Liberty of Ancients and Moderns & Plutarch on what makes a great man.

The 19th century writer and politician Benjamin Constant gave a speech on the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns. He said that the ancients’ view of liberty was different than the modern view of liberty in several significant ways. The ancients thought of liberty as a more collective thing, rather than the fact that liberty consists of having your individual rights respected. One aspect of liberty as the ancients thought it would be voting in the assembly, or the liberty of Athens from other nations.

In modern times, said Constant, people think of liberty very differently. We think of liberty as the freedom to act within our individual rights. We do not think that we should be subjected to the whims of whoever happens to be in charge, but that we should be subjected to the law instead.

Plutarch seems to think that a great man should be brave, fearless, and capable of subduing whatever arrives in his path. He told the story of Alexander taming the great horse Bucephalus to illustrate how Alexander was a great man. The story talks of how a great horse was brought to King Philip, Alexander’s father. The horse was so fierce that no one could tame it. Alexander, however, tamed the horse and as a result was praised by his father. After he told that story, when Alexander succeeded Philip as the king, he gave an account of Alexander’s victory over the barbarian kings, and how irresistible Alexander was in conquering them. He thought that Alexander was indeed a great man because he had the courage, intelligence, and fearlessness that in his eyes made someone a great leader.


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