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Cottage with Peasant, Van Gogh

“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. This post is the second in a short series considering the life of Aristides (530-468 BC), one of the greatest of Athenian statesmen.

Image: Cottage with Peasant Coming Home, by Van Gogh

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