Another story about Fabricius and Pyrrhus

Plutarch tells a story about Fabricius and Pyrrhus (one we did not cover in the podcast). 

After Fabricius’ famous embassy to the king, he was made consul – one of the supreme commanders.  He received a visit to his camp from Pyrrhus’ chief physician.

The doctor promised to murder the king through poisoning, if the Romans would reward him.  Fabricius could end this war now and spare the Romans a lot of trouble.

Instead, Fabricius sent a letter back to Pyrrhus, telling him to be on guard against plots within his own camp:

“We do not inform you of this to do you a favor, but rather in order that your fall may not bring reproach on us – lest we seem to need to win a war by trickery, since we are unable to do so through virtue alone.”


Pyrrhus and Fabricius
Pyrrhus and Fabricius. And an elephant. (by Ferdinand Bol.)

Pyrrhus, the story goes, released some Roman captives to Fabricius as a thank you. (He had the doctor punished, too).

In response, Fabricius sent back an equal number of Greek captives.  He was serious when he said the deed wasn’t done as a favor.  He wasn’t fishing for a concession.

Some historians doubt the story (there are a lot of different and conflicting accounts of Pyrrhus returning Roman captives). 

But the more interesting point is that the Romans repeated the tale often – because it reminded them of what kind of people they should strive to be.

Here is yet another way we can benefit from our relationships with our adversaries.  As Plutarch remarks in another work (How to Profit from One’s Enemies):

“It is possible for us to display the qualities of gentleness and forbearance, and also straightforwardness, magnanimity, and goodness with our enmities better than with our friendships.”

Which of your enemies could you treat with more justice?

(P.S. the story of Fabricius is in part 2 of the Life of Pyrrhus on the Cost of Glory podcast.  Listen here.)