"My intention," writes Plutarch, "is to write not histories, but lives. Sometimes small incidents, rather than glorious exploits, give us the best evidence of character." In his life of Alexander the Great the theme seems to be the giving and reception of counsel, whether by soothsayers, physicians, trusted confidants, or philosophers. Again and again in the short history of Alexander, a counselor gives advice and is either rewarded with heaps of gold or tortured or killed. The outcome is not always indicative of the quality of advice, either.
Here is a for instance. Having conquered most of the world, the young Alexander had fallen under the spell of Persian opulence. For this he was rebuked by his loyal counselor, Clitus - who was quite right as Alexander later agreed. Unfortunately for Clitus, Alexander's initial response was to grab a spear and run Clitus through. Therafter Alexander fell into a funk, even to the point of rolling about on the floor of his tent for days. In essence, his spirit had become sick. Enter two philosophers who would heal him.
Callisthenes tried soothing moral arguments, but Alexander was not comforted. Anaxarhcus awoke Alexander from his depression by saying, "So there is Alexander the Great who is feared by the whole world. Look at him lying on the ground, sobbing because he fears what men might say about him -- as if he himself should not give them law, and establish the boundaries of justice and injustice. He who conquers is the lord and master, not the slave, of the idle opinions of little men."
Here is Plutarch's comment: "With speeches like this, Anaxarchus comforted Alexander but corrupted his character, making him bolder to do wrong than he had been before." On the other hand the bad philosopher succeeded in pleasing his boss. (Still, this power-pleasing advisor did come acropper. In the next paragraph we learn that he was set the task of improvising a speech praising the Greeks. He did so brilliantly that Alexander asked him to then go on to cite the faults of the Greeks. He did that so well that for the rest of his career he was mistrusted and shunned. So it is hard to generalize about what behavior will best keep a trusted advisor out of trouble.)
Who, then, in working with the wealthiest and mightiest today corrupts and who heals their client's distempered souls? If we attemt to cure, we may fail, and even if we succeed our reward may be that of Clitus. Even power-pleasers like Anaxarchus may overdo it, and be shunned. The one "physician of the soul" who truly succeeds with Alexander is Diogenes, the mad Socrates. I will let you read it for yourself.
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