Moralia. How the Young Man Should Study Poetry,
LCL 197: 146-147
οὐκ ἔστ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἔργων μὴ καλῶν ἔπη καλά·
καὶ γὰρ οὗτος1 εἴωθεν ἤθεσι φαύλοις καὶ ἀτόποις πράγμασι λόγους ἐπιγελῶντας καὶ φιλανθρώπους αἰτίας πορίζειν. καὶ ὁ σύσκηνος αὐτοῦ πάλιν ὁρᾷς 28ὅτι τήν τε Φαίδραν καὶ προσεγκαλοῦσαν τῷ Θησεῖ πεποίηκεν ὡς διὰ τὰς ἐκείνου παρανομίας ἐρασθεῖσαν τοῦ Ἱππολύτου. τοιαύτην δὲ καὶ τῇ Ἑλένῃ παρρησίαν κατὰ τῆς Ἑκάβης ἐν ταῖς Τρῳάσι δίδωσιν, οἰομένῃ δεῖν ἐκείνην κολάζεσθαι μᾶλλον ὅτι μοιχὸν αὐτῆς ἔτεκε. μηδὲν οὖν τούτων κομψὸν ἡγεῖσθαι καὶ πανοῦργον ὁ νέος ἐθιζέσθω, μηδὲ προσμειδιάτω ταῖς τοιαύταις εὑρησιλογίαις, ἀλλὰ βδελυττέσθω τοὺς λόγους μᾶλλον ἢ τὰ ἔργα τῆς ἀκολασίας.
9. Ἐπὶ πᾶσι τοίνυν καὶ τὸ τὴν αἰτίαν ἑκάστου Bτῶν λεγομένων ἐπιζητεῖν χρήσιμόν ἐστιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ Κάτων ἔτι παιδάριον ὢν ἔπραττε μὲν ὃ προστάξειεν ὁ παιδαγωγός, αἰτίαν δὲ καὶ λόγον ἀπῄτει τοῦ προστάγματος· τοῖς δὲ ποιηταῖς οὐ πειστέον ὥσπερ παιδαγωγοῖς ἢ νομοθέταις, ἂν μὴ λόγον ἔχῃ τὸ ὑποκείμενον. ἕξει δέ, ἄνπερ χρηστὸν ᾖ· ἂν δὲ μοχθηρόν, ὀφθήσεται κενὸν καὶ μάταιον. ἀλλ᾿ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν μὲν τοιούτων τὰς αἰτίας πικρῶς ἀπαιτοῦσι καὶ διαπυνθάνονται πῶς λέλεκται
μηδέ ποτ᾿ οἰνοχόην τιθέμεν κρητῆρος ὕπερθεν πινόντων
How to Study Poetry
From unfair deed fair word cannot proceed.
For, as a fact, he is wont to provide for mean characters and unnatural actions alluring words and humane reasons. And you observe also that his companion-at-arms in the dramatic art has represented Phaedraa as preferring the charge against Theseus that it was because of his derelictions that she fell in love with Hippolytus. Of such sort, too, are the frank lines, aimed against Hecuba, which in the Trojan Womenb he gives to Helen, who there expresses her feeling that Hecuba ought rather to be the one to suffer punishment because she brought into the world the man who was the cause of Helen’s infidelity. Let the young man not form the habit of regarding any one of these things as witty and adroit, and let him not smile indulgently, either, at such displays of verbal ingenuity, but let him loathe the words of licentiousness even more than its deeds.
9. Now in all cases it is useful also to seek after the cause of each thing that is said. Cato, for example, used, even as a child, to do whatever the attendant in charge of him ordered, yet he also demanded to know the ground and reason for the order. And so the poets are not to be obeyed as though they were our keepers or law-givers, unless their subject matter be reasonable; and this it will be if it be good, but if it be vile, it will be seen to be vacuous and vain. But most people are sharp in demanding the reasons for trivial things like the following, and insist on knowing in what sense they are intended:
Never ought the ladle atop of the bowl to be rested While the bout is on,c