On the Impossibility of Crushing a Soul

Seneca, Moral Epistles 57.6-9

“And then I began to talk to myself about how foolishly we fear this thing more or less when the end is the same. What difference does it make whether a guard-tower or a mountain crushes someone? You’ll find nothing. But here will still be people who fear the first ruin more even though they’re equally fatal. Fear gazes not on the effect but on the effect’s cause.

Now, you probably think I am talking about Stoics who believe that a person’s soul, if crushed by a great weight, can’t persist and is spread around in bits because it was not permitted a free departure? I am not doing that. Sure, those who say this seem wrong to me. Just as a fire cannot be crushed, since it escapes around the thing that presses it, just as the air cannot be harmed by slash or strike, nor sliced through, but just pours around the thing that enters it, so too the soul–which is made up of the most refined material, cannot be crushed, nor broken instead the body. No, by advantage of its own subtlety, it escapes through the material pressing upon it.

In the same way that lightning, although it strikes and sounds all over the places, returns through a narrow entrance, so too the soul, which is finer than fire, can escape through the whole body. And so we have to ask whether the soul is immortal. Hold this for certain: if the soul survives the body, then there’s no way that it can be crushed because it does not disappear. There’s no exception to immortality: nothing can harm something eternal.”

Illud deinde mecum loqui coepi, quam inepte quaedam magis aut minus timeremus, cum omnium idem finis esset. Quid enim interest, utrum supra aliquem vigilarium ruat an mons? Nihil invenies. Erunt tamen, qui hanc ruinam magis timeant, quamvis utraque mortifera aeque sit; adeo non effectus, sed efficientia timor spectat. Nunc me putas de Stoicis dicere, qui existimant animam hominis magno pondere extriti permanere non posse et statim spargi, quia non fuerit illi exitus liber? Ego vero non facio; qui hoc dicunt, videntur mihi errare. Quemadmodum flamma non potest obprimi, nam circa id effugit, quo urgetur; quemadmodum aer verbere atque ictu non laeditur, ne scinditur quidem, sed circa id, cui cessit, refunditur; sic animus, qui ex tenuissimo constat, deprehendi non potest nec intra corpus effligi, sed beneficio subtilitatis suae per ipsa, quibus premitur, erumpit. Quomodo fulmini, etiam cum latissime percussit ac fulsit, per exiguum foramen est reditus, sic animo, qui adhuc tenuior est igne, per omne corpus fuga est. Itaque de illo quaerendum est, an possit immortalis esse. Hoc quidem certum habe: si superstes est corpori, praeteri illum nullo genere posse, propter quod non perit, quoniam nulla immortalitas cum exceptione est nec quicquam noxium aeterno est. Vale.

Expressionist work by contemporary artist Hennie Niemann jnr depicting a trio of dancers in wild abandonment celebrating the joy of life and youth.
Expressionist work by contemporary artist Hennie Niemann jnr depicting a trio of dancers in wild abandonment celebrating the joy of life and youth. 2019. From Wikimedia commons

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