On Husbandry

(De Agricultura)

Section I

I. (1) "And Noah began to be a husbandman; and he planted a vineyard, and he drank of the wine, and he was drunk in his House." The generality of men not understanding the nature of things, do also of necessity err with respect to the composition of names; for those who consider affairs anatomically, as it were, are easily able to affix appropriate names to things, but those who look at them in a confused and irregular way are incapable of such accuracy. (2) But Moses, through the exceeding abundance of his knowledge of all things, was accustomed to affix the most felicitous and expressive appellations to them. Accordingly, in many passages of the law, we shall find this opinion, which we have expressed, confirmed by the fact, and not least in the passage which we have cited at the beginning of this treatise, in which the just Noah is represented as a husbandman. (3) For what man is there who is at all hasty in forming an opinion, who would not think that the being a husbandman (geōrgia), and the occupying one’s self in cultivating the ground (hē gēsergasia), were the same thing? And yet in real truth, not only are these things not the same, but they are even very much separated from one another, so as to be opposed to, and at variance with one another. (4) For a man without any skill may labour at taking care of the land; but if a man is called a husbandman, he, from his mere name, is believed to be no unskilful man, but a farmer of experience, inasmuch as his name (geōrgos) has been derived from agricultural skill (geōrgikē technē), of which he is the namesake. (5) And besides all this, we must likewise consider this other point, that the tiller of the ground (ho gēs ergatēs) looks only to one end, namely, to his wages; for he is altogether a hireling, and has no care whatever to till the land well. But the husbandman (ho geōrgos) would be glad also to contribute something of his own, and to spend in addition some of his private resources for the sake of improving the soil, and of avoiding blame from those who understand the business; for his desire is to derive his revenues every year not from any other source, but from his agricultural labours, when they have been brought into a productive state. (6) He therefore occupies himself with improving the character of wild trees, and making them fruitful, and with further improving the character of fruitful trees by his care, and with reducing by pruning those branches which through superfluity of nourishment are too luxuriant, and with inducing those which are contracted and crowded to grow by the extension of their young shoots. Moreover, those trees which are of good sorts, and which make many shoots, he propagates by extending them under the earth in ditches of no very great depth, and those which do not produce good fruit he endeavours to improve by the insertion of other kinds into their roots, connecting them by the most natural union. For the same thing happens likewise in the case of men, that they firmly unite into their own family adopted sons, who are unconnected with them in blood, but whom they make their own on account of their virtues. (7) The husbandman, therefore, takes up innumerable shoots, with their roots entire, which have by natural process become barren, as far as bearing fruit is concerned, and which even do great injury to those plants which do bear by reason of their being planted near them. Such, then, is the art which is applied to those plants which grow out of the ground. And now let us turn our consideration to the husbandry of the soul in its turn.

Section II

II. (8) First of all, therefore, the husbandman is not anxious to plant or to sow anything that is unproductive, but only all such things as are worth cultivation, and as bear fruit, which will bring a yearly produce to their master man. For nature has pointed him out as the master of all trees and animals, and all other things whatever which are perishable; (9) and what can man be but the kind that is in every one of us, which is accustomed to reap the advantage from all that is sown or planted? But since milk is the food of infants, but cakes made of wheat are the food of fullgrown men, so also the soul must have a milk-like nourishment in its age of childhood, namely, the elementary instruction of encyclical science. But the perfect food which is fit for men consists of explanations dictated by prudence, and temperance, and every virtue. For these things being sown and implanted in the mind will bring forth most advantageous fruit, namely, good and praiseworthy actions. (10) By means of this husbandry, all the trees of the passions and vices, which soot forth and grow up to a height, bringing forth pernicious fruits, are rooted up, and cut down, and cleared away, so that not even the smallest fragment of them is left, from which any new shoots of evil actions can subsequently spring up. (11) And if, besides, there are any trees which produce no fruit at all, neither good nor bad, the husbandman will cut them down too, but still he will not suffer them to be completely destroyed, but he will apply them to some appropriate use, making them into stakes and fixing them as pales all round his homestead, or using them as a fence for a city to serve instead of a wall.

Section III

III. (12) For Moses says, "Every tree which bringeth not forth fruit good to eat thou shalt cut down; and thou shalt make it into stakes against the city which shall make war upon them." And these trees are likened to those powers developed in words alone, which have nothing in them but mere speculation, (13) among which we must class medical science, when unconnected with practice, by which it is natural that such persons may be cured, and also the oratorical and hireling species of rhetoric, which is conversant not about the discovery of the truth, but solely about the means of deceiving the hearers by plausible persuasion; and in the same class we must place all those parts of dialectics and geometry which have no connection with a proper regulation of the character or morals, but which only sharpen the mind, not suffering it to exercise a dull apprehension towards each question which is raised and submitted to it, but always to dissect the question and divide it, so as to distinguish the peculiar character of each thing from the common qualities of the whole genus. (14) At all events, men say, that the ancients compared the principles of philosophy, as being threefold, to a field; likening natural philosophy to trees and plants, and moral philosophy to fruits, for the sake of which the plants are planted; and logical philosophy to the hedge or fence: (15) for as the wall, which is erected around, is the guardian of the plants and of the fruit which are in the field, keeping off all those who wish to do them injury and to destroy them, in the same manner, the logical part of philosophy is the strongest possible sort of protection to the other two parts, the moral and the natural philosophy; (16) for when it simplifies twofold and ambiguous expressions, and when it solves specious plausibilities entangled in sophisms, and utterly destroys seductive deceits, the greatest allurement and ruin to the soul, by means of its own expressive and clear language, and its unambiguous demonstrations, it makes the whole mind smooth like wax, and ready to receive all the innocent and very praiseworthy impressions of sound natural and moral philosophy.

Section IV

IV. (17) These then are the professions and promises made by the husbandry of the soul, "I will cut down all the trees of folly, and intemperance, and injustice, and cowardice; and I will eradicate all the plants of pleasure, and appetite, and anger, and passion, and of all similar affections, even if they have raised their heads as high as heaven. And I will burn out their roots, darting down the attack of flame to the very foundations of the earth, so that no portion, nay, no trace, or shadow whatever, of such things shall be left; (18) and I will destroy these things, and I will implant in those souls which are of a childlike age, young shoots, whose fruit shall nourish them. And those shoots are as follows: the practice of writing and reading with facility; an accurate study and investigation of the works of wise poets; geometry, and a careful study of rhetorical speeches, and the whole course of encyclical education. And in those souls which have arrived at the age of puberty or of manhood, I will implant things which are even better and more perfect, namely, the tree of prudence, the tree of courage, the tree of temperance, the tree of justice, the tree of every respective virtue. (19) And if there be any tree belonging to what is called the wild class, which does not bear eatable fruit, but which is able to be a fence to and a protector of that which is eatable, that also I will manage, not for its own sake, but because it is calculated by nature to be of use to what is necessary and very useful.

Section V

V. (20) Therefore, the allwise Moses attributes to the just man a knowledge of the husbandry of the soul, as an act consistent with his character, and thoroughly suited to him, saying, "Noah began to be a husbandman." But to the unjust man he attributes the task of tilling the ground, which is an employment bearing the heaviest burdens without any knowledge. (21) For "Cain," says he, "was a tiller of the ground;" and a little afterwards, when he is detected in having contracted the pollution of fratricide, it is said, "Cursed art thou by the earth, which opened her mouth to receive the word of thy brother from thy hand, with which thou tillest the earth, and it shall not put forth its strength to give unto thee." (22) How then could any one show more manifestly, that the lawgiver looks upon the wicked man as a tiller of the earth, and not as a husbandman, than by such language as we here see used? We must not indeed suppose that what is here said, is said of a man who is able to work by his hands or by his feet, or by any other of the powers of his body, or of any mountain land, or of any champaign country, but that is applicable to the powers existing in every one of us; for it happens that the soul of the wicked man is not concerned about any thing else except about his earthly body, and about all the pleasures of that body. (23) Moreover, the general crowd of men, travelling over the different climates of the earth and penetrating to its furthest boundaries, and traversing the seas, and investigating the things that lie hid in the recesses of the ocean, and leaving no single part of the whole universe unexplored, is continually providing from every quarter the means by which it can increase pleasure. (24) For as fishermen let down their nets at times to the most extraordinary depths, comprehending a vast surface of the sea in their circle, in order to catch the greatest possible number of fish enclosed within their nets, like people shut up within the walls of a besieged city; so in the same manner the greatest part of men having extended their universal nets to take everything, as the poets somewhere say, not only over the parts of the sea, but also over the whole nature of earth, and air, and water, seek to catch everything from every quarter for the enjoyment and attainment of pleasure. (25) For they dig mines in the earth, and they sail across the seas, and they achieve every other work both of peace and war, providing unbounded materials for pleasure, as for their queen, being utterly uninitiated in that husbandry of the soul which sows and plants the virtues and reaps their fruit, which is a happy life. But they labouring to procure, and reducing to a system those things which are pleasant to the flesh, cultivate with all imaginable care that composite mass, that carefully fashioned statue, the narrow house of the soul, which, from its birth to its death it can never lay aside, but which it is compelled to bear till the day of its death, burdensome as it is.

Section VI

VI. (26) We have now therefore explained, in what respect, the occupation of tilling the ground differs from husbandry, and a tiller of the ground from a husbandman. And we must now consider whether there are not some other species akin to these already mentioned, but which, through the common names borne by them and others, conceal the real difference which exists between them. At least there are two which we have discovered by investigation, concerning which we will say what is fitting, if it is in our power. (27) Therefore, as we found a tiller of the earth and a husbandman, though there did not appear to be any difference between them (till we came to investigate the allegorical meaning concealed under each name), nevertheless very far removed from one another in fact, such also shall we find to be the case with a shepherd and a keeper of sheep. For the lawgiver sometimes speaks of the occupation of a shepherd, and sometimes of that of a keeper of sheep. (28) And those who do not examine expressions with any excessive accuracy, ill perhaps fancy that these two appellations are synonimous terms for the same employment. They are, however, in reality the names of things which are widely different in the meaning affixed to their concealed ideas. (29) For if it is customary to give both the names of shepherd and keeper of sheep to those who have the management of flocks, still they do not give these names to that reason which is the superintendant of the flock of the soul; for a man who is but an indifferent manager of a flock is called a keeper of sheep, but a good and faithful one is called a shepherd, and in what way we will proceed to show immediately.

—Works of Philo, The