Take A Break! The Elder and Younger Seneca on the Importance of Vacations

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 1. 14-15

“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.

But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.

It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”

In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere.  Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…

 

Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5

“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”

Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.

Bonus Quotation

Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX

“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”

Χρὴ οὖν δεσπόζειν ἐπιεικῶς καὶ ἀνεθῆναί ποτε βουλομένοις ἐπιτρέπειν. αἱ γὰρ ἀνέσεις παρασκευαστικαὶ πόνων εἰσί, καὶ τόξον καὶ λύρα καὶ ἄνθρωπος ἀκμάζει δι᾿ ἀναπαύσεως.

Gardecorps. Metallic buttons?  Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)

Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)

For more Roman vacation advice, see Pliny’s suggestions for translating Greek into Latin and writing poems and some other selections from antiquity.

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