Seneca on Saturday: Anger vs. Reason

Please forgive the shocking delay! Seneca on Saturday has returned. Something in the air has got me thinking about anger. I can’t imagine what it could be! 

3rd Century Mosaic from the Villa Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily.

3rd-4th century mosaic from the Villa Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily.













…Consequently, not all who have sinned alike are punished alike, and often he who has committed the smaller sin receives the greater punishment, because he was subjected to anger when it was fresh. And anger is altogether unbalanced; it now rushes farther than it should, now halts sooner than it ought. For it indulges its own impulses, is capricious in judgement, refuses to listen to evidence, grants no opportunity for defense, maintains whatever position it has seized, and is never willing to surrender its judgement even if it is wrong.

Reason grants a hearing to both sides, then seeks to postpone action, even its own, in order that it may gain time to sift out the truth; but anger is precipitate. Reason wishes the decision that it gives to be just; anger wishes to have the decision which it has given seem the just decision. Reason considers nothing except the question at issue; anger is moved by trifling things that he outside the case. An overconfident demeanor, a voice too loud, boldness of speech, foppishness in dress, a pretentious show of patronage, popularity with the public – these inflame anger. Many times it will condemn the accused because it hates his lawyer; even if the truth is piled up before its very eyes, it loves error and clings to it; it refuses to be convinced, and having entered upon wrong it counts persistence to be more honorable than penitence.

Lucilus Annaeus Seneca the Younger, To Novatus on Anger

Seneca on Saturday — do as I say

Photo credit: Shakko/Wikipedia

Relief depicting Roman school, found in Roman Neumagen, near Trier, 2nd century CE. Photo credit: Shakko/Wikipedia


Epistle XCIV — On the Value of Advice

Indeed, the persons who  take the greatest pains to proffer such advice are themselves unable to put it into practice. …[I]t is the hottest-tempered school-master who contends that one should never lose one’s temper. Go to any elementary school, and you will learn that just such pronouncements, emanating from high-browed philosophers, are to be found in the lesson-book for boys!

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

Seneca on Saturday — dangerous dinner party

Bust of Gaius Caesar, aka “Caligula,” from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, Copenhagen.

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.

Here is a curious story of survival at Court. Seneca tells this story as an example of the hospitality one could expect from Gaius Caesar, aka “Caligula,” the third Emperor of Rome.


On Anger

Gaius Caesar, offended with the son of Pastor, a distinguished Roman knight, because of his foppishness and his too elaborately dressed hair, sent him to prison; when the father begged that his son’s life might be spared, Caesar, just as if he had been reminded to punish him, ordered him to be executed forthwith; yet in order not to be wholly brutal to the father, he invited him to dine with him that day. Pastor actually came and showed no reproach in his countenance. Caesar, taking a cup, proposed his health and set some one to watch him; the poor wretch went through with it, although he seemed to be drinking the blood of his Son. Caesar then sent him perfume and garlands of flowers and gave orders to watch whether he used them: he used them. On the very day on which he had buried – no, before he had yet buried – his son, he took his place among a hundred dinner-guests, and, old and gouty as he was, drained a draught of wine that would scarce have been a seemly potion even on the birthday of one of his children, all the while shedding not a single tear nor by any sign suffering his grief to be revealed; at the dinner he acted as if he had obtained the pardon he had sought for his son. Do you ask why? He had a second son.

From Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younnger, Moral Essays, Volume I, translated by John W. Basore. Loeb Classical Library.

Seneca on Saturday: ancient Roman caution

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.

On Anger

When you are about to rejoice most, you will have most to fear. When everything seems to you to be peaceful, the forces that will harm are not nonexistent, but inactive. Always believe that there will come some blow to strike you.

Moral Essays, Volume I, by Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, translated by John W. Basore. Loeb Library.

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.