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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Erasmus Quoting Peace (1521)

I have just started to reread Plutarch's Lives, a powerful book that has insights to stir the hearts of the great and of those that would be great.

As Plutarch said of his writings, "It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous of sieges, the greatest of armaments, or the bloodiest of battles whatsoever."

While the following piece on peace was written long after Plutarch, It was also written long before our time. I read it as another lesson in the value of old books and essays - their blind spots were different than ours, which makes their feelings and points potent. That is what has lead me back once again to Plutarch's Lives.


"Now, if I, whose name is Peace, am a personage glorified by the united praise of God and man, as the fountain, the parent, the nurse, the patroness, the guardian of every blessing which either heaven or earth can bestow;

if without me nothing is flourishing, nothing safe, nothing pure or holy, nothing pleasant to mortals, or grateful to the Supreme Being;

if, on the contrary, war is one vast ocean, rushing on mankind, of all the united plagues and pestilences in nature;

if, at its deadly approach, every blossom of happiness is instantly blasted, every thing that was improving gradually degenerates and dwindles away to nothing, every thing that was firmly supported totters on its foundation, every thing that was formed for long duration comes to a speedy end, and every thing that was sweet by nature is turned into bitterness;

if war is so unhallowed that it becomes the deadliest bane of piety and religion;

if there is nothing more calamitous to mortals, and more detestable to heaven, I ask, how in the name of God, can I believe those beings to be rational creatures; how can I believe them to be otherwise than stark mad;

who, with such a waste of treasure, with so ardent a zeal, with so great an effort, with so many arts, so much anxiety, and so much danger, endeavour to drive me away from them, and purchase endless misery and mischief at a price so high." -- Erasmus

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