Seneca on Saturday: A Good Conscience Welcomes the Crowd

Brass replica of bronze hand mirror found in Pompeii. From the Object Lessons Blog.

XLIII. On the Relativity of Fame.

I shall mention a fact by which you may weigh the worth of a man’s character: you will scarcely find anyone who can live with his door wide open. It is our conscience, not our pride, that has put doorkeepers at our doors; we live in such a fashion that being suddenly disclosed to view is equivalent to being caught in the act. What profits it, however, to hide ourselves away, and to avoid the eyes and ears of men? A good conscience welcomes the crowd, but a bad conscience, even in solitude, is disturbed and troubled.  If your deeds are honourable, let everybody know them; if base, what matters it that no one knows them, as long as you yourself know them?  How wretched you are if you despise such a witness!  

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

Seneca on Saturday — bad associations ruin good characters

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger in Cordoba, Spain, by Amadeo Ruiz Olmos.      Photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

EPISTLE VII: On Crowds

The young character… must be rescued from the mob; it is too easy to side with the majority. Even Socrates, Cato, and Laelius might have been shaken in their moral strength by a crowd that was unlike them; so true it is that none of us, no matter how much he cultivates his abilities, can withstand the shock of faults that approach, as it were, with so great a retinue. Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbour, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it! You must either imitate or loathe the world. But both courses are to be avoided; you should not copy the bad simply because they are many, nor should you hate the many because they are unlike you. Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.

Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

 

Seneca on Saturday — basic principles vs. special cases

Image of a javelin thrower, among the 3rd century mosaics of athletes found in the Baths of Caracalla, now in the Vatican Museum.

Image of a javelin thrower, among the 3rd century mosaics of athletes found in the Baths of Caracalla, now located in the Vatican Museum.

Epistle XCIV — On the Value of Advice

Just as the the student of javelin-throwing keeps aiming at a fixed target and thus trains the hand to give direction to the missile, and when, by instruction and practice, he has gained the desired ability, he can then employ it against any target he wishes (having learned to strike not at any random object, but precisely the object at which he has aimed), — so he who has equipped himself for the whole of life does not need to be advised concerning each separate item, because he is now trained to meet his problem as a whole; for he knows not merely how he should live with his wife or his son, but how he should live aright. In this knowledge there is also included the proper way of living with wife and children.

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

Seneca on Saturday — on what we can control

roman_mosaic_boat

Roman mosaic from Zeugitana, Carthage (now Tunisia): Theseus escaping King Minos’ labyrinth, 3rd century CE. From the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology and Archeology

 

EPISTLE XLVII

Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties.

Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

Photo credit: Luke Jones at flickr.