MUSONIUS RUFUS 'Stoic Fragments'


There is also another means of livelihood in no way inferior to this, indeed, perhaps it would not be unreasonable to consider it even better for a strong person, namely earning a living from the soil, whether one owns his own land or not.

For many who are farming land owned either by the state or by other private individuals are yet able to support not only themselves but their wives and children as well; and some in fact attain even a high degree of prosperity by hard work with their own hands. For the earth repays most justly and well those who cultivate her, returning many times as much as she received and furnishing an abundance of all the necessities of life to anyone who is willing to work; and this she does without violating one's dignity or self-respect.

You may be sure that no one who was not demoralized by soft living would say that the labor of the farmer was degrading or unfit for a good man.

How, I ask, could planting trees or ploughing or pruning vines not be honorable? Are not sowing seed and harvesting and threshing all occupations for free men and befitting good men? Even keeping flocks, as it did not disgrace Hesiod nor prevent him from being a poet and beloved of the gods, so it would not prevent anyone else. In fact to me this is the most agreeable of all aspects of farming, because it gives the spirit more leisure to reflect on and to investigate the things that have to do with our own development and training. For while, to be sure, the occupations which strain and tire the whole body compel the mind to share in concentration upon
them, or at all events, upon the body, yet the occupations which require not too much physical exertion do not hinder the mind from reflecting on some of the higher things and by such reasoning from increasing its own wisdom—a goal toward which every philosopher earnestly strives.

For these reasons I recommend particularly the life of a shepherd. But, speaking generally, if one devotes himself to the life of philosophy and tills the land at the same time, I should not compare any other way of life to his nor prefer any other means of livelihood.

For is it not " living more in accord with nature " to draw one's sustenance directly from the earth, which is the nurse and mother of us all, rather than from some other source? Is it not more like the life of a man to live in the country than to sit idly in the city, like the sophists? Who will say that it is not more healthy to live out of doors than to shun the open air and the heat of the sun?

Tell me, do you think it is more fitting for a free man by his own labor to procure for himself the necessities of life or to receive them from others? But surely it is plain that not to require another's help for one's need is more dignified than asking for it, How very good and happy and blessed of heaven is the life of the soil, when along with it the goods of the spirit are not neglected, the example of Myson of Chen may show, whom the god called " wise," and Aglaus of Psophis whom he hailed as " happy," both of whom lived on the land and tilled the soil with their own hands, and held aloof from the life of the town. Is not their example worthy of emulation and an incentive to follow in their footsteps and to embrace the life of husbandry with a zeal like theirs?

What, perhaps someone may say, is it not preposterous for an educated man who is able to influence the young to the study of philosophy to work the land and to do manual labor just like a peasant?

Yes, that would be really too bad if working the land prevented him from the pursuit of philosophy or from helping others to its attainment. But since that is not so, pupils would seem to me rather benefited by not meeting with their teacher in the city nor listening to his formal lectures and discussions, but by seeing him at work in the fields, demonstrating by his own labor the lessons which philosophy inculcates—that one should endure hardships, and suffer the pains of labor with his own body, rather than depend upon another for sustenance.

What is there to prevent a student while he is working from listening to a teacher speaking about self-control or justice or endurance?

For those who teach philosophy well do not need many words, nor is there any need that pupils should try to master all this current mass of precepts on which we see our sophists pride themselves; they are enough to consume a whole life-time. But the most necessary and useful things it is not impossible for men to learn in addition to their farm work, especially if they are not kept at work constantly but have periods of rest. Now I know perfectly well that few will wish to learn in this way, yet it would be better if the majority of young men who say they are studying philosophy did not go near a philosopher, I mean those spoiled and effeminate fellows by whose presence the good name of philosophy is stained.

For of the true lovers of philosophy, there is not one who would not be willing to live with a good man in the country, even if the place be very rude, since he would be bound to profit greatly from this sojourn by living with his teacher night and day, by being away from the evils of the city, which are an obstacle to the study of philosophy, and from the fact that his conduct, whether good or bad, cannot escape observation—a great advantage to those who are learning.

Also to eat and drink and sleep under the supervision of a good man is a great benefit. All these things, which would come about inevitably from living together in the country, Theognis praised in the verses where he says,

" Drink and eat and sit down with good men, and win the approval of those whose influence and power is great." That he means that none others but good men have great power for the good of men, if one eats and drinks and sits down with them, he has shown in the following:

" From good men you will learn good, but if you mingle with the bad you will destroy even such soul as you had."

Therefore let no one say that farming is an obstacle to learning or to teaching the lessons of duty, for it can scarcely be such an obstacle, if we realize that under these conditions the pupil lives in closest association with the teacher, and the teacher has the pupil constantly at hand. And where this is the case, earning a living by farming seems to be most suitable for a philosopher.

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