“In fine, having established the dominion of his city over so many people, he himself remained indigent; and always delighted as much in the glory of being poor, as in that of his trophies.” Plutarch on Aristides
This renowned Athenian statesman’s attitude toward wealth and poverty remains something of an enigma. We are told not only that he steadfastly resisted the allure of riches, but that he even gloried in his poverty.
His poverty was not a squalor or a lack of necessities. It was a poverty of simplicity, a simplicity given special emphasis in comparison to the wealth that easily might have been his.
People that voluntarily choose poverty always have a certain fascination about them. The rest of us cannot but wonder: why did he do it? why did he choose poverty?
Christian monks are following their Lord and master. But what about Aristides? What is the root of his glorying in a kind of lack? We cannot say for sure. We do know that he valued justice, and the honorable good of his people, above all things.
Somehow he saw poverty–the willing rejection of all wealth not absolutely necessary for his life–as fitting with, and even aiding, those virtues he valued most. He was convinced that he would be happier with less and that less was truly more. Whatever our state in life, we might keep pondering: has Aristides seen something that we have not yet seen?
Plutarch (46-120 A.D.), a Boeotian Greek who became a Roman citizen, was especially known as a biographer of famous Greek and Roman men.
Introducing Aristides Mini-Series
This post is the second in a short series considering the life of Aristides (530-468 BC), one of the greatest of Athenian statesmen.
I. A Greek You Should Remember
III. One Good Politician
Image: Cottage with Peasant Coming Home, by Van Gogh
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Perhaps Christ was advising the rich young man as to how to be happy?
Excellent point for reflection.
Being rich even well off or comfortable can cause conflict between your love of money and your love of God. Being poor doesn’t demean your dignity or self respect, unless you measure your self worth by your bank account.
This reminds me of a story I heard which I will paraphrase here:
A Wall Street exec is on vacation in Mexico. Lying on the beach a fisherman rows up and offers his catch of several fish for sale. People flock to his boat but most go away empty handed. The New Yorker asks him why he doesn’t catch more fish and make more money? He says he makes all that he needs. The exec goes on to explain how if he caught more fish, hired more men, bought more boats, expanded, grew, and went public he could be fabulously wealthy. The lowly fisherman asked him what he would do with all this wealth. The exec said, why you could buy a place on the ocean, retire and do whatever you want. The fisherman looks at him and says, “That is exactly what I’m doing now.”