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Bivium virtutis & vitii.

The crossroads of virtue and vice.

Hinc luxu compta, inde situ horrida femina pugnant
Alcidem in partes flectere quaeque suas.
Nititur inculta hinc iuga scandere se duce Virtus,
Hinc Vitium pronos mergere deliciis.

Two women are fighting, the one lasciviously clothed, the other unappealing and soiled, And each is trying to turn Hercules in her direction. On the one side Virtue strives to get us to climb the wild mountain-range with her as guide, on the other Vice strives to drown us in her delights.

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Prodicus Ceus[1] philosophus librum con-
scripsit Horarum nomine, in quo fabulatur Her-
viam ingressum, fort incidisse in Virtutem
ac Vitium; quarum utraque magno studio illum
in suos mores vitaeque institutum pertrahere co-
natae fuerint: tandem victum in partes Virtutis
concessisse, eiusque sudores antetulisse insidiosis ac
titillatricibus Vitii voluptatibus deliciisque. Nar-
rationem omnem licet petas ex Xenophonte, libro
Link to an image of this page Link to an image of this page [I4v p135]commentariorum de dictis factisque Socratis[2] secun-
do. Meminit Cicero de officiis lib. primo.[3] Sillius
eleganter hanc fabulam transtulit, lib. 15.
Punici belli, ad Scipionem, cui de bello in Africam
cogitanti, dextra laevaque adstitisse hinc Virtutem,
illinc Voluptatem fingit, addita utrique oratione
ad persuadendum efficaci. Simili ratione Lucianus
in somno apparuisse sibi Statuariam et Doctrinam
comminiscitur, quarum utraque sui studium illi
persuadere conata sit. Simile commentum est apud
Poggium[5] de Industria & Pigritia per somnum
cuidam apparentibus. Tendunt omnia ad vitae
institutum delectumque, qui Deo animarum e-
phoro seu natura, cm pubescimus, proponitur: id
namque tempus aptissimum deligitur ad ingre-
diendam certam aliquam vivendi viam. Neque
ver aliud est Paridis iudicium, qum delectus
adolescentis in persequendo hoc aut illo vitae in-
stituto, dum aut recta ratio eum ducit ad verorum
bonorum, hoc est, Palladiae vitae amorem; vel ani-
mi affectus vecordia seductus, ad Venereae & in
speciem pulchrae formae admirationem rapitur &
inclinat, uti vult Proclus Diadochus[6] in Platoni-

The philosopher Prodicus of Ceos wrote a work known as the Book of Hours, in which he told the story of Hercules’ happening to meet Virtue and Vice while travelling along a road. The two of them engaged in a great struggle, attempting to pull him down the path of their respective behaviour and lifestyle; and at last he conceded that he had been won over to the direction of Virtue, and that her efforts had prevailed over the ensnaring and seductive pleasures and delights of Vice. You can find the whole story in Xenophon, in his second book [p.135] on the sayings and doings of Socrates. Cicero records it in bk.1 of On Duties. Silius Italicus elegantly reworked the story in bk. 15 of the Punic War to apply it to Scipio, at whose left and right hand, as he contemplated the war in Africa, the poet portrayed Virtue and Pleasure attending him, one on the one side, one on the other, and to each he gave a powerfully persuasive speech. With the same thought in mind Lucian came up with the story of Sculpture and Scholarship appearing to him [Lucian, not Scipio] in a dream, with each trying to win him over to her side. Likewise there is a story in Poggio about Industry and Idleness appearing to someone in a dream. All things tend to choice in life, which is laid before us when we reach adolescence by God the overseer of our souls or by nature: for that time of life is most suitably marked out for our taking our first definitive steps along one or other path of life. Indeed the Judgment of Paris is nothing other than the choice of a young man of which way of life he was to follow: whether a right decision would lead him to the love of true virtues, that is, of the life of Minerva; or whether the craving of his soul, led astray by folly, would be entrapped, and give itself to lusting admiration of the shapely and beautiful appearance of the Goddess of Sex (this being the interpretation of Proclus Diadochus in his commentaries on Plato).


1. Prodicus of Ceos, philosopher, 5th century BC, precurser to Socrates.

2. i.e. the Memoirs of Socrates, 2.1.21.

3. De Officiis, 1.118.

4. Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus, politician and poet, wrote The Punic Wars (1st century AD).

5. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini, 15th-century Florentine writer, a founder of the classical revival.

6. Proclus Diadochus, 5th-century AD Neo-Platonist. Diadochus meant ‘successor’, i.e., to Plato as head of Platonism.

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