Reading a fair amount of Plutarch recently, the lives of Timoleon, Aemilius Paulus, Pelopidas, and Marcellus. What a superb man. Below is very nearly a summa of the highest, deeds-oriented (as opposed to eloquence-oriented) Classicism. You can hear how much he shaped the writerly outlook on Montaigne fifteen centuries later – what a thought, that our way of looking at the world might help others see anew fifteen centuries in the future:
It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life. Indeed, it can be compared to nothing but daily living and associating together; we receive, as it were, in our inquiry, and entertain each successive guest, view “their stature and their qualities” and select from their actions all that is noblest and worthiest to know. “Ah, what greater pleasure can one have?” or what more effective means to one’s moral improvement? Democritus tells us we ought to pray that of the phantoms appearing in the circumambient air, such may present themselves to us as are propitious, and that we may rather meet with those that are agreeable to our natures and are good, than the evil and unfortunate; which is simply introducing into philosophy a doctrine untrue in itself, and leading to endless superstitions. My method, on the contrary, is, by the study of history, and by the familiarity acquired in writing, to habituate my memory to receive and retain images of the best and worthiest characters. I thus am enabled to free myself from any ignoble, base, or vicious impressions, contracted from the contagion of ill company that I may be unavoidably engaged in; by the remedy of turning my thoughts in a happy and calm temper to view these noble examples. Of this kind are those of Timoleon the Corinthian and Aemilius Paulus, to write whose lives is my present business; men equally famous, not only for their virtues, but success; insomuch that they have left it doubtful whether they owe their greatest achievements to good fortune, or their own prudence and conduct.