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WHEN I first applied myself to the writing of these lives, it was for the sake of others, but I pursue that study for my own sake; availing myself of history as of a mirror, from which I learn to adjust and regulate my own conduct. For it is like living and conversing with these illustrious men, when I invite, as it were, and receive them, one after another, under my roof; when I consider how great and wonderful they were, and select from their actions the most memorable and glorious.
Ye gods! what greater pleasure?
Democritus has a position in his philosophy *, ut
* Democritus held that visible objects produced their image in the ambient air, which image produced a second, and the second a third still less than the former, and so on till the last produced its counterpart in the eye. This he supposed the process of the act of vision. But he went on to what is infinitely more absurd. He maintained that thought was formed, according as those images struck upon the imagination; that of these there were some good and some evil; that the good produced virtuous thoughts in us, and the evil the contrary. VOL. III.
terly false indeed, and leading to endless superstitions, that there are phantasms or images continually floating in the air, some propitious, and some unlucky, and advises us to pray, that such may strike upon our senses, as are agreeable to and perfective of our nature, and not such as have a tendency to vice and error. For my part, instead of this, I fill my mind with the sublime images of the best and greatest men, by attention to history and biography; and if I contract any blemish or ill custom from other company which I am unavoidably engaged in, I correct and expel them, by calmly and dispassionately turning my thoughts to these excellent examples. For the same purpose, I now put in your hands the life of Timoleon the Corinthian, and that of Æmilius Paulus, men famous not only for their virtues, but their success; insomuch that they have left room to doubt, whether their great achievements were not more owing to their good fortune than their prudence.
Most writers agree, that the Æmilian family was one of the most ancient among the Roman nobility: and it is asserted, that the founder of it, who also left it his surname, was Mamercus* the son of Pythagoras the philosopher†, who, for the peculiar charms and gracefulness of his elocution was called Æmilius; such, at least, is the opinion of those who say that Numa was educated under Pythagoras.
Those of this family that distinguished themselves, found their attachment to virtue generally
* See the life of Numa.
+He is called Pythagoras the philosopher, to distinguish him from Pythagoras the famed wrestler.
From Lucius Æmilius, who was consul in the year of Rome two hundred and seventy, and overcame the Volscians, to Lucius Paulus, who was father to Paulus Æmilius, and who fell at Cannæ, in the year of Rome five hundred and thirtyseven, there were many of those Emilii renowned for their victories and triumphs.