On the Firmness of the Wise Man (Annotated) (Dialogues of Seneca Book 3)
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I have heard what you said when you were consoling others : then I should have seen whether you could have consoled your- self, whether you could have forbidden yourself to grieve. Do not, I beg you, dread those things which the immortal gods apply to our minds like spurs : misfortune is virtue's opportunity. Those men may justly be called unhappy who are stupified with excess of enjoyment, whom sluggish contentment keeps as it were becalmed in a quiet sea: whatever befalls them will come strange to them.
Misfor- tunes press hardest on those who are unacquainted with them : the yoke feels heavy to the tender neck. The re- cruit turns pale at the thought of a wound : the veteran, who knows that he has often won the victory after losing blood, looks boldly at his own flowing gore. In like manner God hardens, reviews, and exercises those whom He tests and loves : those whom He seems to indulge and spare.
He is keeping out of condition to meet their coming misfortunes : for you are mistaken if you suppose that any one is exempt from misfortune : he who has long prospered will have his share some day ; those who seem to have been spared them have only had them put off.
Why does God afflict the best of men with ill-health, or sorrow, or other troubles? Because in the army the most hazardous services are assigned to the bravest soldiers : a general sends his choicest troops to attack the enemy in a midnight ambus- cade, to reconnoitre his line of march, or to drive the hostile garrisons from their strong places. No one of these CH. He whom glazed windows have always guarded from the wind, whose feet are warmed by constantly renewed fomentations, whose dining-room is heated by hot air beneath the floor and spread through the walls, cannot meet the gentlest breeze without danger.
While all excesses are hurtful, excess of comfort is the most hurtful of all ; it affects the brain ; it leads men's minds into vain imaginings ; it spreads a thick cloud over the boundaries of truth and falsehood. Is it not better, with virtue by one's side, to endure con- tinual misfortune, than to burst with an endless surfeit of good things? It is the overloaded stomach that is rent asunder: death treats starvation more gently. The gods deal with good men according to the same rule as schoolmasters with their pupils, who exact most labour from those of whom they have the surest hopes.
Do you imagine that the Lacedaemonians, who test the mettle of their children by public flogging, do not love them?
Seneca: on tranquillity of mind | How to Be a Stoic
Their own fathers call upon them to endure the strokes of the rod bravely, and when they are torn and half dead, ask them to offer their wounded skin to receive fresh wounds. Why then should we wonder if Grod tries noble spirits severely? There can be no easy proof of virtue. Fortune lashes and mangles us: well, let us endure it: it is not cruelty, it is a struggle, in which the oftener we engage the braver we shall become.
Familiarity with danger leads us to despise it. Thus the bodies of sailors are hardened by endurance of the sea, and the hands of farmers by work ; the arms of soldiers are powerful to hurl darts, the legs of runners are active : that part of each man which he exer- cises is the strongest : so by endurance the mind becomes able to despise the power of misfortunes. You may see what endurance might effect in us if you observe what labour does among tribes that are naked and rendered stronger by want.
Look at all the nations that dwell be- yond the Roman Empire : I mean the Germans and all the nomad tribes that war against us along the Danube.
They suffer from eternal winter, and a dismal climate, the barren soil grudges them sustenance, they keep off the rain with leaves or thatch, they bound across frozen marshes, and hunt wild beasts for food. Do you think them unhappy? There is no unhappiness in what use has made part of one's nature : by degrees men find pleasure in doing what they were first driven to do by necessity. They have no homes and no resting-places save those which weariness appoints tbem for the day; their food, though coarse, yet must be sought with their own hands ; the harshness of the climate is terrible, and their bodies are unclothed.
This, which you think a hardship, is the mode of life of all these races : how then can you wonder at good men being shaken, in order that they may be strengthened? No tree which the wind does not often blow against is firm and strong; for it is stiffened by the very act of being shaken, and plants its roots more securely : those which grow in a sheltered valley are brittle : and so it is to the advantage of good men, and causes them to be undismayed, that they should live much CH. Add to this that it is to the advantage of every one that the best men should, so to speak, be on active service and perform labours : God has the same purpose as the wise man, that is, to prove that the things which the herd covets and dreads are neither good nor bad in themselves.
If, how- ever. He only bestows them upon good men, it will be evi- dent that they are good things, and bad, if He only inflicts them upon bad men. Blindness would be execrable if no one lost his eyes except those who deserve to have them pulled out ; therefore let Appius and Metellus be doomed to darkness.
Riches are not a good thing : therefore let Elius the pander possess them, that men who have conse- crated money in the temple, may see the same in the brothel : for by no means can God discredit objects of desire so effectually as by bestowing them upon the worst of men, and removing them from the best.
Labour calls for the best men : the senate often passes the whole day in debate, while at the same time every scoundrel either amuses his leisure in the Campus Martins, or lurks in a tavern, or passes his time in some pleasant society. I remember, also, to have heard this spirited saying of that stoutest-hearted of men, Demetrius. Do you wish to take my children?
Do you wish to take some part of my body? Do you wish for my life? The fates guide us, and the length of every man's days is decided at the first hour of his birth : every cause depends upon some earlier cause : one long chain of destiny decides all things, public or private. Wherefore, everything must be patiently endured, because events do not fall in our way, as we imagine, but come by a regular law.
It has long ago been settled at what you should rejoice and at what you should weep, and although the lives of individual men appear to differ from one another in a great variety of par- ticulars, yet the sum total comes to one and the same thing : we soon perish, and the gifts which we receive soon perish. Why, then, should we be angry? What is the duty of a good man? Some qualities cannot be separated from some others : they cling together ; are indivisible. Dull minds, tending to sleep or to a waking state exactly like sleep, are composed of sluggish elements : it requires stronger stuff to form a man meriting careful description.
His course will not be straightforward; he must go up- wards and downwards, be tossed about, and guide his vessel through troubled waters : he must make his way in spite of fortune : he will meet with much that is hard which he must soften, much that is rough that he must make smooth- Fire tries gold, misfortune tries brave men. See how high virtue has to climb : you may be sure that it has no safe path to tread.
The ending of the path is sheer down hill, And needs the careful guidance of the rein. Old Tethys trembles in her depths below Lest headlong down upon her I should go. Straight through the Bull's fell horns thy path must go, Through the fierce Lion, and the Archer's bow. He protects and saves them.
Does any one besides this demand that Grod should look after the baggage of good men also? Why, they them- selves leave the care of this to God : they scorn external accessories.
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Democritus forswore riches, holding them to be a burden to a virtuous mind : what wonder then, if God permits that to happen to a good man, which a good man sometimes chooses should happen to himself? Good men, you say, lose their children : why should they not, since sometimes they even put them to death? Phoebus is telling Phaethon how to drive the chariot of the Sun. They are slain : why not, since sometimes they choose to lay violent hands on themselves?
Why do they suffer cer- tain miseries? They are born as patterns. Conceive, therefore, that G-od says : — " You, who have chosen righteousness, what complaint can you make of me? I have encompassed other men with unreal good things, and have deceived their inane minds as it were by a long and misleading dream : I have bedecked them with gold, silver, and ivory, but within them there is no good thing. Those men whom you re- gard as fortunate, if you could see, not their outward show, but their hidden life, are really unhappy, mean, and base, ornamented on the outside like the walls of their houses : that good fortune of theirs is not sound and genuine : it is only a veneer, and that a thin one.
As long, therefore, as they can stand upright and display themselves as they choose, they shine and impose upon one ; when something occurs to shake and unmask them, we see how deep and real a rottenness was hidden by that factitious magni- ficence. To you I have given sure and lasting good things, which become greater and better the more one turns them over and views them on every side : I have granted to you to scorn danger, to disdain passion. You do not shine outwardly, all your good qualities are turned inwards ; even so does the world neglect what lies without it, and rejoices in the contemplation of itself.
I have placed every good thing within your own breasts : it is your good fortune not to need any good fortune. In this you can surpass God himself ; He is beyond suffering evil : you are above it. Above all, I have taken care that no one should hold you captive against your will : the way of escape lies open before you : if you do not choose to fight, you may fly. For this reason, of all those matters which I have deemed essential for you, I have made nothing easier for you than to die.
I have set man's life as it were on a mountain side : it soon slips down. I have not imposed such long delays upon those who quit the world as upon those who enter it : were it not so, fortune would hold a wide dominion over you, if a man died as slowly as he is born.
Let all time, let every place teach you, how simple it is to renounce nature, and to fling back her gifts to her : before the altar itself and during the solemn rites of sacrifice, while life is being prayed for, learn how to die. Fat oxen fall dead with a tiny wound ; a blow from a man's hand fells animals of great strength : the sutures of the neck are severed by a thin blade, and when the joint which connects the head and neck is cut, all that great mass falls. I am sure I know one who has often felt so. O God! Or something of inconceivably minute origin, the pressure of a bone, or the inflam- mation of a particle of the brain takes place, and the emblem of the Deity destroys himself or some one else.
We hold our health and our reason on terms slighter than any one would desire, were it in their choice, to hold an Irish cabin," — Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, vol. I have not appointed any particular spot for these blows — the body may be pierced wherever you please.
The Concept of Death as the Liberation of Thought: A Brief Introduction to the Study on the Phaedo
That very act which is called dying, by which the breath of life leaves the body, is too short for you to be able to estimate its quickness : whether a knot crushes the windpipe, or water stops your breathing : whether you fall headlong from a height and perish upon the hard ground below, or a mouthful of fire checks the drawing of your breath — whatever it is, it acts swiftly. Do you not blush to spend so long a time in dreading what takes so short a time to do?
T MIGHT truly say, Serenus, that there is as wide a dif- ference between the Stoics and the other sects of philo- sophers as there is between men and women, since each class contributes an equal share to human society, but the one is born to command, the other to obey. The other philosophers deal with us gently and coaxingly, just as our accustomed family physicians usually do with our bodies, treating them not by the best and shortest method, but by that which we allow them to employ ; whereas the Stoics adopt a manly course, and do not care about its appearing attractive to those who are entering upon it, but that it should as quickly as possible take us out of the world, and lead us to that lofty eminence which is so far beyond the scope of any missile weapon that it is above the reach of Fortune herself.
Can heights be reached by a level path? Yet they are not so sheer and precipitous as some think.
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It is only the first part that CH. When just now mention was made of Marcus Cato, you whose mind revolts at injustice were indignant at Cato's own age having so little understood him, at its having allotted a place below Vatinius to one who towered above both Caesar and Pom- peius; it seemed shameful to you, that when he spoke against some law in the Forum his toga was torn from him, and that he was hustled through the hands of a mutinous mob from the Rostra as far as the arch of Fabius, enduring all the bad language, spitting, and other insults of the frantic rabble.
I then answered, that you had good cause to be anxious on behalf of the commonwealth, which Publius Clodius on the one side, Yatinius and all the greatest scoundrels on the other, were putting up for sale, and, car- tied away by their blind covetousness, did not understand that when they sold it they themselves were sold with it ; I bade you have no fears on behalf of Cato himself, because the wise man can neither receive injury nor insult, and it is more certain that the immortal gods have given Cato as a pattern of a wise man to us, than that they gave Ulysses or Hercules to the earlier ages; for these our Stoics have declared were wise men, unconquered by labours, despisers of pleasure, and superior to all terrors.
Cato did not slay wild beasts, whose pursuit belongs to huntsmen and countrymen, nor did he exterminate fabu- lous creatures with fire and sword, or live in times when it was possible to believe that the heavens could be supported on the shoulders of one man. He alone withstood the vices of a worn-out State, sinking into ruin through its own bulk ; he upheld the falling commonwealth as far as it could be upheld by one man's hand, until at last his sup- port was withdrawn, and he shared the crash which he had so long averted, and perished together with that from which it was impious to separate him — for Cato did not outlive freedom, nor did freedom outlive Cato.
Think you that the people could do any wrong to such a man when they tore away his praetorship or his toga?
Seneca: on tranquillity of mind
The wise man is safe, and no injury or insult can touch him. I think I see your excited and boiling temper. You are preparing to exclaim : " These are the things which take away all weight from your maxims ; you promise great matters, such as I should not even wish for, let alone believe to be possible, and then, after all your brave words, though you say that the wise man is not poor, you admit that he often is in want of servants, shelter, and food.
You say that the wise man is not mad, yet you admit that he sometimes loses his reason, talks nonsense, and is driven to the wildest actions by the stress of his disorder.
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When you say that the wise man cannot be a slave, you do not deny that he will be sold, carry out orders, and perform menial services at the bidding of his master; so, for all your proud looks, you come down to the level of every one else, and merely call things by different names.