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.
EPISTLE V. The philosopher’s mean, Part I.
I commend you and rejoice in the fact that you are persistent in your studies, and that, putting all else aside, you make it each day your endeavor to become a better man…. I warn you, however, not to act after the fashion of those who desire to be conspicuous rather than to improve, by doing things which will rouse comment as regards your dress or general way of living. Repellent attire, unkempt hair, slovenly beard, open scorn of silver dishes, a couch on the bare earth, and any other perverted forms of self-display, are to be avoided. The mere name of philosophy, however quietly pursued, is an object of sufficient scorn; and what would happen if we should begin to separate ourselves from the customs of our fellow men? Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society. Do not wear too fine, nor yet to frowzy, a toga. One needs no silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life. Let us try to maintain a higher standard of life than that of the multitude, but not a contrary standard; otherwise, we shall frighten away and repel the very persons whom we are trying to improve.
Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.
Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.