Seneca on Saturday — how to avoid envy

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Mosaic in front of a fish monger’s shop in the Piazza of Corporations, Ostia Antica, 3rd century CE. The image is of a dolphin with a fish and an octopus in its jaws. “IMBIDE CALCO TE” means “Envious one, I tread on you.” Photo credit: Eric Taylor, from http://www.ostia-antica.org.

CV. On Facing the World with Confidence

Reflect on the things which goad man into destroying man: you will find that they are hope, envy, hatred, fear, and contempt. Now, of all these, contempt is the least harmful, so much so that many have skulked behind it as a sort of cure. When a man despises you, he works you injury, to be sure, but he passes on; and no one persistently or of set purpose does hurt to a person whom he despises. Even in battle, prostrate soldiers are neglected: men fight with those who stand their ground. And you can avoid the envious hopes of the wicked so long as you have nothing which can stir the evil desire of others, and so long as you possess nothing remarkable. For people crave even little things, if these catch the attention or of rare occurrence.

You will escape envy if you do not force yourself on the public view, if you do not boast your possessions, if you understand how to enjoy things privately. Hatred comes either from running foul of others: and this can be avoided by never provoking anyone; or else it is uncalled for: and common-sense will keep you safe from it. Yet it has been dangerous to many; some people have been hated without having had an enemy. As to not being feared, a moderate fortune and an easy disposition will guarantee you that; men should know that you are the sort of person who can be offended without danger; and your reconciliation should be easy and sure. Moreover, it is as troublesome to be feared at home as abroad; it is as bad to be feared by a slave as by a gentleman. For everyone has strength enough to do you some harm. Besides, he who is feared, fears also; no one has been able to arouse terror and live with peace of mind.

Seneca Epistles 93-124, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

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