Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt


The Goodness That Is Within

I wonder if the children who are going to read this story or listen to it, like to get up early in the morning. I wonder if they want to be good and are so anxious about it that they cannot sleep.

I wonder if they think they can learn  to be good, or if they believe goodness is inside to start with and that it must grow and grow itself. Perhaps some little boy may think that he is not old enough to know these things, but we can tell better when we hear what the children say after the story is done.

It happened a long time ago that a young man wanted to be good. Yes, it was a long, long time ago, but who knows but what it may happen again some time?

He wanted to be good so badly that he could not sleep and so he got up in the night and went to the house of a friend to tell him about it.

I think the friend must have been very good-natured, for he called out, "What's the news, Hippocrates?" when he heard the young man knocking with a stick on his door. "I want to be good," said Hippocrates, "and it makes me nervous and I cannot sleep. There is a teacher come to town who can teach it to me and I want you to get right up and take me to his house."

"It's too early, it isn't light yet," said the friend of the young man, "but I will get up and walk with you." So he rose and dressed for a walk and he went out into the garden and strolled around with Hippocrates until the sun was up, and then they set out to find the teacher who could teach people how to be good.

As they went along, the older man, whose name was Socrates, said to the younger, "Do you really think, Hippocrates, that any one can learn  to be good? Now it almost seems to me that there is good in every one and that it must grow from the inside until a man is all full of goodness; and that goodness is not outside of any one and so cannot be taken in from the outside." In a little while they came to the house of the teacher and they sat down to listen to what he had to say, and he told them a story, and I will tell it to you.

How Justice Came

There was once a time when there were no men or women on all the earth, but the gods lived on Mount Olympus. The time came, however, when men and animals were to be made and put on the earth; so the gods fashioned them inside of the earth out of clay and fire.

And when the gods wanted to bring these new creatures out of the earth into the light of day, they commanded two of the gods to clothe them and give to each just such kind of a mind as properly belonged to it. One of these gods was careful and always thought a long time beforehand, so that he should make no mistake, and they called him Prometheus, which means fore-thought.

The other god always did things carelessly. He never did any thinking until the mischief was done and it was too late to avoid trouble. So they called him Epimetheus, which means after-thought. And it was this mischief-maker who had the most to do with making mortals.

Epimetheus said to his brother, Prometheus, "Let me distribute clothing to men and animals, and give to each the sort of mind proper for it to have. When I have it all finished you can examine my work and see if I have done it right."

Having coaxed Prometheus and gained his permission, Epimetheus set about clothing the animals and giving them gifts of mind. He covered the dog with hair and gave him swiftness, but he did not give him the power to talk.

He covered the cat with nice soft fur and gave her strong eyes that she might see in the dark, but he did not give her the cunning, which he gave to the rat. He covered the tortoise with a shell and made it slow and patient, but he did not give it the power to climb a tree.

He covered the wolf with long hair, gave him sharp teeth and a terrible howl, but he did not give him the fidelity of the dog. He gave littleness to worms and prepared them to live in the mud or crawl on plants. He gave hoofs to horses, and to the elephant a thick skin, and covered the sheep with wool.

He kept giving and giving, until he had given everything away and yet he had not come to men. He had given everything to irrational animals. So the human race remained unadorned and Epimetheus was at his wits' end, for he did not know what to do about it.

Then Prometheus came to examine his brother's work and was much ashamed to find that every animal, except man, was clothed and provided with everything suitable, while man was naked, unshod, without any bed and without any weapons to defend himself, or any tools with which to take care of himself; and the day had arrived when all the living things must come out to the light and live on the outside of the earth.

Prometheus wondered what he could do to aid men. He knew that they must starve and freeze, if they were left in such a helpless condition.

So he went among the gods to see what he could find, that would help the poor mortals and keep them from being destroyed. In the workshop of Vulcan, the old lame blacksmith-god, he found Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom, making spears and spindles, and other useful things.



He saw that a certain kind of wisdom came from using fire and making tools, so he stole some of the fire and some of the wisdom, too, and took them down to mortals for a present.

Then man came possessed of the wisdom, which would enable him to keep from starving and freezing, and of the power to defend himself against wild beasts.

But there was a higher wisdom, the wisdom of loving one another, which Prometheus did not bring down to man, for that wisdom was locked up and in the safe-keeping of Jupiter, the greatest of the gods.

Jupiter was so terrible, that Prometheus was afraid to go to his home, which was guarded very securely.

Prometheus had been forbidden by Jupiter to visit his home any more, because he had stolen the fire and taken it down to men; the fire belonged to the gods, and it made men godlike, to know how to use it. Old Jupiter did not want men to become godlike. He was very jealous for fear that earthly creatures might grow stronger and wiser than himself.

So all the mortals went up onto the face of the earth instead of staying inside of it, and they took some fire and the kind of wisdom which goes along with fire and teaches men how to keep themselves alive awhile. And they built altars to the gods, and made statues of the gods, and burnt incense to them, which pleased Jupiter very much, and he thought men were rather nice after all.

In the course of time men began to try to talk, and pretty soon they made words, and after a long time they could tell little stories. Then they built huts, and larger huts, and by and by they devised little houses, and larger houses, until at last they built grand palaces. They made shoes too, and beds, and cooked food, and learned to make clothes and dress themselves.

But they lived lonely lives notwithstanding, for they were scattered all over the country. They had no cities. They kept on using fire, and learned more and more wisdom all the time from using it, but this wisdom was only physical wisdom. It was outside of them and not inside, and so it did not do anything for them, except to keep them alive and flourishing.

It did not teach them how to live together. It did not exactly teach them how to live separately either, for sometimes the wild beasts would attack them in such a way, and in such great numbers, that many of them were killed.

So they sought to collect themselves together, to preserve themselves from destruction, and they began to build cities. When they had built cities, and had come to live in them, and were all crowded together, they hurt one another, because they had no wisdom, except the physical wisdom that came by using fire. They were selfish, and each man took anything that he wanted, that belonged to his neighbor, and if his neighbor offended him, he kicked, and cuffed, and even killed him.

When men had lived together a little while, and had quarrelled and fought until they had almost destroyed each other, Jupiter looked down from Mount Olympus and said, "Are these the men who used to build temples for me, and burn incense, and sing songs, and praise the gods? Oh, what a shame, that they do not know how to live together without destroying one another!

I must unlock the wisdom, I have hidden away, the wisdom that teaches people how to be generous and loving. I will send this wisdom down to them, and I will call it Justice.


Every man shall have it inside of him, right in his heart, and he will be ashamed to hurt his brother. He will not think anything valuable comes to him through greed. He will not want any advantage at all that comes through the disadvantage or the grief of another."

Then Jupiter called Epimetheus and said to him, "There is the wisdom of Love. Take it down and give it to men, so that they can live together in cities, and not destroy one another." "Shall I give it to every man?" said Epithemeus, "or to a few—just the best men?"

"Give it to every man," said Jupiter. "Put it right into his heart. Make it a part of him. Let it flow in his blood. Let it look out from his eyes. Let it thrill from the ends of his fingers.

"Let it speak from his tongue and in the actions of his body. And you shall make a great and everlasting law in my name," continued Jupiter, "that any man who cannot take the wisdom of love into his heart, and be ashamed of injustice, shall be put to death as a pest in this city."

So Epimetheus took the Wisdom of Love—the Justice—from Jupiter and brought it down, and made it a part of men, and now if a man has not that wisdom, he is not considered a man at all, but a sort of beast.

And every good man wants every other man to be good. The mother wants the little child to be good; the nurse, the teacher, and the father, all try to make the children good, and when people are bad they are punished, in hopes that they will become good.

And now you may tell me whether you think goodness is outside of you or inside. And you may tell me whether you think Hippocrates learned to be good by going to the teacher, or whether he carried goodness in his heart all the time.

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