Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Loving or Hating Enemies

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.43-46) Jesus said:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
Most ancient Greeks before the time of Christ would have regarded this notion as utterly preposterous. Among them it was a commonplace of morality, indeed almost the very essence of justice, that one should benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies. Denys L. Page, in his commentary on Euripides' Medea 809-810, quotes Lessing:
Moral excellence in ancient Greece consisted no less in unremitting hatred of your foes than in unalterable love toward your friends.
Here is a selection of passages from Greek literature on the topic:Polybius 1.14.4-5 (tr. W. R. Paton) allows an exception to the rule only in the person of the historian who is bound to be impartial:
In other relations of life we should not perhaps exclude all such favouritism; for a good man should love his friends and his country, he should share the hatreds and attachments of his friends; but he who assumes the character of a historian must ignore everything of the sort, and often, if their actions demand this, speak good of his enemies and honour them with the highest praises while criticizing and even reproaching roundly his closest friends, should the errors of their conduct impose this duty on him.

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