Let Me Ease Your Grief with Horsesh*t

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 24.3 (Part I):

To Severus Apenninicola, a consolation on exile.

Exile, even if it the word derives as I think from exilire or, as Servius has it, from the fact that one goes extra solum (beyond their ground), is yet in my opinion not exile unless it happens to someone against their will. Otherwise, even kings have often been exiles from their own kingdoms, especially when a lot weighed on extending and defending the boundaries of one’s kingdom and on propagating one’s glory. No one dares to call them exiles (unless their own reason has gone into exile), especially since they were never more truly (or more truly called) kings than at that time. Some violence or sadness must intervene in order for it to be true exile.

If you take that, you understand that whether you are an exile or a traveler lies with you. If you went away crying, sad, and dejected, you undoubtedly consider yourself an exile; but if you have lost nothing of your dignity and were not compelled to it, but instead with a happy heart, with the same orientation of both face and soul that you had when at home you obeyed when ordered to leave, then you are definitely traveling, and not in exile.

For in all of the other kinds of things we fear you will find that no one is miserable unless they have made themselves miserable. Thus, it is not a lack of things but a cupidity for them which makes a man poor. Thus, in death (which is a lot like exile), the asperity of the thing itself doesn’t hurt as much as fear and the perversity of opinion.† Remove those things, and you will see many people dying not just with equanimity, but even happily and with a certain degree of felicitation. Thus we understand that the evil of death is not necessary but willed, nor is it entirely placed in the thing itself, but in the bent understanding of mortals. Were it not so, there would never be such a disparity of mental reactions to the exact same danger.

I see the same argument holding good for exile as for everything else. That by which we are conquered lies not in the thing, but in ourselves. To be sure, once opinion has bent a little bit away from the truth, is soon tossed about by innumerable errors so that it returns to the truth only with the greatest difficulty and unless it receives much help, does not straighten itself out to look upon the majesty of its actual origin.

cf. Hamlet:

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
cf. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar:
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Exilium, etsi ab exiliendo tractum rear vel, ut Servio placet, ab eo quod quis extra solum eat, non tamen exilium esse nisi invito accidat, annuerim. Alioquin, sepe a regnis suis reges exulant, eoque maxime tempore quod prorogandis tuendisque regni finibus et propagande glorie impenditur; quando nemo illos exules dicere audeat, nisi a quo ratio omnis exulaverit, quippe cum nunquam verius et sint et dicantur reges. Aliqua ergo vis dolorque aliquis interveniat oportet, ut exilium verum sit.

Id si recipis, iam cernis in tua manu situm, utrum exul an peregrinus sis: si lacrimans, si mestus, si deiectus exivisti, exulem te proculdubio noveris; si vero nichil proprie dignitatis oblitus neque coactus, sed libens et eodem habitu frontis atque animi quo domi fueras, iussus exire paruisti, peregrinaris profecto, non exulas.

Nam et in ceteris formidatarum rerum generibus invenies neminem esse miserum nisi qui se miserum fecit; sic pauperem non rerum paucitas sed cupiditas facit; sic in morte, que exilio simillima est, non tam rei ipsius asperitas, quam trepidatio et opinionis perversitas nocet, quibus amotis, multos aspicies non modo equanimiter, sed lete etiam ac feliciter morientes. Ex quo nimirum intelligitur non esse necessarium, sed spontaneum mortis malum, nec in re ipsa sed totum in obliqua mortalium existimatione repositum; quod nisi ita esset, nunquam in periculo pari tanta esset imparitas animorum.

Eandemque rationem exilii video quam ceterorum omnium; non in illo, sed in nobis esse quo vincimur: opinionem scilicet, que ubi paululum a veritate deflexerit, mox innumerabilibus iactatur erroribus ut ad verum difficillime redeat seque, nisi multum adiuta, non erigat ad intuendam proprie originis maiestatem.

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