Seneca on Saturday — hurry up and wait

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger in Cordoba, Spain, by Amadeo Ruiz Olmos

Lord Macaulay once said that Seneca the Younger was easily quotable, but reading him straight through would be like “dining on nothing but anchovy sauce.”

I agree! Thus I present some of the condensed wit and wisdom of Seneca, every Saturday.

Ancient Rome ran on favors. Each man had someone more important than himself to impress, and someone beneath him to bestow favors upon. The patron-client relationship was one of mutual obligation, requiring political loyalty from a client in return for protection, legal assistance and/or financial support from a patron. Clients lined up before dawn in their patron’s courtyard, and were seen — or avoided — according to their status.

Here is Seneca’s description of the tradition of the morning greeting, and how little it profited either the client or the patron:

“Those who rush about in the performance of social duties, who give themselves and others no rest, when they have fully indulged their madness, when they have every day crossed everybody’s threshold, and have left no open door unvisited, when they have carried around their venal greeting to houses that are very far apart – out of a city so huge and torn by such varied desires, how few will they be able to see?  How many will there be who either from sleep or self-indulgence or rudeness will keep them out!  How many who, when they have tortured them with long waiting, will rush by, pretending to be in a hurry!  How many will avoid passing out through a hall that is crowded with clients, and will make their escape through some concealed door as if it were not more discourteous to deceive than to exclude.  How many, still half asleep and sluggish from last night’s debauch, scarcely lifting their lips in the midst of a most insolent yawn, manage to bestow on yonder poor wretches, who break their own slumber in order to wait on that of another, the right name only after it has been whispered to them a thousand times!”

From On the Shortness of Life, by Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

Translated by John W. Basore, Loeb Classical Library

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