Life of Aemilius Paulus, 26

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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26But to resume, Gnaeus Octavius, the admiral of Aemilius, came to anchor off Samothrace, and while he allowed Perseus to enjoy asylum, out of respect to the gods, he took means to prevent him from escaping by sea. However, Perseus somehow succeeded in persuading a certain Cretan named Oroandes, the owner of a small skiff, to take him on board with his treasures. 2So Oroandes, true Cretan that he was, took the treasures aboard by night, and after bidding Perseus to come during the following night to the harbour adjoining the Demetrium, with his children and necessary attendants, as soon as evening fell sailed off. Now, Perseus suffered pitifully in letting himself down through a narrow window in the fortress, together with his wife and little children, who were unacquainted with wandering and hardships; but most pitiful of all was the groan he gave when some one told him, as he wandered along the shore, that he had seen Oroandes already out at sea and under full sail. 3For day was beginning to dawn, and so, bereft of every hope, he fled back to the fortress with his wife, before the Romans could prevent him, though they saw him. His children were seized and delivered to the Romans by Ion, who of old had been a favourite of Perseus, but now became his betrayer, and furnished the most compelling reason for his coming, as a wild beast will do when its young have been captured, and surrendering himself to those who had them in their power.

4Accordingly, having most confidence in Nasica, he called for him; but since Nasica was not there, after bewailing his misfortune and carefully weighing the necessity under which he lay, he gave himself into the power of Gnaeus, thus making it most abundantly clear that his avarice was a less ignoble evil than the love of life that was in him, and that led him to deprive himself of the only thing which Fortune cannot take away from the fallen, namely, pity. 5For when at his request he was brought to Aemilius, Aemilius saw in him a great man whose fall was due to the resentment of the gods and his own evil fortune, and rose up and came to meet him, accompanied by his friends, and with tears in his eyes; but Perseus, a most shameful sight, after throwing himself prone before him and then clasping his knees, broke out into ignoble cries and supplications. 6These Aemilius could not abide and would not hear; but looking upon him with a distressed and sorrowful countenance, said: “Why, wretched man, dost thou free Fortune from thy strongest indictment against her, by conduct which will make men think that thy misfortunes are not undeserved, and that thy former prosperity, rather than thy present lot, was beyond thy deserts? And why dost thou depreciate my victory, and make my success a meagre one, by showing thyself no noble or even fitting antagonist for Romans? Valour in the unfortunate obtains great reverence even among their enemies, but cowardice, in Roman eyes, even though it meet with success, is in every way a most dishonourable thing.”

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