Anxiety and the Burden

Seneca, Moral Epistles  55.12-15

“That wit is fickle and has not yet looked inward to itself when it over-reacts to voices and random movements. It carries inside itself the root of its worry and its fear, a fact that makes it anxious, as our Vergil says:

And I, whom no thrown missiles could move,
nor a battleline of Greek infantry–
Now my ears tremble at anything, every sound frightens
me fearing equally over my child and my burden.” (Verg. Aen. 2.726-29)

The first person is wise since  the moving weapons don’t frighten them, neither does the clashing armor of the close-positioned line, nor the sound of a city in chaos. Later, they are ignorant about the things they fear, turning pale at every sound–any voice at all seems like a battle cry and breaks them. The slightest motions make them breathless. Their baggage makes them afraid. Choose anyone at all from those lucky ones, pushing many things, carrying them, and you will see one “fearing over their child and burden”.

So, know that you have mindfulness when no sound bothers you, when no voice disturbs you, not if it tries to charm or threaten or turns out to be just meaningless, empty sound. “What,” you say, “Is it not just easier to live in isolation?” I confess that it is. So, I will move from this place. I only wanted to test and practice myself. Why is it necessary to be tortured any longer when Ulysses discovered so easy a remedy for his companions against the Sirens?”

Leve illud ingenium est nec sese adhuc reduxit introrsus, quod ad vocem et accidentia erigitur. Habet intus aliquid sollicitudinis et habet aliquid concepti pavoris, quod illum curiosum facit, ut ait Vergilius noster:

​Et me, quem dudum non ulla iniecta movebant
Tela neque adverso glomerati ex agmine Grai,
Nunc omnes terrent aurae, sonus excitat omnis
Suspensum et pariter comitique onerique timentem. (Verg. Aen. 2.726-29)

Prior ille sapiens est, quem non tela vibrantia, non arietata inter se arma agminis densi, non urbis inpulsae fragor territat. Hic alter inperitus est, rebus suis timet ad omnem crepitum expavescens, quem una quaelibet vox pro fremitu accepta deicit, quem motus levissimi exanimant; timidum illum sarcinae faciunt. Quemcumque ex istis felicibus elegeris, multa trahentibus, multa portantibus, videbis illum “comitique onerique timentem.”

Tunc ergo te scito esse conpositum, cum ad te nullus clamor pertinebit, cum te nulla vox tibi excutiet, non si blandietur, non si minabitur, non si inani sono vana circumstrepet. “Quid ergo? Non aliquando commodius est et carere convicio?” Fateor. Itaque ego ex hoc loco migrabo. Experiri et exercere me volui. Quid necesse est diutius torqueri, cum tam facile remedium Vlixes sociis etiam adversus Sirenas invenerit? Vale.

Color photograph of oil painting. Realistic image of ship with men rowing, Odysseus lashed to the mast, and bird women flying around to distract them all
John William Waterhouse . “Odysseus and the Sirens” 1891

Leave a Reply