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Phocion

Full Show Notes Available at https://plutarch.life/phocion

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Roman Parallel – Cato the Younger (95–46 BC)

Phocion was three years old when Socrates died in 399 and then lives through the reigns of Philip, Alexander, and dies under Cassander's takeover of Athens. Though less well-known than his contemporary, Demosthenes, Plutarch wants us to remember him as a political leader who did the best he could with a bad situation. 

Key Vices and Virtues

  • Bravery (ἀνδρεῖος) – Phocion tempers it with caution, but leads in person up to and past the age of 80!
  • Justice (δικαιοσύνη) – Phocion's realism that Athens does not have the power to resist the Macedonians makes him a great, if still ignored, advocate for justice. He wants to preserve the peace and harmony of the city, while receiving as fair a deal as he can for Athens, which will be conquered by an army four times in his life. 
  • Moderation (σωφροσύνη) – Sometimes also translated as “prudence,” this is not only the virtue that keeps Phocion from accepting any bribes, but also the virtue he tries to give to the Athenian people in their erratic behavior to their Macedonian overlords. His wife also practices this virtue, but his son never learns it from either parent (cf. Plato's Meno which examines whether or not virtue can be taught and looks at famous leaders whose sons did not have the same virtues as their fathers). 
  • Austerity (αὐστηρόν) – Not one of Aristotle's virtues, but one Plutarch takes pains to highlight. Whether it's walking barefoot, wearing fewer clothes than necessary, or controlling even things like laughter and crying, Phocion struck everyone as toughest first on himself, and then only secondarily hard on others. 
  • Simplicity (ἀφελείᾳ) – While the ancient Greeks (and Romans) never considered poverty a virtue as the Christians later did, there was a respect for the simplicity of knowing your limits. This knowledge of what is necessary for life makes Phocion (and his wife, see section 19) reliable and incorruptible. 

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