Translation Cons. Phil. Book 2 Prosa 7
1 Then I said, `You know that the vain-glory of this world has had but little influence over me; but I have desired the means of so managing affairs that virtue might not grow aged in silence.'
2 `Yes,' said she, `but there is one thing which can attract minds, which, though by nature excelling, yet are not led by perfection to the furthest bounds of virtue; and that thing is the love of fame and reputation for deserving well of one's country.
3 Think then thus upon it, and see that it is but a slight thing of no weight. As you have learnt from astronomers' shewing, the whole circumference of the earth is but as a point compared with the size of the heavens. That is, if you compare the earth with the circle of the universe, it must be reckoned as of no size at all.
4 And of this tiny portion of the universe there is but a fourth part, as you have learnt from the demonstration of Ptolemæus, which is inhabited by living beings known to us.
5 If from this fourth part you imagine subtracted all that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast regions of thirsty desert, you will find but the narrowest space left for human habitation.
6 And do you think of setting forth your fame and publishing your name in this space, which is but as a point within another point so closely circumscribed? And what size or magnificence can fame have which is shut in by such close and narrow bounds?
7 Further, this narrow enclosure of habitation is peopled by many races of men which differ in language, in customs, and in their whole scheme of living; and owing to difficulty of travelling, differences of speech, and rareness of any intercourse, the fame of cities cannot reach them, much less the fame of men.
8 Has not Cicero written somewhere that in his time the fame of Rome had not reached the mountains of the Caucasus, though the Republic was already well grown and striking awe among the Parthians and other nations in those parts?
9 Do you see then how narrow and closely bounded must be that fame which you wish to extend more widely? Can the fame of a Roman ever reach parts to which the name of Rome cannot come?
10 Further, the manners and customs of different races are so little in agreement, that what is . . .
11 . . . make his name known, because he takes pleasure in a glorious fame.
12 So each man shall be content if his fame travels throughout his own countrymen, and the immortality of his name shall be bounded by the limits of one nation.
13 But how many men, the most famous of their times, are wiped out by oblivion because no man has written of them! And yet what advantage is there in much that is written? For with their authors these writings are overwhelmed in the length and dimness of age.
14 Yet when you think upon your fame in future ages, you seem to think that you are prolonging it to immortality.
15 But if you think upon the unending length of eternity, what enjoyment do you find in the long endurance of your name?
16 For though one moment bears but the least proportion to ten thousand years, yet there is a definite ratio, because both are limited spaces of time. But even ten thousand years, or the greatest number you will, cannot even be compared with eternity.
17 For there will always be ratio between finite things, but between the finite and the infinite there can never be any comparison.
18 Wherefore, however long drawn out may be the life of your fame, it is not even small, but it is absolutely nothing when compared with eternity.
19 You know not how to act rightly except for the breezes of popular opinion and for the sake of empty rumours; thus the excellence of conscience and of virtue is left behind, and you seek rewards from the tattle of other men.
20 Listen to the witty manner in which one played once upon the shallowness of this pride. A certain man once bitterly attacked another who had taken to himself falsely the name of philosopher, not for the purpose of true virtue, but for pride of fame; he added to his attack that he would know soon whether he was a philosopher, when he saw whether the other bore with meekness and patience the insults he heaped upon him. The other showed patience for a while and took the insults as though he scoffed at them, until he said, "Do you now see that I am a philosopher?"
21 "I should have, had you kept silence," said the other stingingly. But we are speaking of great men: and I ask, what do they gain from fame, though they seek glory by virtue? what have they after the body is dissolved at death?
22 For if men die utterly, as our reason forbids us to believe, there is no glory left to them at all, since they whose it is said to be, do not exist.
23 If, on the other hand, the mind is still conscious and working when it is freed from its earthly prison, it seeks heaven in its freedom and surely spurns all earthly traffic: it enjoys heaven and rejoices in its release from this world.