The following short parables of wisdom are from the Manly P. Hall lecture ‘Wisdom of the Greeks Can Help Solve Problems of Modern Society’, concerning the pervasive behavior which governs everyday life.
These parables, which were once told about the great philosophers of ancient Greece, command a certain wit, humour and personality with, obviously, a touch of wisdom.
However, they all teach a serious but beneficial lesson regarding the human condition, that reveals how one’s mind can be so easily susceptible to the destructive and divisive charms of superficiality. All this at the very expense of one’s own authentic spiritual growth, self improvement and general well-being.
The potential problems faced, if held onto obsessively, can prove to be detrimental to one’s character, and can at once become an insurmountable obstacle towards human relations and progress.
Here follows these, possibly, negative modern-day inflictions:
- Ambition towards high position and social standing/status
- Acquisitiveness of wealth, luxury and possessions
- Vanity/Image conscious
So without further ado, I bring to you, from ancient times, a little bit of wisdom, laughter, and a lesson or two which we could all apply to our own lives for the betterment of ourselves and the planet.
Introduction: Why Greek Philosophy Was Against Wealth
Another point of Greek philosophy that is interesting was the consistent low grading of wealth. The Greeks did not really believe in wealth. They regarded it as forever a testimony to what was wrong.
Every individual who had more than he needed became less than he had been before; and in selfishness and in effort to gain stature or to advance socially, the individual denied the real reason for his own existence.
This was the Greek point of view largely. Wherever wealth interfered with growth they were against it. Wherever wealth became a blind alley; wherever the individual seeking luxury sacrificed integrity; this, the Greeks said, was wrong.
It became important to them that these things should be understood because of this relationship to the three basic forms of knowledge.
If something permanently interfered with the quest for truth, this delay was dangerous to the perfection of the human soul.
Therefore, to have enough is correct.
Anyone who pursues wealth and possessions are, according to the gods of ancient Greece, a disappointment – they expect better. They therefore keep on prodding a little until they get what they want – and they will get it.
~ Manly P. Hall
Parable of Plato’s Description of Gold
So, on one occasion someone said to Plato ‘Why is gold such a pale metal?’, and Plato replied ‘It is because it is frightened to death of the people who are going to own it.’
Parable of Aristippus versus the Pirates
The philosopher Aristippus was on a ship one day and accidentally overheard that the crew were a bunch of pirates and were planning to take all his belongings, including his box of money, and then throw him overboard on a night of their choosing.
So, first thing the next morning Aristippus was sitting out on the deck of the ship with his strong box on his lap and he was dropping his money into the ocean one coin at a time.
The crew seeing this cried out ‘What are you doing?!’
Aristippus replied ‘It is better that this money perish for Aristippus, rather than Aristippus perish for this money.’
Parable of Epicurus’ Most Feastful of Banquets
Epicurus once invited a number of his friends to a banquet – of course they all accepted with great joy and anticipation.
When they arrived at Epicurus’ house there was on the table two or three loaves of stale bread and a couple pitchers of sour milk.
They all looked at Epicurus with astonishment and then asked him with disappointment ‘Where is this banquet that we were promised? Where is the feast?’
‘Well…’ Epicurus replied, ‘…if the truth be known, a piece of dry bread and a cup of sour milk is enough. And enough is as good as a feast.’
Parable of Diogenes and his Humble Little Home
The idea that all these ancient people were living in luxury was not altogether true. Many of them, in fact, had no actual house to live in. Diogenes, for example, had for many years lived in a barrel in the Greek lyceum. However, later on he was assigned a little hut or cottage.
One of Diogenes’ disciples said to him ‘Master, you are all alone in this little house and you are very old. What will happen if you die? Who will bury you?’
Diogenes then said with a smile ‘The man who wants this house will bury me.’
Parable of the Gods treating the Proud and Wealthy as Strawdogs
Another greek said on one occasion ‘the principle work of the gods was that those of the simple life of common people the gods lift up. But those of great pride and wealth the gods have a tendancy to cast down.’
Parable of who is the Prouder – Diogenes or Plato?
In context, Diogenes and Plato had a little feud between them because Diogenes insisted on thinking that Plato considered himself to be a superior person and is a little snobbish and so on. This was of course, as far as Diogenes was concerned, worse than heresy.
One day Plato acquired himself a new cloak (where it came from and how he got it – we don’t know), but it was a nice looking cloak and it was long enough so that the tail of it brushed along the ground.
Diogenes, when walking along behind Plato for a while, decided to jump up and down on the tail of his cloak when they got to a muddy spot. Diogenes then said to Plato triumphantly ‘Thus I step on Plato’s pride.’
Plato turned around to him and said ‘Diogenes, yes! And how proud you are to have done it.’