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Now the Exaggerator is thought to have a tendency to lay claim to things reflecting credit on him, both when they do not belong to him at all and also in greater degree than that in which they really do: whereas the Reserved man, on the contrary, denies those which really belong to him or else depreciates them, while the mean character being a Plain-matter-of-fact person is Truthful in life and word, admitting the existence of what does really belong to him and making it neither greater nor less than the truth.
It is possible of course to take any of these lines either with or without some further view: but in general men speak, and act, and live, each according to his particular character and disposition, unless indeed a man is acting from any special motive.
Now since falsehood is in itself low and blameable, while truth is noble and praiseworthy, it follows that the Truthful man (who is also in the mean) is praiseworthy, and the two who depart from strict truth are both blameable, but especially the Exaggerator.
We will now speak of each, and first of the Truthful man: I call him Truthful, because we are not now meaning the man who is true in his agreements nor in such matters as amount to justice or injustice (this would come within the [Sidenote:1127b] province of a different virtue), but, in such as do not involve any such serious difference as this, the man we are describing is true in life and word simply because he is in a certain moral state.
And he that is such must be judged to be a good man: for he that has a love for Truth as such, and is guided by it in matters indifferent, will be so likewise even more in such as are not indifferent; for surely he will have a dread of falsehood as base, since he shunned it even in itself: and he that is of such a character is praiseworthy, yet he leans rather to that which is below the truth, this having an appearance of being in better taste because exaggerations are so annoying.
As for the man who lays claim to things above what really belongs to him without any special motive, he is like a base man because he would not otherwise have taken pleasure in falsehood, but he shows as a fool rather than as a knave. But if a man does this with a special motive, suppose for honour or glory, as the Braggart does, then he is not so very blameworthy, but if, directly or indirectly, for pecuniary considerations, he is more unseemly.
Now the Braggart is such not by his power but by his purpose, that is to say, in virtue of his moral state, and because he is a man of a certain kind; just as there are liars who take pleasure in falsehood for its own sake while others lie from a desire of glory or gain. They who exaggerate with a view to glory pretend to such qualities as are followed by praise or highest congratulation; they who do it with a view to gain assume those which their neighbours can avail themselves of, and the absence of which can be concealed, as a man’s being a skilful soothsayer or physician; and accordingly most men pretend to such things and exaggerate in this direction, because the faults I have mentioned are in them.
The Reserved, who depreciate their own qualities, have the appearance of being more refined in their characters, because they are not thought to speak with a view to gain but to avoid grandeur: one very common trait in such characters is their denying common current opinions, as Socrates used to do. There are people who lay claim falsely to small things and things the falsity of their pretensions to which is obvious; these are called Factotums and are very despicable.
This very Reserve sometimes shows like Exaggeration; take, for instance, the excessive plainness of dress affected by the Lacedaemonians: in fact, both excess and the extreme of deficiency partake of the nature of Exaggeration. But they who practise Reserve in moderation, and in cases in which the truth is not very obvious and plain, give an impression of refinement. Here it is the Exaggerator (as being the worst character) who appears to be opposed to the Truthful Man.
I28a] Next, as life has its pauses and in them admits of pastime combined with Jocularity, it is thought that in this respect also there is a kind of fitting intercourse, and that rules may be prescribed as to the kind of things one should say and the manner of saying them; and in respect of hearing likewise (and there will be a difference between the saying and hearing such and such things). It is plain that in regard to these things also there will be an excess and defect and a mean.
Now they who exceed in the ridiculous are judged to be Buffoons and Vulgar, catching at it in any and every way and at any cost, and aiming rather at raising laughter than at saying what is seemly and at avoiding to pain the object of their wit. They, on the other hand, who would not for the world make a joke themselves and are displeased with such as do are thought to be Clownish and Stern. But they who are Jocular in good taste are denominated by a Greek term expressing properly ease of movement, because such are thought to be, as one may say, motions of the moral character; and as bodies are judged of by their motions so too are moral characters.
Now as the ridiculous lies on the surface, and the majority of men take more pleasure than they ought in Jocularity and Jesting, the Buffoons too get this name of Easy Pleasantry, as if refined and gentlemanlike; but that they differ from these, and considerably too, is plain from what has been said.
One quality which belongs to the mean state is Tact: it is characteristic of a man of Tact to say and listen to such things as are fit for a good man and a gentleman to say and listen to: for there are things which are becoming for such a one to say and listen to in the way of Jocularity, and there is a difference between the Jocularity of the Gentleman and that of the Vulgarian; and again, between that of the educated and uneducated man. This you may see from a comparison of the Old and New Comedy: in the former obscene talk made the fun; in the latter it is rather innuendo: and this is no slight difference as regards decency.
Well then, are we to characterise him who jests well by his saying what is becoming a gentleman, or by his avoiding to pain the object of his wit, or even by his giving him pleasure? or will not such a definition be vague, since different things are hateful and pleasant to different men?
Be this as it may, whatever he says such things will he also listen to, since it is commonly held that a man will do what he will bear to hear: this must, however, be limited; a man will not do quite all that he will hear: because jesting is a species of scurrility and there are some points of scurrility forbidden by law; it may be certain points of jesting should have been also so forbidden. So then the refined and gentlemanlike man will bear himself thus as being a law to himself. Such is the mean character, whether denominated the man of Tact or of Easy Pleasantry.
But the Buffoon cannot resist the ridiculous, sparing neither himself nor any one else so that he can but raise his laugh, saying things of such kind as no man of refinement would say and some which he would not even tolerate if said by others in his hearing. [Sidenote:1128b] The Clownish man is for such intercourse wholly useless: inasmuch as contributing nothing jocose of his own he is savage with all who do.