Unable to Relax

Petrarch, de Otio et Solitudine (6):

But the divine Augustus Caesar, who enjoyed more power than anyone else in the world, was unable to pursue this one thing which seems like a mere trifle to most people. To be sure, he often wished for the sweetness of leisure: whatever he was thinking or talking about would end in leisure; this was the consolation of his labors, this was the reward for his past deeds, this was the hope of time to come, the mass of all his riches and the power over all the world looked dirty in comparison to leisure. Then, finally, worn out by the abundance of all the things which can happen to the most fortunate person, he took his breath in the name of leisure alone. Seneca mentions this, and his ‘Certain Letter to the Senate’ attests to it as well.

With what pleasure should we think that he would have arrived at that leisure on which he had so sweetly bent his mind’s eye! But from the highest peak of fortune, on which the master of the world had sat, the descent to that low and simple desire seemed to steep to his mind as he chanced to think about it. And so, he stuck deliberating about it, and never made the descent until he died. For that reason (granted, among those who enjoyed leisure no place lay open to him then), because nevertheless nothing provides clearer testimony to how great the happiness of leisure is than this does: Caesar was not to be overlooked when this question was being debated – Caesar who, when he had it in his power to give anything, asked that nothing be given to him but leisure, and when he was in charge of everything, saw nothing more beautiful than his throne, except for leisure.


at vero divus Augustus Cesar, quo nemo mortalium ampliori usus est potestate, hoc unum quod multis perexiguum videretur consequi non potuit. Otii nempe dulcedinem semper optavit: quicquid cogitabat, quicquid loquebatur in otium desinebat; hoc solamen presentium laborum, hec preteritorum merces, hec venturi temporis spes erat, omnis illi divitiarum suarum cumulus et totius orbis imperium in comparationem otii sordebat; denique in summa omnium que fortunatissimo homini contingere possunt bonorum copia defessus, in solo otii nomine respirabat. ⟨2⟩ Cuius rei et Anneus Seneca meminit et “quedam” eius “ad senatum” testatur “epystola”. ⟨3⟩ Quanta cum voluptate igitur eo perventurum fuisse credimus quo tam dulciter oculos mentis intenderat! Sed ab eminentissimo fortune culmine, cui rerum dominus insederat, ad illud humile modestumque desiderium preruptus forte cogitanti animo descensus videbatur; itaque deliberans herebat, nec unquam nisi moriens descendit. ⟨4⟩ Quocirca, licet inter otio fruentes nullus huic pateret locus, quia tamen quanta sit otii felicitas nullo clarius teste cognoscitur, non fuit cum de hoc ageretur pretermittendus Cesar, qui, cum omnia dare posset, nil sibi dari preter otium poscebat, cum omnibus preesset, nil solio suo pulcrius preter otium videbat.

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