Socrates was once involved in a conversation with some friends at the gymnasium, and they were joined by a visitor to Athens from out of town.
The man was creating quite a stir, claiming that he could discern someone’s character by a simple examination of telling features. People in town were calling him a physiognomon – physiognomist. His name was Zopyrus.
As he was sharing some of his success stories among these friends, he seemed to be rather unaware of the kind of company he was in.
One of the men jumped in and said, “Zopyrus, do a character reading on our friend here,” pointing at Socrates.
“Alright. Hmm, no shapely cavities between the collarbone and the neck, but rather a thickness, indicating a certain blockage of humor… yes, yes and there’s that troubling brow, bulging eyes. And that snub nose. Sorry to embarrass you, friend, but you seem to be a dullard.”
There was chuckling at this.
“And furthermore, all indications point to you being a lecherous scoundrel, incontinent with women, and worse vices still…” Alcibiades burst out laughing.
Zopyrus was growing embarrassed himself. But Socrates spoke up, looking very serious.
“Don’t laugh. I see now that this Zopyrus is a man of great skill. Don’t you know he’s right? I possess all of those vices, and many more, by nature. But through reason and philosophy I have banished them all.”
We are all born with various gifts and inclinations. But the path toward excellence is difficult for everyone, because it is measured by the intensity of our struggle to overcome our lesser selves.
Virtue, in the ancient view, is about reaching your potential.
So keep on sculpting.