On Seeing the Clown in the Mirror

CW: ableism, cruel humor

Seneca, Moral Epistles 50.2-3

“You know that Harpaste, my wife’s clown, has stayed in my home as a hereditary burden. I am particularly turned off by these weirdos. If I want to be entertained by a clown, I don’t need to search very far–I can laugh at myself.

This clown suddenly lost the ability to see. I know this will sound unbelievable, but I am telling the truth: she does not know she is blind. She goes around asking her servant to move her to another room. She says that her place is rather dark.

Well, what  we laugh at her for, actually happens to the rest of us too. No one knows they are greedy; no one knows they desire too much. At least the blind seek out a guide, while we blunder about without one and claim, “I am not really ambitious, but no one can manage to live in Rome otherwise. Oh, I am not excessive, living in the city requires great expenses. It isn’t my fault that I am anxious or that I haven’t figured out my life yet, my youth makes me this way.”

Why do we lie to ourselves? Our problems aren’t external, they are inside us. They sit in our guts themselves. That’s why pursuing health is hard, because we are ignorant of our own disease.”

Harpasten, uxoris meae fatuam, scis hereditarium onus in domo mea remansisse. Ipse enim aversissimus ab istis prodigiis sum; si quando fatuo delectari volo, non est mihi longe quaerendus; me rideo. Haec fatua subito desiit videre. Incredibilem rem tibi narro, sed veram: nescit esse se caecam. Subinde paedagogum suum rogat ut migret. Ait domum tenebricosam esse.

Hoc quod in illa ridemus, omnibus nobis accidere liqueat tibi; nemo se avarum esse intellegit, nemo cupidum. Caeci tamen ducem quaerunt, nos sine duce erramus et dicimus: “Non ego ambitiosus sum, sed nemo aliter Romae potest vivere. Non ego sumptuosus sum, sed urbs ipsa magnas inpensas exigit Non est meum vitium, quod iracundus sum, quod nondum constitui certum genus vitae; adulescentia haec facit.” Quid nos decipimus? Non est extrinsecus malum nostrum; intra nos est, in visceribus ipsis sedet, et ideo difficulter ad sanitatem pervenimus, quia nos aegrotare nescimus.

Color photograph of an oil painting of the bust and head of a clown. The clown has a striped white and red shirt, a red nose, and somewhat discolored makeup.
Joseph Kutter, “Tête de clown / Head of a Clown” 1937

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