A few years ago, Valtin (a Californian psychologist who has been involved in treating torture victims and who writes under a pseudonym) offered a commentary of one of Rousseau's favorites lines from Virgil's Aeneid.[1] ...



By Valtin

April 10, 2007


The quote in Latin in the title of this post comes from Virgil's Aeneid, Book I, line 630.  Roughly translated, it means:  "No stranger to misfortune myself, I have learned to relieve the sufferings of others."

The Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was taken by the motto, and gave prominence to it in his book, *Emile*.  The book is worth reading, viewed, as it is, through the prism of 250 years of civilized progress and decay, through terrible wars, revolutions, genocides, the war against slavery, nationalist struggle, and renewed religious wars.  It resonates for one, such as myself, who fights against the absolutely human, the profoundly evil practice of torture.  The Virgil quote resonates, as I am a psychologist who has had opportunity to treat the traumatized and the tortured.

Rousseau:  "Man's weakness makes him sociable. . . . Every affection is a sign of insufficiency; if each of us had no need of others, we should hardly think of associating with them.  So our frail happiness has its roots in our weakness. . . .

"We never pity another's woes unless we know we may suffer in like manner ourselves.

"'Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco.' -- Virgil.

"I know of nothing so fine, so full of meaning, so touching, so true as these words.

"Why have kings no pity on their people?  Because they never expect to be ordinary men.  Why are the rich so hard on the poor?  Because they have no fear of becoming poor.  Why do the nobles look down upon the people?  Because a nobleman will never be one of the lower classes. . . .

"The pity we feel for others is proportionate, not to the amount of the evil, but to the feelings we attribute to the sufferers. . . .

"Man is the same in every station of life; if that be so, those ranks to which most men belong deserve most honour.  All distinctions of rank fade away before the eyes of a thoughtful person; he sees the same passions, the same feelings in the noble and the guttersnipe. . . .

Ha"ve respect then for your species; remember that it consists essentially of the people, that if all the kings and all the philosophers were removed they would scarcely be missed, and things would go on none the worse. . . . You are a man; do not dishonor mankind."

You are a man; do not dishonor mankind.  This should be emblazoned on the hearts and souls of the rising generation, as the world has been terribly dishonored by leaders who wage illegal wars, murder thousands, lie, cheat, steal, torture, promote the benefit of the few through the exploitation and violation of the many.

This is something to remember; something to measure and judge those who would seek to lead us.  The quoted material above was only written in 1762.  Could the spirit of it be so soon forgotten?