Seneca on Sunday — on ripe fruit

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Still Life With Skull, by Paul Cezanne. Image courtesy of WikiArt

Epistle XII. On Old Age

Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming at its close; the last drink delights the toper,– the glass which souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness. Each pleasure reserves to the end the greatest delights which it contains. Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline… Or else the very fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place the pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out one’s appetites, and to have done with them! “But,” you say, “it is a nuisance to be looking death in the face!” Death, however, should be looked in the face by young and old alike. We are not summoned according to our rating on the censor’s list. Moreover, no one is so old that it would be improper for him to hope for another day of existence. And one day, mind you, is a stage on life’s journey.

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

Seneca on Saturday: when every new day is a bonus

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Male figure on funerary couch surrounded by funeral cortège (detail), Funerary procession, Amiternum, c. 50-1 B.C.E. (Museum, Aquila) (photo: Erin Taylor, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Epistle XII: On Old Age

Pacuvius… used to hold a regular burial sacrifice in his own honor, with wine and the usual funeral feasting, and then would have himself carried from the dining-room to his chamber, while eunuchs applauded and sang in Greek to a musical accompaniment: “He has lived his life, he has lived his life!” Thus Pacuvius had himself carried out to burial every day. Let us, however, do from a good motive what he used to do from a debased motive; let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say:

I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me

Is finished.**

And if God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts. That man is happiest, and is secure in his own possession of himself, who can await the morrow without apprehension. When a man has said: “I have lived!”, every morning he arises is a bonus.

** Vergil, Aenid, iv. 63

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

Seneca on Saturday — on generosity

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image by Andy Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EPISTLE LXXXI. On Benefits.

You complain that you have met with an ungrateful person. If this is your first experience of that sort, you should offer thanks to your good luck or your caution. In this case, however, caution can effect nothing but to make you ungenerous… It is better… to get no return than to confer no benefits. Even after a poor crop one should sow again… In order to discover one grateful person, it is worth while to make trial of many ungrateful ones.


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

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.

Seneca on Saturday — on rising to the occasion

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 LXVII — On ill health and endurance of suffering

You say: “If it is a good to be brave under torture, to go to the stake with a stout heart, to endure illness with resignation, it follows that these things are desirable. But I do not see that any of them is worth praying for…”

My dear Lucilius, you must distinguish between these case; you will comprehend that there is something within them to be desired. I should prefer to be free from torture; but if the time comes when it must be endured, I shall desire that I may conduct myself therein with bravery, honor, and courage. Of course I prefer that war should not occur; but if war does occur, I shall desire that I may nobly endure the wounds, the starvation, and all that the exigency of war brings. Nor am I so mad as to crave illness; but if I must suffer illness, I shall desire that I may do nothing which shows lack of restraint, and nothing that is unmanly. The conclusion is, not that hardships are desirable, but that virtue is desirable, which enables us patiently to endure hardships.


Seneca Epistles 66-92, Translation by Richard M. Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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.