In 1425 died, in Constantinople, a wise king, Manuel II Palaiologos, who left us, among other writings, a mirror of prince, written for his son and heir John. These letters reflect the mind of a ruler who, despite circumstances, tried to uphold the virtues of wisdom and moderation in his dealings.

Seven years earlier, in a land far removed from Byzantium in space and culture, a ruler came to the throne of Joseon, today’s Korea: king Sejong. He surrounded himself with persons of high literary and scientific talents. Among his many achievements can be counted the creation of an alphabet, much easier to use than the Chinese characters and therefore much easier to learn by the common people–the one used today in Korea–and various technologies, such as the water clock, the first rain gauge, and sophisticated military weapons. His literary and scientific achievements are so numerous, and his love for the people so well-remembered that he is one of only two kings in over 2,000 years of Korean history to have been bestowed with the epithet “the Great.”

He, too, left many writings, which reflect, as with emperor Manuel II, a mind ruled by virtue and wisdom. Below are excerpts from his writings. Plato would no doubt have found in him another model of a philosopher-king.


“It is in order to avoid confusion in undertakings by the people that they have a king rule over them. How, then, could a king hope to live up to the dignity expected of him as a ruler when he refuses to hear out his people when they bring to his attention injustices done to him?”

“A wise ruler should not neglect minority opinions and give a careful hearing. Nevertheless, it would be foolish for a monarch to make decisions based on a single person’s opinion.”