the administrators (treasury, leases and mines, and the armed forces) and the Jury-courts.

Diversions and digressions: Some more definitions for you

Telos : the goal at which a thing is aiming for, as its reason for existence e.g. the city-state is a work of nature which exists to provide mankind with a good life

Atthidographer : a writer on the history of Athens (I defy you to use that in a sentence with your loved ones over the dinner table tonight!)

Personal rating:  Same as Aristotle’s Politics, 4

The sanity in between:  Finally finished book 5 of Robert Jordan’s fantasy series the Wheel of Time, The Fires of Heaven. I think it’s becoming a love/hate relationship between me and this series, but I will be borrowing the rest from the local library as I have run out of personal copies.

Next : Should have been 124. Old Cantankerous by Menander and then 125. Characters by Theophrastus, but they have already been read and posted. I have “lost my bottle” with Aristotle, so any Greek classics lovers out there still enamoured with Ari and his ideas on Metaphysics or Logic had better go it alone, and I’ll meet you at the docks to board the Argo in Apollonius’ Argonautica to search for the Golden Fleece. For the rest of us, I’m afraid it’s back to the OT and the Books of Ezekiel and Daniel.


122. The Politics by Aristotle (c. 335-323 BC)

122. The Politics by Aristotle (c. 335-323 BC)

Plot:  Aristotle searches for the ideal constitution for a city-state by examining those existing around his part of the world, including those proposed in theory as models, such as those found in Plato’s Republic and Laws.

My copy is the Penguin Black Classic The Politics, translated by T. A. Sinclair, and revised by Trevor Saunders (ISBN 0140444211)

My thoughts:  Like his biological treatises, The Politics is a series of essays or lectures written in a conversational style. It starts with building up from basic units (individuals, families, households, village, to the city-state) the assertion that the city-state is the goal which will make men happy. Unfortunately, Aristotle cannot dispense with the need for slavery so it will make only some men happy. In Book 1, dealing with household management, he claims that some men are “slaves by nature”, their bodies suitable to do menial work by their inherent strength and their virtues underdeveloped or missing, and should be regarded as tools or property of the household manager, as it is “nature’s purpose to make the bodies of free men to differ from those of slaves” (page 69). Not so enlightened after all, despite actually raising the question of equality and justice, and then dismissing them with the above obfuscation. And his position on women and wives is not much better.

Likewise, the attitude towards the Earth and all other living things is similarly of its time but repugnant now (at least to me)

“If then nature makes nothing without some end in view … it must be that nature has made all of them for the sake of man  … even the art of war … must be used both against wild beasts and against such men as are by nature intended to be ruled over but refuse …”  page 79

He now moves on to his quest for the ideal constitution for a city-state, starting with Plato’s idealised Republic. Yet here he undermines his slavery argument by pointing out that free men should take turns ruling for a year and then be ruled by their peers after that. So by his own argument, they are all capable of being ruled (ie slaves).

And now we have the observation that agricultural classes (ie the ruled) have a lack of strong affection for their wives and children, unlike the upper classes!!

Moving on to a less personal (?) subject is the idea of communal ownership of property (including wives and children as Plato proposed in The Republic) which Aristotle is not wholly in favour of, with his observation that “it is more necessary to equalise appetites than possessions” (a neat summation why true communism is so difficult to achieve) and the difficulty of the need to fix the amount of allowable private possessions at a level not too high or too low.

These anomalies aside, Books 3 and 4 cover the art of government and choice of constitutions more appropriate to a study of politics, discussing the three basic models : monarchy, aristocracy and polity, in different flavours, and their respective ‘deviations’ (tyranny, oligarchy and democracy). Although Aristotle is obviously not a fan of democracy as it existed in Ancient Greece, he does admit that the masses (by which he only means free men, not the whole population) may be correct in their collective voice regardless of their individual baseness. He also points out that the best constitution will take into account the middle classes, who are usually the most numerous. This leads on to constitutional change, and the highbrow theories meet reality as his examples of factions (which are a leading cause of change to a different form – oligarchy to democracy or vice versa) involve jilted brides, rejected suitors and disappointed heirs forming groups amongst their supporters to revolt and eventually change the ways of government.

I must confess to starting to skim sections at this point, but this was due to my disinterest rather than any flaw with the text, and readers interested in political philosophy will no doubt be more fascinated than I was. I eventually succumbed to defeat by Book 5 and gave myself an early birthday present by shutting down and going off for a lavish Chinese takeaway. True monarchy in action!

Favourite lines/passages:

“For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorced from law and justice. …. Man without virtue is the most savage, the most unrighteous, and the worst in regard to sexual license and gluttony.”                       Book I, part ii, (page 61)

Personal rating: 4/10

The sanity in between: Destination Unknown. Agatha Christie lets Poirot and Miss Marple have a holiday and tries her hand at a spy thriller, creating a Hitchcockian story with a Bond-style villain. Quite enjoyable and very escapist.

Next : Staying with the theme and reading Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution

116. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

116. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

Plot:  A discussion of the virtues and vices in the character of man.

My copy is still from the 2 volumes of the works of Aristotle which form part of the series Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952. I would prefer a more approachable and perhaps more true translation, but needs must.

My thoughts:

First things first, the term Nicomachean is not mentioned by Aristotle in the work itself, but seems to have been a dedication to either his father or son (both were named Nicomachus).

The lecture starts with the question “What is happiness?”    Aristotle admits that most men equate happiness with pleasure, some others with honour, wealth or a life of contemplation. But happiness is bigger and more final than any of these ; it is the ultimate good for which the others are simply a means to achieve. (Admittedly happiness also requires a degree of luck or prosperity along the way!)

Not content with this definition, Aristotle pushes further to suggest that happiness must be entwined with the function of man, and results in the view that happiness requires the “virtuous activity of the soul”.  I started to disagree here, as he points out that animals and small children cannot feel happiness as they are incapable of this virtuosity. Perhaps he would distinguish joy from happiness, but you cannot tell me a small boy playing with his dog are not both capable of feeling and demonstrating obvious happiness.

He classifies virtues as either intellectual (such as philosophical wisdom and practical wisdom) or moral (liberality, temperance, courage, etc.) Moral virtues are a result of the nature of the individual reinforced by habit, with the ideal being an intermediate point between extreme vices  of excess and defect

To someone at the extreme end of one of these states, an intermediate person may seem to be at the opposite extreme, (i.e. a miser would see a liberal person as much a spendthrift as a carefree squanderer). Sometimes one extreme is more acceptable than the other, or closer to the intermediate (e.g. a rash and confident person will be more admired than a coward, and deemed not so far removed from the courageous ideal)

Thankfully Aristotle recognises that the intermediate state (virtue) is an ideal for which we must strive but cannot always reach.

“Any one can get angry – that is easy – or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble”    page 354.

But virtues (and vices) are voluntary choices : it is in the individual’s power to act (or not act) in their belief of what is good to achieve the end they desire. (Acts may also be involuntary for which no blame ensues e.g. things done under compulsion or through ignorance – although drunkeness, carelessness or ignorance of the law is not considered involuntary). This is a more realistic approach to the foundation of criminal law than Plato’s (Socrates’?) statement that no person knowingly does wrong, and approaches the basis of our modern criminal law – I wonder if legal philosophy in modern law courses includes the Nicomachean Ethics?

Aristotle then goes on to discuss moral virtues and vices individually. Much of this was straightforward and reminded me of an old snakes and ladders game I had as a child where shameful characteristics such as pride, profligacy and envy sent you down a snake, while the corresponding virtues led you up ladders.

I skimmed over the chapters on justice and intellectual virtues, and settled down to read about friendship. Aristotle classifies friendships in three types (excluding friendships of association such as fellow-travellers) : (i) friendships of utility, where one person gains an advantage from the relationship, and these only last as long as the usefulness continues, (ii) friendships of pleasure, where a person is amused by the company of another and (iii) ‘true’ friendship which is based on mutual love and goodwill between the friends, and is long lasting, takes time to develop and is proofed against slander of each party from outside. This discussion wanders around to comment on political constitutions and family relationships as well, but was easy to follow.

Favourite lines/passages:

“Those who are called by such names as ‘miserly’, ‘close’, ‘stingy’, all fall short in giving  … to this class belong the cheeseparer and every one of the sort”                              page 368

“For his friend is another self”                                                                                                 page 419

Diversions/digressions:  After Aristotle left Athens, his School was taken over by one of his students Theophrastus, who also wrote on many topics. Although better known for his contributions to botany, one of his surviving works Characters is a series of brief character sketches of different moral types, and may be a sort of descendant of this work. I’ll get to it once Aristotle is done.

Personal rating: Difficult to stick at – some parts were obvious and easy to follow, while others become convoluted and required more concentration than I admittedly gave them. Settle for a 4.

The sanity in between:  Desperation by Stephen King. Had been taking up space on my shelves. Similar ground covered as his classic The Stand  (which was much better and deserves a re-read itself) but this still kept me intrigued to the end.

Next : More Aristotle. Perhaps The Art of Rhetoric.