Let not reflections such as these afflict you: ‘I shall live without honour, and never be of any account’; for if lack of honour is an evil, no one but yourself can involve you in evil any more than in shame. Is it your business to get office or to be invited to an entertainment?
Where then is the dishonour you talk of? How can you be ‘of no account anywhere’, when you ought to count for something in those matters only which are in your power, where you may achieve the highest worth? ‘But my friends,’ you say, ‘will lack assistance.’
What do you mean by ‘lack assistance’? They will not have cash from you and you will not make them Roman citizens. Who told you that to do these things is in our power, and not dependent upon others? Who can give to another what is not his to give?
‘Get them then,’ says he, ‘that we may have them.’
If I can get them and keep my self-respect, honour, magnanimity, show the way and I will get them. But if you call on me to lose the good things that are mine, in order that you may win things that are not good, look how unfair and thoughtless you are. And which do you really prefer? Money, or a faithful, modest friend? Therefore help me rather to keep these qualities, and do not expect from me actions which will make me lose them.
‘But my country,’ says he, ‘will lack assistance, so far as lies in me.’
Once more I ask, What assistance do you mean? It will not owe colonnades or baths to you. What of that? It does not owe shoes to the blacksmith or arms to the shoemaker; it is sufficient if each man fulfils his own function. Would you do it no good if you secured to it another faithful and modest citizen?
Well, then, you would not be useless to it.
‘What place then shall I have in the city?’
Whatever place you can hold while you keep your character for honour and self-respect. But if you are going to lose these qualities in trying to benefit your city, what benefit, I ask, would you have done her when you attain to the perfection of being lost to shame and honour?