Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

FIRST Robin Cook, now Mr Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell what a comically short-tempered duo they make up. Whatever sad deficiency of moral or spiritual training is the reason, the great Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor AD 161-180, had the same problem as a young man (though in the cause of truth rather than from self-display), and as a result got a rocket in a letter from his tutor Fronto in AD 143.

Fronto calls in evidence the Greek philosopher Socrates. A paragon of wisdom, passionate about the truth, he yet saw no contradiction in spinning a deft, delicate and subtle web of words to entrap his listeners. Fronto, calling in particular evidence that famous Socratic irony, points out that Socrates never attacked people openly, but only `from ambush'. So when bright and brilliant young men like Alcibiades began to overrate their wealth or looks or background, Socrates did not tear them to shreds but mildly and persuasively pointed out where they had gone wrong.

The point is, Fronto continues, that Socrates was a master of psychology. He understood that young men did not respond to being beaten into the ground by their elders but were more likely to be won over by a courteous and agreeable approach. …

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