For next I have to deal with that long oration, austere
as any censor's,
which Pudens delivered on the subject of my mirror. He nearly exploded,
so violently did he declaim against the horrid nature of my offence.
`The philosopher owns a mirror, the philosopher actually possesses a mirror.'
Grant that I possess it: if I denied it, you might really
think that your accusation had gone home: still it is by no means
a necessary inference that I am in the habit of adorning myself before a mirror.
Why! suppose I possessed a theatrical wardrobe, would you
venture to argue from that that I am in the frequent habit of wearing
the trailing robes of tragedy, the saffron cloak of the mimic dance,
or the patchwork suit of the harlequinade? I think not.
On the contrary there are plenty of things of which I enjoy the use without the possession.
But if possession is no proof of use nor non-possession
and if you complain of the fact that I look into the mirror rather than that I possess it,
you must go on to show when and in whose presence I have ever looked into it;
for as things stand, you make it a greater crime for a philosopher to look upon a mirror
than for the uninitiated to gaze upon the mystic emblems of Ceres.
Come now, let me admit that I have looked into it.
Is it a crime to be acquainted with one's own likeness and to carry it with one
wherever one goes ready to hand within the compass of a small mirror,
instead of keeping it hidden away in some one place?
Are you ignorant of the fact that there is nothing more pleasing for a man to look upon than his own image?
At any rate I know that fathers love those sons most who most resemble themselves,
and that public statues are decreed as a reward for merit that the original may gladden his heart by looking
on them. What else is the significance of statues and portraits produced by the various arts?
You will scarcely maintain the paradox that what is worthy of admiration when produced by art
is blameworthy when produced by nature;
for nature has an even greater facility and truth than art.
Long labour is expended over all the portraits wrought
by the hand of man,
yet they never attain to such truth as is revealed by a mirror.
Clay is lacking in life, marble in colour, painting in solidity, and all three in motion,
which is the most convincing element in a likeness:
whereas in a mirror the reflection of the image is marvellous, for
it is not only like its original, but moves and follows every nod of the man to whom it belongs;
its age always corresponds to that of those who look into the mirror,
from their earliest childhood to their expiring age: it puts on all the changes brought by the advance of years,
shares all the varying habits of the body, and imitates
the shifting expressions of joy and sorrow that may be seen on the face of one and the same man.
For all we mould in clay or cast in bronze or carve in stone or tint with encaustic pigments or colour
with paint, in a word, every attempt at artistic representation by the hand of man after a brief lapse of time loses in truth
and becomes motionless and impassive like the face of a corpse.
So far superior to all pictorial art in respect of truthful representation is that
craftsmanly smoothness and productive splendour of the mirror.
Two alternatives then are before us.
We must either follow the precept of the Lacedaemonian Agesilaus,
who had no confidence in his personal appeannce and refused to allow his portrait to be painted or carved;
or we must accept the universal custom of the rest of mankind which welcomes portraiture both in sculpture and painting.
In the latter case, is there any reason for preferring to see one's portrait moulded in marble
rather than reflected in silver, in a painting rather than in a mirror?
Or do you regard it as disgraceful to pay continual attention
to one's own appearance?
Is not Socrates said actually to have urged his followers frequently to consider their image in a glass,
that so those of them that prided themselves on their appearance might above all else take
care that they did no dishonour to the splendour of their body by the blackness of their hearts;
while those who regarded themselves as less than handsome in personal appearance might take especial pains
to conceal the meanness of their body by the glory of their virtue?
You see; the wisest man of his day actually went so far as to use the mirror as an instrument of moral discipline.
Again, who is ignorant of the fact that Demosthenes, the greatest master of the art of speaking,
always practised pleading before a mirror as though before a professor of rhetoric?
When that supreme orator had drained deep draughts of eloquence in the study of Plato the philosopher,
and had learned all that could be learned of argumentation from the dialectician Eubulides,
last of all he betook himself to a mirror to learn perfection of delivery.
Which do you think should pay greatest attention to the decorousness of his appearance in the delivery of a speech?
The orator when he wrangles with his opponent or the philosopher when he rebukes the vices of mankind?
The man who harangues for a brief space before an audience of jurymen drawn by the chance of the lot,
or he who is continually discoursing with all mankind for audience?
The man who is quarrelling over the boundaries of lands,
or he whose theme is the boundaries of good and evil?
Moreover there are other reasons why a philosopher should
look into a mirror.
He is not always concerned with the contemplation of his own likeness,
he contemplates also the causes which produce that likeness.
Is Epicurus right when he asserts that images proceed forth from us,
as it were a kind of slough that continually streams from our bodies?
These images when they strike anything smooth and solid are reflected by the shock and reversed in such wise
as to give back an image turned to face its original.
Or should we accept the view maintained by other philosophers that rays are emitted from our body?
According to Plato these rays are filtered forth from the centre of our eyes
and mingle and blend with the light of the world without us;
according to Archytas they issue forth from us without any external support;
according to the Stoics these rays are called into action by the tension of the air:
all agree that, when these emanations strike any dense, smooth, and shining surface,
they return to the surface from which they proceeded in such manner that the angle of incidence is equal
to the angle of reflection, and as a result that which they approach and touch without the mirror is imaged within the mirror.
What do you think?
Should not philosophers make all these problems subjects of research and inquiry
and in solitary study look into mirrors of every kind, liquid and solid?
There is also over and above these questions further matter for discussion.
For instance, why is it that in flat mirrors all images and objects reflected are shown in almost
precisely their original dimensions, whereas in convex and spherical mirrors everything is seen smaller,
in concave mirrors on the other hand larger than nature?
Why again and under what circumstances are left and right reversed?
When does one and the same mirror seem now to withdraw the image into its depths,
now to extrude it forth to view? Why do concave mirrors when held at right angles to the rays
of the sun kindle tinder set opposite them? What is the cause of the
prismatic colours of the rainbow, or of the appearance in heaven of two rival images of the sun,
with sundry other phenomena treated in a monumental volume by Archimedes of Syracuse,
a man who showed extraordinary and unique subtlety in all branches of geometry,
but was perhaps particularly remarkable for his frequent and attentive inspection of mirrors.