Action Not Words and Smooth-Talking Doctors

Seneca, Moral Epistles 75

“A sick man doesn’t look for a an eloquent doctor, but if he finds one who is able to heal him and can speak articulately about what needs to be done, he will accept it well. Yet he still will not praise luck for finding so well-spoken a doctor.

This is the same kind of a thing as a knowledgeable ship captain who is good-looking! Why do you caress my ears? Why do you amuse me? There is different work to be done! I need to be cauterized, stitched, or forced to a diet. You were called for these things! You need to treat an ancient disease, a serious and common one. You have as much responsibility as a doctor does in  a plague.

Are you worrying about words? Rejoice if you can merely handle things. When will you learn much? When will you plant in your mind what you have learned so it cannot escape? When will you practice it? It is not enough to commit these things to memory: they need to be attempted in deeds. The happy person is not the one who knows but who acts.”

Non quaerit aeger medicum eloquentem, sed, si ita conpetit, ut idem ille, qui sanare potest, compte de iis, quae facienda sunt, disserat, boni consulet. Non tamen erit, quare gratuletur sibi, quod inciderit in medicum etiam disertum. Hoc enim tale est, quale si peritus gubernator etiam formosus est. Quid aures meas scabis? Quid oblectas? Aliud agitur; urendus, secandus, abstinendus sum. Ad haec adhibitus es.

Curare debes morbum veterem, gravem, publicum. Tantum negotii habes, quantum in pestilentia medicus. Circa verba occupatus es? Iamdudum gaude, si sufficis rebus. Quando, quae multa disces? Quando, quae didiceris, adfiges tibi ita, ut excidere non possint? Quando illa experieris? Non enim ut cetera, memoriae tradidisse satis est; in opere temptanda sunt. Non est beatus, qui scit illa, sed qui facit.

Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel (i.e., Dr. Beak), a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656

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