It’s Not the Hand You’re Dealt

Seneca, Moral Epistle 85.40-41

“Phidias didn’t know how to make sculptures from only ivory! He used to craft them from bronze too. If he had been given marble or some simpler material, he would have created the best sculpture possible for that material.

So, a wise person will demonstrate virtue among wealth, if they can, or among poverty, if they cannot; in their homeland, or in exile; as a general, if not as a soldier. If they can, in health, or disabled. Whatever fortune they receive, they will make something  memorable from it.

Animal tamers are skilled–they know how to accustom the most savage animals to obey human commands. But they are not happy merely with excising their wildness until they make them calm enough to sleep in their beds. The master puts his hand in lion’s mouths and the tiger is kissed by his keepers. A small Ethiopian orders an elephant to lower to its knees or to walk on a tightrope.

In the same way, the wise person is a master of taming evils. Grief, need, shame, prison, and exile should be feared; but meeting a wise person tames them.”

Non ex ebore tantum Phidias sciebat facere simulacra; faciebat ex aere. Si marmor illi, si adhuc viliorem materiam obtulisses, fecisset, quale ex illa fieri optimum posset. Sic sapiens virtutem, si licebit, in divitiis explicabit, si minus, in paupertate; si poterit, in patria, si minus, in exilio; si poterit, imperator, si minus, miles; si poterit, integer, si minus, debilis. Quamcumque fortunam acceperit, aliquid ex illa memorabile efficiet.

Certi sunt domitores ferarum, qui saevissima animalia et ad occursum expavescenda hominem pati subigunt nec asperitatem excussisse contenti usque in contubernium mitigant. Leonibus magister manum insertat, osculatur tigrim suus custos, elephantum minimus Aethiops iubet subsidere in genua et ambulare per funem. Sic sapiens artifex est domandi mala. Dolor, egestas, ignominia, carcer, exilium ubique horrenda, cum ad hunc pervenere, mansueta sunt. Vale.

Photograph o a carved elephant. On a pedastal, it is turned to the side looking forward with trunk moving laterally to face the viewer
Elephant by Bernini, in the Piazza della Minerva, Rome

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