About Valerie Block

Novelist and observer of the news, ancient and not

Seneca on Saturday… on Sunday!

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

On Peace of Mind, X:

Knowing to what sorrows we were born, there is nothing for which Nature more deserves our thanks than for having invented habit as an alleviation of misfortune, which soon accustoms us to the severest evils. No one could hold out against misfortune if it permanently exercised the same force as at its first onset. 

From: The Ninth Book of the Dialogues of L. Annaeus Seneca, Addressed to Serenus. Minor Dialogs Together with the Dialog “On Clemency”; Translated by Aubrey Stewart. Bohn’s Classical Library Edition; London, George Bell and Sons, 1900; Scanned and digitized by Google from a copy maintained by the University of Virginia.

Seneca on Saturday — Relative Poverty and Other Imagined Dangers

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Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

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

CIV. ON CARE OF HEALTH AND PEACE OF MIND

Suppose that you hold wealth to be a good: poverty will then distress you, and,  —which is most pitiable,— it will be an imaginary poverty. For you may be rich, and nevertheless, because your neighbour is richer, you suppose yourself to be poor exactly by the same amount in which you fall short of your neighbour. You may deem official position a good; you will be vexed at another’s appointment or re-appointment to the consulship; you will be jealous whenever you see a name several times in the state records. Your ambition will be so frenzied that you will regard yourself last in the race if there is anyone in front of you. Or you may rate death as the worst of evils, although there is really no evil therein except that which precedes death’s coming —fear. You will be frightened out of your wits, not only by real, but by fancied dangers, and will be tossed for ever on the sea of illusion…

For peace itself will furnish further apprehension. Even in the midst of safety you will have no confidence if your mind has once been given a shock; once it has acquired the habit of blind panic, it is incapable of providing even for its own safety. For it does not avoid danger, but runs away. Yet we are more exposed to danger when we turn our backs.

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

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Seneca on Saturday: fair-weather friends

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

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

IX: On Philosophy and Friendship

These are the so-called “fair-weather” friendships; one who is chosen for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as he is useful. Hence prosperous men are blockaded by troops of friends; but those who have failed stand amid vast loneliness, their friends fleeing from the very crisis which is to test their worth. Hence, also, we notice those many shameful cases of persons who, through fear, desert or betray. The beginning and the end cannot but harmonize. He who begins to be your friend because it pays will also cease because it pays.

Seneca Epistles 1-65, by Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger. Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

 

 

Late September Word of Mouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song: Turntables [Emotion Picture] — Janelle Monáe

Documentary: All in: The Fight for Democracy — Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes

Memoir: My Time Among the Whites — Jennine Capót Crucet

Mystery: Who Is Vera Kelly? — Rosalie Knecht

TV Series: Taste the Nation — Padma Lakshmi

 

Word of Mouth, Quarantine Edition

Prior to the advent of Covid-19, I was about 70% through the first draft of a novel about a virus, an anger virus. Looking back on what I wrote, I am stunned by how mild and self-contained the virus I created was. I am currently too busy  panic cleaning, home schooling and hand washing to do much about the novel, but in the process of doing research into epidemiology and vaccines, I came across several books that helped me understand how viruses work, and thought now would be an excellent time to recommend them.

If you have it in you to learn more about how microscopic pathogens can upend the globe, here are four fascinating books that helped me understand. If you’ve had enough pathogens, skip ahead to the ESCAPE section. And wash your hands!

ENGAGE:

Memoir about a pandemic (small pox) with a happy ending: Sometimes Brilliant:The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History, by Larry Brilliant

Thematic treatment of how pathogens develop and mutate, and what is necessary for them to thrive: Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, by Sonia Shah

A history of how vaccines were discovered, and how they work: Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity, by Michael Kinch

How cholera seized and changed London, seen through the efforts of a pioneering physician and a connected local priest: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World— Steven Johnson

ESCAPE:

TV: Agents of ShieldMaurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon. Netflix

TV: Episodes — David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. Amazon. 

TV: False Flag — Maria Feldman, Amit Cohen. Hulu.

TV: Imposters – Paul Adelstein and Adam Brooks. Netflix. 

MOVIE: Yesterday –Danny Boyle. HBO.

TV: MarpleAgatha Christie. Hulu.

FICTION: The Safety Net — Andrea Camilleri

Not-so-ancient wisdom:

“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.”

Winston Churchill

January Word of Mouth

Fiction: To Each His Own — Leonardo Sciascia, translated by Adrienne Foulke.

Memoir: Born a Crime — Trevor Noah.

Podcast episode: “An Historical Lens on Trump’s Authoritarianism.” Trumpcast. 

Non-Fiction: The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando — Paul Kix.

Documentary with Animation: Ask Dr. Ruth — Ryan White. Hulu. 

Stand-Up Comedy: “Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America!” Netflix.

Not-so-ancient wisdom: “There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft-mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.”

         — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Strength To Love”