An Essay About How Your Words Don’t Hurt Me

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 26.4-6

“Some Socrates—or any other person who has similar authority or talent for these human matters—says “I am persuaded by nothing less than your opinion that I should change my life. Pour the typical abuse on me from every angle. I won’t even notice that you’re attacking me because you’re wailing just like poor little babies.”

This is what someone says who has come to wisdom, whose soul has escaped vices and calls on him to correct others not out of hatred but in order to treat them. Someone like this might say to others, “Your opinion about me affects me on your account, not mine because despising and attacking virtue is foreswearing any hope of the good. You don’t hurt me just as mortals don’t harm the gods when they destroy the altars.

Yet an evil proposition and an evil plan is obvious even when it lacks the power to harm someone. I tolerate your prattle even as Jupiter the Highest and Greatest tolerates the absurd claims of poets: one gives him wings, one gives him horns, another even depicts him as a supreme adulterer, up all night, while others show him to be mean to the other gods, unjust to men, a rapist of freeborn boys or his own relatives, and a parricide and usurper of his father’s throne.

The poets have accomplished nothing more than relieving people of their shame at doing wrong if they have truly believed the gods are like this. So, even though your words don’t harm me, I’m still warning you for your own benefit.”

“Nihil magis,” inquit ille Socrates, aut aliquis alius, ius cui idem adversus humana atque eadem potestas est, “persuasi mihi, quam ne ad opiniones vestras actum vitae meae flecterem. Solita conferte undique verba; non conviciari vos putabo sed vagire velut infantes miserrimos.” Haec dicet ille, cui sapientia contigit, quem animus vitiorum immunis increpare alios, non quia odit, sed in remedium iubet. Adiciet his illa: “Existimatio me vestra non meo nomine sed vestro movet, quia clamitantis odisse et lacessere virtutem bonae spei eiuratio est. Nullam mihi iniuriam facitis, sed ne dis quidem hi qui aras evertunt.

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Sed malum propositum apparet malumque consilium etiam ibi, ubi nocere non potuit. Sic vestras halucinationes fero quemadmodum Iuppiter optimus maximus ineptias poetarum, quorum alius illi alas imposuit, alius cornua, alius adulterum illum induxit et abnoctantem, alius saevum in deos, alius iniquum in homines, alius raptorem ingenuorum et cognatorum quidem, alius. parricidam et regni alieni paternique expugnatorem. Quibus nihil aliud actum est, quam ut pudor hominibus peccandi demeretur,  si tales deos credidissent. Sed quamquam ista me nihil laedant, vestra tamen vos moneo causa.

Does the examined life need a socrates bib?

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