Agriculture the Only Honorable Industry

Agriculture the Only Honorable Industry

A limitation upon Roman economic thought, one common to Romans and Greeks, was the prevailing idea that the only honorable in­dustry is agriculture. Cicero may be regarded as typical in this respect, and he wrote: "Now as to the trades and modes of getting gain that are to be regarded as respectable, and those that are to be deemed mean and vulgar, the general opinion is as follows: In the first place, those callings are held in dis-esteem that come into collision with the ill will of men, as that of taxgatherers, as that of usurers. The callings of hired laborers, and of all who are paid for their mere work and not for skill, are ungenteel and vulgar; for their wages are given for menial service. Those who buy to sell again as soon as they can are to be accounted as vulgar; for they can make no profit except by a certain amount of falsehood, and nothing is meaner than false­hood. All mechanics are engaged in vulgar business; for a work­shop can have nothing respectable about it. Least of all can we speak well of the trades that minister to sensual pleasures, —
'Fishmongers, butchers, cooks, poulterers, and fishermen,'
as Terence says. Add, if you please, to this list perfumers, ballet-dancers, and the whole tribe of dice-players. The pro­fessions which require greater skill and are of no small benefit to the community, such as medicine, architecture, and the in­struction of youth in liberal studies, are respectable for those whose rank they suit. Commerce, if on a small scale, is to be regarded as vulgar; but if large and rich, importing much from all quarters, and making extensive sales without fraud, it is not so very discreditable. . . . But of all means of acquiring gain, nothing is better than agriculture, nothing more productive, nothing more pleasant, nothing more worthy of a man of liberal mind."