The Meaning of Life
by Lucius Junius Brutus
13 January 2005
Fortune 500 (Years Ago) -
From a letter to his sons, by a thirty-year-old Leon Battista Alberti (1434):
When I call to mind from ancient histories and from the memory of our elders, and when I see in our own times, both elsewhere and in Italy, that not a few families once supremely happy and glorious are now lost and extinguished, I often wonder and grieve. Could iniquitous and malign fortune have so prevailed against men?
Alas, how many families are to be seen, fallen and ruined! It would be impossible to name them or tell how many (like the Fabii, Decii, Drusii, Gracchi, Marcelli, and the other noble families of antiquity) there have been, even in our own land, who once maintained liberty for the public good and preserved the dignity and authority of the fatherland, who were temperate in peace and war, and so full of wisdom and strength that they were feared by their enemies and felt themselves loved and respected by their friends. Of all these families, not only the magnificence and wealth but even the men have been reduced and brought low, and not only the men but the very name, as if every memory and reminder had been lost and destroyed. It seems to me not unreasonable, therefore, to wish to know whether fortune ever possesses such power over human affairs or if to her was granted the excessive right to plunge into ruin the greatest and most excellent families by her instability and inconstancy.
And if one considers republics and passes in mind all past principalities, he will find that in acquiring and increasing, in maintaining and conserving majesty and glory already achieved, in none did fortune ever avail more than good and sound discipline in living. Who can doubt it? Just laws, virtuous princes, prudent and firm counsels, steadfast deeds, love of the fatherland, faith, diligence, courteous and praiseworthy relations among citizens, these will enable states even without fortune to win and seize fame, and with fortune greatly to extend and spread their glory and to commend themselves to posterity and immortality.
I believe the wise man will judge that what is true of principalities is also true of families, and will agree that families have rarely fallen into a state of misery through anything else than their own lack of prudence and diligence. I recognize this happens either because in prosperity they do not know how to control and restrain themselves, or because in adversity they are not wise enough to sustain and support themselves; and hence fortune engulfs and submerges families in those cruel waves into which they actually abandon themselves. And since I do not doubt that good government, watchful and diligent fathers of families, good customs, honourable ways, refinement, ease and courtesy render families most affluent and happy, I have decided to investigate with zeal and diligence what instructions there may be for the good regulation and direction both of fathers and the whole family, useful for achieving the ultimate and supreme felicity and preventing a collapse before iniquitous and strange fortune.
What leisure I have been able to steal from my other labours I have spent entirely in searching through the ancient writers to see what precepts they have left that are apt and suitable for the well-being, honour, and growth of families. Finding in them many and most excellent instructions, I consider it my duty to collect them and put them together so that you, finding them in one place thanks to me, will expend less effort in knowing them, and once knowing them, in following them. And I believe that you, when you have with me reviewed the sayings and examples of those good men of antiquity, and noted the fine customs of our ancestors, the Alberti, will be of the same mind, and will decide for yourselves that as ability goes, so goes our fortune. Nor will it please you less, as you read, to see the good old ways and customs of our house, the Alberti, than to approve and accept them, recognizing that the counsels and sayings of our ancestors were all necessary and perfect. You will see from them how a family multiplies, by what arts it becomes fortunate and blessed, in what ways it acquires grace, good will, and friendship, by what disciplines honour, fame, and glory grow and spread, and how the name of the family wins eternal praise and immortality.
The Life of Meaning,
Lucius Junius Brutus - (500 year ancestor to Marcus)
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." - Cassius (Shakespeare)