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Copyright © 2009 by the Society of Biblical Literature

by Haria Ramelli and translated by David Konstan

For educational purposes only. 

Of Hierocles, from the treatise How Should One Behave toward One’s Relatives?

(Page 91)

It goes along with what has been said concerning behavior toward parents and brothers and wife and children, to add also a discussion of relatives, which feels more or less like those others and for this very reason can be expounded concisely. For each of us, most generally, is circumscribed as though by many circles, some smaller, some larger, some surrounding others, some surrounded, according to their different and unequal relations to one another. The first and closest circle is that which each person draws around his own mind, as the center: in this circle is enclosed the body and whatever is employed for the sake of the body. For this circle is the shortest and all but touches its own center. The second after this one, standing further away from the center and enclosing the first, is that within which our parents, siblings, wife, and children are ranged. Third, after these, is that in which there are uncles and aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers, the children of one’s siblings, and also cousins. After this comes the one that embraces all other relatives. Next upon this is the circle of the members of one’s deme, then that of the members of one’s tribe, next that of one’s fellow citizens, and so, finally, that of those who border one’s city and that of people of like ethnicity. The furthest out and largest one, which surrounds all the circles, is that of the entire race of human beings. Once these have been thought through, accordingly, it is possible, starting with the most stretched out one, to draw the circles concerning the behavior that is due to each group together in a way, as though toward the center, and with an effort to keep transferring items out of the containing circles into the contained. For example, in respect to love of one’s family it is possible to *** parents and siblings *** and therefore, in the same proportion, among one’s relatives, <to treat> the more elderly men and women as grandparents or uncles and aunts, those of the same age as cousins, and the younger ones as children of one’s cousins.

Commentary from Stobaeus

Thus, a clear recommendation has been set forth, in concise terms, for how one should treat relatives, since we had already taught how people should behave toward themselves, and how toward parents and siblings, and further toward wife and children: the charge is that one must honor, in a way similar to these last, those from the third circle, and must in turn honor relatives in a way similar to these latter. Indeed, a greater distance in respect to blood will subtract something of goodwill, but, nevertheless, we must make an effort about assimilating them. For it would arrive at fairness if, through our own initiative, we cut down the distance in our relationship toward each person.

The principal and most practical point has been discussed. But it is necessary to add in also usage in regard to modes of address, calling cousins, uncles, and aunts “brothers:’ “fathers:’ and «mothers,” and among further relatives calling some «uncles:) others «nephews:’ and still others (cousins:’ in whatever way their ages may run, for the sake of the affection in the names. For this kind of address is by no means faint sign of the concern that we feel for each and at the same time can excite and intensify the above-indicated contraction, as it were, of the circles.

Now that we have got this far, the recollection of the distinction that was affirmed concerning parents comes opportunely to mind. For we said, when we were discussing that topic, where we were comparing a father with a mother, that one should grant more love to his mother but more honor to his father. Consequent upon this, here too we may set down that it is appropriate to cherish relatives on the mother’s side more but treat with greater honor those relations associated with the father.