Category Archives: Seneca

Seneca, Epistles 54

1 I was given long leave from bad health; suddenly then it returned, attacking me. You ask, “Of what kind?” Surely, you inquire with merit: presently no sort of disease is unknown to me. Nonetheless, I am consigned to one ailment, which I know not why I call by its Greek name: surely it can ably be called shortness of breath. However, its attack is very brief, and similar to a tempest: within an hour it desists. 2 Who indeed could exhale such a long time? All danger and infirmity of body have passed through me. Nothing seems more a bother to me. Wherefor? Whatever else there is is to be sick of, this is to be want of breath. Thus, medics call this “contemplation of death.” Indeed, sometime my spirit shall do what it has oft attempted.

3 You think me joyous to write to you because I have escaped? I jest if I make light such semi-good health, as he who thinks himself to have won the case when he has postponed the trial. Yet in my suffocation I have not ceased to continue in cheerful and brave thoughts.

4 “Why is this,” I ask, “that death so often taunts me? Let it do such: for a long time I have tested it.” “When?” you ask. “Before I was born. Death is then not able to be. I know it to be so. Thus what was before me will be after me. If any is tormented in this fact, it is and has been necessary, before we should have come out into the light; and thence we perceive no vexation. 5 I ask, would you not call him most stupid who should think a lamp to be better when extinguished than before it was lighted? We too are extinguished and lighted: in that middle time we endure, and all about us is that deep safety. Truly, in this, my Lucilius, I deceive not: we wander because we think that death follows, when it has both preceded us and will follow us. Whatever has been before us is death. What does it matter if you begin or die, when from each work the result is to not be?

6I have never ceased to speak to myself with exhortations (silently, of course, for there was no room for words). Then little-by-little this short breath came on at greater and greater intervals, and it is slowed, and stops. Nor hence, although it has stopped, has breath yet begun to flow naturally: I perceive difficulty and certain delay of it. Let it be as it wills as long as I not breathe out my soul. 7 Receive this for yourself from me: I’ll not fear the end, for not I’m prepared, that I know not of my final day. Do you praise and imitate him whom it bothers not to die, though he loves to live? What then is virtue when you are forced to leave? Nevertheless it is virtue: though I am thrown out, I should otherwise leave. Thus, never is he wise thrown out, because he wished to leave. Farewell.

Seneca, Epistles 5

1 Because you lead stubbornly your studies and, all else aside, this one thing makes you yourself better daily, I approve of and laud you, nor do I only urge that you persevere, but I entreat that you do. However, I warn you, do not go on in the custom of those who desire not to improve, but be noted, that those things which you do be noteworthy in your manner or way of life.

2 Harsh dress, uncut hair, unruly beard, noted dislike for silver, couch placed on bare dirt, and other perverse ambitions, avoid. The name of philosophy, modestly pursued, is itself enough to be scorned. What if we should compel ourselves to separate from the customs of man? Inwardly, let all things be unique; our front should conform with the people. 3 Let your toga not be resplendent, nor yet sordid. Let us not have silver plate gilded of solid gold, but let us not think lack of gold and silver a mark of frugality. Let us do this that we mat pursue sweeter life than the common people, but not that it be contrary. Otherwise we shall avert those whom we try to improve. We do this that they not wish to emulate us in anything, for they fear, lest they imitate us in everything.

4 The first thing philosophy undertakes is a sense for common good, humanity, and sociability. We shall part from our promise with those dissimilar. We must mind lest that by which we wish to exact admiration is ridiculous and hateful. Our known motto is to live favorably to nature: it is against nature, to contort the body and to hate easy-coming elegance, and to seek squalor and to use foods not only plain, but horrid and disgusting. 5 As it is a manner of luxury to desire delicacies, so is it madness to avoid what is of frequent use and procured for not much price. Philosophy calls for frugality, not unpleasantness. However, it is possible to be frugal and not ill-kept. This to me is a pleasing manner: life should be moderated between wise and popular customs; let all admire our life, but also understand it.

6 “Why thus? Why should we do as others? Should nothing lie between us and them?” Much should. Let he know us to be apart from the people who should have looked closely. Let he who enters our house admire us the more than our decoration. He is great who uses earthenware as if silver, nor is he the less who thus uses silver as earthenware. It is of an infirm mind to be unable to endure wealth.

7 But I also wish to share with you my find of the day: in the writings of out Hecato I have found that limit of hope helps to remedy fear, too. “Desist,” he writes, “to fear if you cease to hope.” You will say, “May things so different have parity?” It is true, me Lucilius: though they seem to differ, they are joined. Just as the same chain binds prisoner and guard, so may those which are so unalike advance with parity. Thus fear follows hope. 8 Nor do I marvel that they go on thus: each is to a pendant mind, each fretted with future expectations. However, a great cause of both is that we do not make ourselves fit for the present, but we send our thoughts to the future. Thus, foresight, greatest gift of the human kind, is made perverse.

9 Beasts flee dangers which they see; when they flee, they are safe. We torment ourselves with what is to come and what is past. Many of our good things are harmful to us. Truly, memory recalls torment of fear; foresight anticipates such. No man is so wretched as in the present. Farewell.