Rescuing a Man of Defensive Humor

Seneca, EM 29.4-8

“I am not yet in despair about our companion Marcellinus. He can be saved even now, but only if a hand be given to him quickly. There certainly is a risk that he will drag his rescuer down with him—there is a great force of intelligence in the man, even though it is already leaning towards depravity. Nevertheless, I will face this danger and dare to show him his mistakes.

He will do what he usually does—he will call up his wittiness which can elicit laughter even from mourners and joke first about himself and then about me. He will oppose everything I plan to say. He will scrutinize our philosophical beliefs and complain that philosophers took handouts, had girlfriends, and were gluttons. He will tell me about some philosopher who is caught in adultery, another who hangs out at bars, another found in court. He will tell me about Aristo, Marcus Lepidus’ philosopher who used to have conversations while he was riding around in his carriage (since that was the time he had set aside for editing his work) so that Scaurus gossiped about him, “Well, he’s not one of the Walking Doctors, at least.” Julius Graecinus, when asked about the same person, said “I can’t tell you, for I don’t know what he can do on foot!” as if he were asked about a charioteer.

He will mock these types of cavalrymen, men I think would have been better to have ignored philosophy than sell it. But I am resolved to tolerate the insults. Let him try to move my laughter and I, perhaps, will move him to tears. Or, if he persists telling jokes, I will still take some joy in these sufferings, since he’s touched by a humorous kind of madness. This type of humor is not long-lived. Look carefully and you will see that people like this laugh intemperately and then rage intemperately in a short span of time.”

Marcellinum nostrum ego nondum despero. Etiamnunc servari potest, sed si cito illi manus porrigitur. Est quidem periculum, ne porrigentem trahat; magna in illo ingenii vis est, sed iam tendentis in pravum. Nihilominus adibo hoc periculum et audebo illi mala sua ostendere. Faciet quod solet; advocabit illas facetias, quae risum evocare lugentibus possunt, et in se primum, deinde in nos iocabitur. Omnia, quae dicturus sum, occupabit. Scrutabitur scholas nostras et obiciet philosophis congiaria, amicas, gulam. Ostendet mihi alium in adulterio, alium in popina, alium in aula. Ostendet mihi M. Lepidi philosophum Aristonem, qui in gestatione disserebat. Hoc enim ad edendas operas tempus acceperat. De cuius secta cum quaereretur, Scaurus ait: “Utique Peripateticus non est.” De eodem cum consuleretur Iulius Graecinus, vir egregius, quid sentiret, “Non possum,” inquit, “tibi dicere; nescio enim, quid de gradu faciat,” tamquam de essedario interrogaretur. Hos mihi circulatores, qui philosophiam honestius neglexissent quam vendunt, in faciem ingeret. Constitui tamen contumelias perpeti; moveat ille mihi risum, ego fortasse illi lacrimas movebo, aut si ridere perseverabit, gaudebo tamquam in malis, quod illi genus insaniae hilare contigerit. Sed non est ista hilaritas longa. Observa; videbis eosdem intra exiguum 8tempus acerrime ridere et acerrime rabere.

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