Seneca on Saturday — conform on the outside

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.

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.

Advertisements

Seneca on Saturday — Holidays haven’t changed much

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.

 

***

From Epistle XVIII, On Festivals and Fasting

It is the month of December, and yet the city is at this very moment in a sweat. License is given to the general merrymaking. Everything resounds with mighty preparations, — as if the Saturnalia differed at all from the usual business day! So true is it that the difference is nil, that I regard as correct the remark of the man who said: “Once December was a month; now it is a year.”

… the surest proof which a man can get of his own constancy [is] if he neither seeks the things which are seductive and allure him to luxury, nor is led into them. It shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does, but in a different way, — thus neither making oneself conspicuous nor becoming one of the crowd. For one may keep holiday without extravagance.”

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

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.