Man’s Most Valuable Possession

The poet Phaedrus (c. 15 B.C.- 50 A.D.) was a Roman slave who is credited with collecting various fables that were current in his time and rendering them into simple but elegant Latin verses called senarii (iambic verse).  Most of his fables were drawn from Greek sources, chiefly those of Aesop.  His purpose, he says in the prologue to his work, was twofold:  “to draw a smile, and to provide prudent counsel for life”.  In this goal he largely succeeded, for his collection of fables was consistently popular through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.


One fable has held a particular resonance for me.  It is called “On the Shipwreck of Simonides” (Phaedrus IV.22).  I translate it as follows:

The learned man always contains riches within himself.

Simonides, who wrote beautiful verses, in order to

More easily ward off poverty,

Began to travel around the cities of Asia,

Singing the praises of notables for financial reward.

Having become wealthy by this type of compensation,

He wanted to return to his native land by sea

(He was, they say, born on the island of Chios).

So he boarded a ship, which broke apart in the middle

Of the sea, because of its old age, and a horrible storm.

Some people collected their bags, others their precious

Things to sustain their lives.

One curious person said to Simonides:

“Simonides, you really have nothing for yourself to take?”

He said, “I already have all of my things with me”.

Then a few swam away, but most perished due

To the weight of their possessions.

Then robbers came:  they took what each man

Had recovered, leaving them naked.

By chance there was an ancient city near, called Clazomenae,

To which the shipwrecked men made their way.

Here there happened to be a learned man,

Who had read the verses of Simonides, and

Was a great admirer of him from afar, never having met him.

Recognizing Simonides, he received him warmly, adorning him

With clothing, financial support, and family servants.

The other shipwreck victims carried their blank slates,

Begging for food.

Simonides saw them, and spoke: “I said all my things were with me.

And what you brought away from the ship, is gone.”

Our most valuable possession, so says Phaedrus, is our own store of knowledge and experience.  Even if we lose all else, as long as we retain our reservoir of knowledge, then we will be able to start over.  All of us will eventually encounter severe hardship in life.  No one floats through life on a magic carpet, untouched by tragedy.  Misfortune knocks on every man’s door eventually.  It is the measure of a man to see how well he handles such misfortunes; staring into the abyss, we find our true character.

Know, my brother, that you will eventually be buffeted by storms, disasters, or extreme hardships.  In such situations, a man may lose his material possessions, his job, or his financial support.  If one has not spent his life in productive activity by increasing his knowledge and experience, then he will be ill-prepared to weather the extreme shock of misfortune.  The acquisition of knowledge and wisdom provides a maturity and seasoning that can prepare the soul for weathering the dislocation and shock of tragedy.


Focus on yourself, brother.  I do not say that possessions are unimportant.  It is only that you and your development are far more important.  Cultivate yourself, your knowledge, your experience, your body, your health, your mind.  The disciplined and strenuous pursuit of such goals will shape your character and strengthen it.  For in the end, your knowledge and experience are really the only things you own.  All else is transitory, is shadow, is illusion.  All else can be snatched away from you in an instant.  It can happen in the blink of an eye.

So do not waste your time in useless trifles.  Those who place the focus of their efforts on foolish pursuits not only exhaust and debase themselves, but they also waste precious time.  Education and knowledge can arm you against the vicissitudes of fate, and the cruelties of life.  Turn away from the pursuits of vanity, for they will fail you in your hour of need.  They will not satisfy you, and their senseless pursuit will devour your spirit.

No matter the environment, and no matter the circumstance, the learned man always contains a store of riches within himself.   He shall want for nothing.

Read More:  The Scorpion and the Frog

32 thoughts on “Man’s Most Valuable Possession”

  1. Yes, agreed. No one can take your knowledge and experience away from you.
    Sadly, mostly no one cares about a man’s problems. Not society. Not women (for the most part). First step is acknowledging that this has become a problem (when it surely was not as bad in recent times past); the next step is educating yourself for having a better and more rewarding life. This education must continue in both work and your personal life as a life-long journey. This is the only way you can survive and have some kind of happiness in your life.
    The last step is to share the fruits of that education with others, as sharing knowledge increases its power (contrary to what some might believe).

  2. This article has true literary merit. Roosh needs to hold onto this guy!
    Absolutely agree, which is why, sadly, the “best” strokes are killing strokes. After his cerebral embolism, Mencken was robbed of his ability to write and had to live with that insult for over a decade. It was worse than death for him.

    1. I’m sure he’s holding onto him right now, one hand on shaft, other cupping balls. You’ll have to wait your turn.

  3. Too bad you generally can’t make a living as a poet these days. A modern Simonides would have to possess some portable technical skill, like, say, plumbing, electronics engineering or auto repair.
    Interestingly enough, we see the Simonides effect in zombie apocalypse stories. Who tends to survive in those? Blue collar or rural people who know how to repair and operate machines, live off physical production from the soil and use and maintain firearms. Out of all the urban, college-educated professionals, only the ones with training in healthcare fields discover that their skills still have value after the collapse of society.

    1. True. Perhaps we might say that our modern-day “poets” are songwriters, bloggers, columnists, filmmakers, and other such literary types. Who knows? Maybe hundreds of years from now they will be studying the movies, magazines, and blogs of our day. And chuckling at our ignorance, maybe.

      1. That’s a good observation. Anyone who inspires us to step outside the known and venture into the wilds (literally and figuratively – our internal wild landscape especially!) is that poet-shaman-dreamer. We communicate across the planet in a moment with these forums, the internet. Modern poets connect both hemispheres of the mind and can cleverly use whatever the modern technology offers.
        I just watched Maksim give a concert in Turkey to stop the violence. What an inspiration, and what an impact that made and will make, even if temporary, but he took his gift and applied it in a novel way.

  4. Totally agree. The fundamental argument of this article is another testament against the value of being a beta provider: one cannot depend on material resources to attract and hold on to women; develop your character through rigourous exercise, pursuit of hobbies, travel, education: science, philosophy, etc. In essence, cultivate your inner game…have no attachments; they’ll limit your mobility and abridge your freedom…like the shipwrecked men in the article.
    The philosophical essence of this article, however, is for every aspect of your life. Your material possessions don’t define you nor give you any value. What does define and give you value is intangible.

  5. “Become attached to nothing in life that you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds if you spot the heat around the corner.” (Robert De Niro, Heat 1995)

  6. Really, this was a great article. Historical references? Check. Life wisdom? Check. A call to action? Check.

  7. “So do not waste your time in useless trifles.” Very true, I’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience for my age, but true wisdom comes from letting go of things as well. How many hours are wasted on TV, sports, video games, surfing the web and other forms of “entertainment”, unworthy friendships, flaky women, foolish obligations, gossip, partying, etc. I’m getting better, but I still have a lot of work to do.

  8. As the philosopher Francis Bacon said, “Seek ye first the good things of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.”
    Basically the Simonides story illustrates what economists these days call “human capital,” namely, “the stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value,” according to Wikipedia. It refers to the wealth you have developed and stored in your mind. Ayn Rand tried to show the nature of this sort of capital, in her clumsy way, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, though she used a phrase like, “the power of man’s mind.”

  9. The classics can teach us so much. This was the right message at the right time for me too. ‘When you stare into the abyss you discover your true character’. Indeed. Great choice of topic, Quintus.

  10. I learned this lesson after recovering from a career and financial disaster that hit me in 2010. In a way, the process of recovering from that disaster sent me down the Red Pill path quicker. I was on my way, but that series of events sped it up.
    On a related note, there was a great audiobook I listened to on one of my recent international flights called The Tools. I didn’t expect much out of it (being recommended by Dr. Oz and all) but I now think it’s a very good read for those in the manosphere.
    The first tool, Reversal of Desire, is about getting outside your comfort zone as often as possible and, was in a way the most interesting and thought-provoking for me. People have a habit of avoiding pain, or even the slightest inconvenience. But when we have disastrous things happen, that’s often when we are at our best and can learn the most about ourselves.
    The bottom line is, keep moving forward with your life relentlessly. Don’t let any obstacle stand in your way. Feel the pain, and know that conquering pain sets you free, and by overcoming it you can move forward with great purpose. Your battle scars truly make you a better warrior.
    This article goes with that theme. When life beats you down, all you truly have is yourself. In the words of Tony Montana, “I trust me.” Don’t depend on other people to solve your problems. Continue to polish your skills and gain new experience. Those are the tools for your continued survival and well-being.

  11. A wise man from Senegal told me they can take away your money and your possessions, but not your education. Sadly, he passed away a month later from a heart attack brought on from malaria. The wisest thing anyone has ever taught me. Thanks for sharing this valuable lesson with all of us.
    Rest in peace, Ibrahima. I promise to go back to school and finish my degree.

    1. I would have liked to meet this Senegalese man. He sounds like he knows the truth. Many people in the world have been subject to exile, to being refugees, or having to lose everything and start over. The history of Europe in the 20th century is replete with examples of men who have had to start over from absolute zero. It is a supreme comfort to know that we can shield ourselves from the shock of loss or dislocation by donning the mantle of the learned man and mendicant philosopher.

  12. “Focus on yourself, brother. I do not say that possessions are
    unimportant. It is only that you and your development are far more
    important. Cultivate yourself, your knowledge, your experience, your body, your
    health, your mind. The disciplined and strenuous pursuit of such goals
    will shape your character and strengthen it.”
    Damn man, we’re definitely on the same wavelength with respect to the above. This is how I’ve been operating for the last year or so and no one else gets it. I suppose being 19 and knowing this I’m a little ahead of the curve as most people don’t realize this shit until they’re well into mid-life, burned out and half decrepit. All any of my friends want to do is waste time slowly poisoning themselves as they smoke, drink and eat shitty food to excess. I’m all about self-improvement and always moving onwards and upwards. If it means cutting some ties so be it, my resolve only strengthens.
    Keep up the solid writing Quintus.

    1. You are on the right path, Freewheeler. If you continue to do what you are doing, you will become more powerful than you can imagine in your late 30s.
      And it is true, as you say, that negative influences can sap our strength and distract us from the path.
      This is why it is important to surround yourself with good things:
      Read good books. Ingesting bad reading material is like eating bad food. It is corrosive and rotting to the spirit.
      Eat good food.
      Hang with good people and positive women. Do not waste time with degenerates, parasites, and evil influences.
      Surround yourself with good art. Put nice things on your walls, and pleasant objects in your room. Objects give off their own “energy” in some way. And looking upon beauty will elevate your soul, and prepare it for ascending the spiritual ladder upwards.

      1. Quintus I often feel like you’re my brother from another mother. Haha. Really enjoy your work and wisdom.

  13. All true about the importance of your knowledge, experience, health, body and mind.
    Alas what I see as an important aspect to the parable to be somewhat overlooked: the other thing Simonides (and all of us) carry with us is our name and our reputation. Nothing gives access to so many resources as being well-respected and regarded.
    Think carefully about how others perceive you – you don’t have to be validated by their approval, yet there is no need to burn bridges through lack of mindfulness.

  14. How much better it is to acquire wisdom than gold; to acquire understanding is more desirable than silver.

  15. We must remember when fast and suddenly the abyss appears to us it does not blink as we do.
    Being able to stare back and act is what draws the will from us to succeed and arise once again.

  16. I enjoyed the irony of the opening picture – the Costa Concordia capsize. I’m in the same field, and the maritime trades are a bastion of masculine pride, insular in its’ own way. The lesson in this post applies: In the case of cruise ships, the captain’s physical appearance, not ability, is the primary selection criterion. Cruise ships run from bad weather, and
    the implication of an employment culture that encourages showboating over experience was a lesson passed over by the company. On a long enough timeline, every merchant mariner faces disaster, and discovers whether duty and honor is stronger than the desire to surrender to abject fear. In a disaster, there will be men who run towards the scene, and those who run away. Experience and knowledge are the only true supports to ensure that a man will be one of the former.

  17. Seems to me that what saved him was not the knowledge he cultivated but the esteem he was held with in the hearts of others, although one did lead to the other. So perhaps the real moral here is to be of service to mankind?

  18. Another great article. Good information to live by – one day at a time. Many thanks.

Comments are closed.