The Test

“In private life, if you wish to pass judgement on the characters of good or of bad men, you would not, assuming that your opinion is to be subjected to a genuine test, examine their actions only at periods of unclouded tranquility, but rather at times of conspicuous success or failure. The test of true virtue in a man surely resides  in his capacity to bear with spirit and with dignity the most complete transformations of fortune, and the same principle should apply to our judgement of states.” Polybius, The Histories VI. 2. trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert (London: Penguin, 1979), p. 302.

Polybius, the Greek hostage who taught Scipio Aemilianus, wrote a history of the Roman Republic up to his own time.  This work contains commentary such as the quote above.  While his surviving literary work contains sections on the Punic Wars, here he discusses changes to the Roman constitution. His advice is clear here:  study people and societies in times of prosperity and adversity to understand their true character.

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