Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Habit - according to the Ancients

Once again I go through the exercise of compiling what the ancients had to say about a particular virtue or vice as compared with our more contemporary lights. And once again we can see that there is nothing new under the sun. Our emotions may have different hooks to hang their hats on today, but the emotions are still the same. Men have the same basic fears and desires today as they had thousands of years ago. That is why ancient texts often speak to us as though they were written yesterday.
In the following quotes we can see that habit held no secrets for the ancients. They knew its great power for good and for evil. We can also understand that each generation has to relearn the same wisdom of their forefathers, either through the school of hard knocks or the school of philosophy… if we learn it at all.

Habit had made the custom. Ovid

Nothing is stronger than habit. Ovid

Powerful indeed is the empire of habit. Syrus

Habit is stronger than nature. Quintus Curtius Rufus

Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Marcus Aurelius.

Pursuits become habits. Ovid

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way. Aristotle

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. Aristotle

The moral virtues, then, are produced in us neither by nature nor against nature. Nature, indeed, prepares in us the ground for their reception, but their complete formation is the product of habit. Aristotle

Character is simply habit long continued. Plutarch

Good habits result from resisting temptation. Ancient proverb

Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity. Saint Augustine

Where evil habits are once settled, they are more easily broken than mended. Quintilian

Nothing is in reality either pleasant or unpleasant by nature; but all things become so through habit. Epictetus

Great is the power of habit. It teaches us to bear fatigue and to despise wounds and pain. Cicero

To things which you bear with impatience you should accustom yourself, and, by habit you will bear them well. Seneca

Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them. Confucius

1 comment:

The Rambling Taoist said...

This is a very good post if for no other reason that it reminds us that the human condition is what it is. Too often, people tend to caught up in this notion of modernity and that humankind has progressed so remarkably. In fact, as you aptly point out, what innately frightened or caused wonder for our ancestors tends to cause the same fear or excitement in each of us today.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond