Outlaw Wealth? Maybe Not

Seneca, Moral Epistle  87.41

“Let’s imagine that we are called to an assembly: a law is on offer concerning outlawing wealth. Would we be advocating for or against it based on our philosophical arguments? Could we use our disputations to persuade the Roman people to request and praise poverty, that fundamental cause of our own empire,  and also to fear their own wealth?

Could we make them see that they have discovered it among those they have conquered, to understand that from wealth  ambition, corruption, and strife have disrupted a city once the most sacred and moderate, that thanks to it we show off the spoils of other nations excessively; and that whatever one people have stolen from all others can be easily taken back from the one by everyone else?

It is enough to advocate for the law and to control our own actions rather than to write our way around them. Let us speak more bravely, if we can; if we cannot, more honestly.”

Putemus nos ad contionem vocatos; lex de abolendis divitiis fertur. His interrogationibus suasuri aut dissuasuri sumus? His effecturi, ut populus Romanus paupertatem, fundamentum et causam imperii sui, requirat ac laudet, divitias autem suas timeat, ut cogitet has se apud victos repperisse, hinc ambitum et largitiones et tumultus in urbem sanctissimam et temperantissimam inrupisse, nimis luxuriose ostentari gentium spolia, quod unus populus eripuerit omnibus, facilius ab omnibus uni eripi posse? Hanc satius est suadere et expugnare adfectus, non circumscribere. Si possumus, fortius loquamur; si minus, apertius. Vale.

bad choice good choice meme with woman disliking "outlawing wealth" and liking "be less ostentatious"

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

The Symphony of an Educated Mind

Seneca, Moral Epistle 84.9-11

“I believe that it is sometimes not possible to tell if something is the true copy–for this impresses its own form on everything that uses it as an example so they they draw together in unity. Don’t you see how the chorus is made up of many voices? Still, a single voice comes from all of them. One voice is a soprano, another is a bass, and there’s a baritone too. There are women alongside the men; instruments join them. The voices of the individuals are hidden, they contribute to the whole.

I am speaking of a the chorus that the ancient philosophers knew. Our performances today have more singers than there were audience members in the theaters. A line of singers fills every aisle; bronze horns surround the whole theater and every kind of drum and instrument surrounds the stage. Still, a single song emerges from the different sounds.

This is how I want my mind to be: filled with many disciplines, a variety of precepts, and the examples of many ancient people, all balanced together to one end.”

Puto aliquando ne intellegi quidem posse, si imago vera sit; haec enim omnibus, quae ex quo velut exemplari traxit, formam suam inpressit, ut in unitatem illa conpetant. Non vides, quam multorum vocibus chorus constet? Unus tamen ex omnibus redditur; aliqua illic acuta est, aliqua gravis, aliqua media. Accedunt viris feminae, interponuntur tibiae. Singulorum illic latent voces, omnium apparent. De choro dico, quem veteres philosophi noverant; in commissionibus nostris plus cantorum est quam in theatris olim spectatorum fuit. Cum omnes vias ordo canentium inplevit et cavea aenatoribus cincta est et ex pulpito omne tibiarum genus organorumque consonuit, fit concentus ex dissonis. Talem animum nostrum esse volo; multae in illo artes, multa praecepta sint, multarum aetatum exempla, sed in unum conspirata

color photograph still from mind blown gif

For Those Who Are About to Die

Seneca, Moral Epistles 82. 20-21

When someone is leading an army to die for their wives and children, how should they rally them? I offer to you that Fabius who took the burden of a war for the whole state upon a single household. I show you the Spartans who were placed at the passes of Thermopylae. They could not expect either victory or retreat.

That place was destined to be their grave. How would you rally them so that they would offer up their bodies to receive the ruin meant for the whole people, so that they would leave life instead of their position? Would you say, “What is evil is not glorious; death is glorious, therefore death is not evil?” What a moving speech! Who would hesitate to hurl themselves against the enemy’s spears and die where they stood?

But Leonidas spoke to them more bravely. He said, “Comrades: eat breakfast well, since tonight we dine in hell.”

In aciem educturus exercitum pro coniugibus ac liberis mortem obiturum quomodo exhortabitur? Do tibi Fabios totum rei publicae bellum in unam transferentes domum. Laconas tibi ostendo in ipsis Thermopylarum angustiis positos. Nec victoriam sperant nec reditum. Ille locus illis sepulchrum futurus est. Quemadmodum exhortaris, ut totius gentis ruinam obiectis corporibus excipiant et vita potius quam loco cedant? Dices: “quod malum est, gloriosum non est; mors gloriosa est; mors ergo non malum”? O efficacem contionem! Quis post hanc dubitet se infestis ingerere mucronibus et stans mori! At ille Leonidas quam fortiter illos adlocutus est! “Sic,” inquit, “commilitones, prandete tamquam apud inferos cenaturi.”

Leonidas meme from the movie 300 with the king shouting. Here he is saying tamquam apud inferos cenatur which means "breakfast well, for tonight we dine in hell."

Taking the Mind Down from the Shelf

Seneca, Moral Epistles 72.1-2

“The thing you were asking me about used to be clear enough because I had learned it so well. But I haven’t checked my memory for a while and it isn’t coming back to me so easily. I seem to have turned out like those books that are stuck together from sitting in place. My mind must be unrolled and what ever has been put there should be perused on occasion so it is ready whenever it needs to be used.

So, let’s talk about something else now, since that topic requires a lot of attention and hard work. Once I can spend a longer time in the same place, I’ll take up your question. There are some topics you can write about even when you are traveling; but others require a chair, time, and quiet.

But, still, something should be done even on days like these, filled as that are from beginning to end. There’s no time when new distractions won’t appear. We plant them and many shoots spring up from one. We keep closing our own tasks, claiming “As soon as I finish this, I will turn to serious work” or “If I ever complete this annoying task, I will dedicate myself to study.”

Quod quaeris a me, liquebat mihi, sic rem edidiceram, per se. Sed diu non retemptavi memoriam meam, itaque non facile me sequitur. Quod evenit libris situ cohaerentibus, hoc evenisse mihi sentio; explicandus est animus et quaecumque apud illum deposita sunt, subinde excuti debent, ut parata sint, quotiens usus exegerit. Ergo hoc in praesentia differamus; multum enim operae, multum diligentiae poscit. Cum primum longiorem eodem loco speravero moram, tunc istud in manus sumam. Quaedam enim sunt, quae possis et in cisio scribere. Quaedam lectum et otium et secretum desiderant. Nihilominus his quoque occupatis diebus agatur aliquid et quidem totis. Numquam enim non succedent occupationes novae; serimus illas, itaque ex una exeunt plures. Deinde ipsi nobis dilationem damus: “cum hoc peregero, toto animo incumbam “et” si hanc rem molestam composuero, studio me dabo.”

button choice meme with seneca choosing over options of "serious work" or "mundane tasks"


Conquering the Champions of the World

Seneca, Moral Epistle 71.36-37

“No one can restart their progress at the point where they gave it up. So, let us keep on keeping on!  More of the journey remains than we have finished–but wanting to proceed is the greater part of progress.

I am conscious of this matter; I want it and I want it with my whole spirit. I can see that you are interested too and are rushing with great speed toward the most beautiful things. So let’s rush together. Then life will be a good thing. Otherwise, there is a delay and it is a disgraceful one at that if we are lingering on shameful things..

Let’s make all time ours. This will not happen unless we are our own people first. And then, when will we earn the right to look down on any kind of fortune? When will it be our right to shout “I am victorious!” once we have overcome and controlled all our passions? Do you ask whom I have overcome? Well, not the Persians, nor the distant Medes, nor the bellicose people beyond the Dahae, but greed, ambition, and the fear of death that has beat down the world’s champions. Goodbye.”

Nemo profectum ibi invenit, ubi reliquerat. Instemus itaque et perseveremus. Plus, quam profligavimus, restat, sed magna pars est profectus velle proficere.

Huius rei conscius mihi sum; volo et mente tota volo. Te quoque instinctum esse et magno ad pulcherrima properare impetu video. Properemus; ita demum vita beneficium erit. Alioqui mora est, et quidem turpis inter foeda versantibus. Id agamus, ut nostrum omne tempus sit. Non erit autem, nisi prius nos nostri esse coeperimus. Quando continget contemnere utramque fortunam, quando continget omnibus oppressis adfectibus et sub arbitrium suum adductis hanc vocem emittere “vici”? Quem vicerim quaeris? Non Persas nec extrema Medorum nec si quid ultra Dahas bellicosum iacet, sed avaritiam, sed ambitionem, sed metum mortis, qui victores gentium vicit. Vale.

large wrestler about to body slam smaller one. Large one is labelled Seneca, small one is fear of death

Selecting a Time for Death

CW: Suicide, self-harm

Seneca, Moral Epistles 70.10-12

“Scribonia, a serious woman, was the aunt of Drusus Libo, a young man as dumb as he was noble, possessing greater ambition than anyone could hope for at the time or that a person like him could expect in any era. When Libo was taken away sick from the senate on a litter, he began to wonder if he should take his own life or wait for death, although he had a rather small group of followers since most of his relatives had abandoned him wrongly not as a criminal but as a corpse.

Scribonia responded to him, “What attraction is there for you to do somebody else’s work?” She didn’t convince him–he turned his hands on himself and not without reason. When someone is going to die after two or three days by their enemy’s choice, they are really doing someone else’s work if they live.

You can’t make a general statement, then, about the question of whether, should power beyond our agency threaten death,  we should rush to meet it or merely await it. There are really many details that work for both sides. If one death comes with torture and the other is simple and easy, ought not the latter be grabbed? Just as I pick a ship for a journey or I choose a house when I want to live somewhere, I should choose my death when it is time to leave life.”

Scribonia, gravis femina, amita Drusi Libonis fuit, adulescentis tam stolidi quam nobilis, maiora sperantis quam illo saeculo quisquam sperare poterat aut ipse ullo. Cum aeger a senatu in lectica relatus esset non sane frequentibus exequiis, omnes enim necessarii deseruerant impie iam non reum, sed funus; habere coepit consilium, utrum conscisceret mortem an expectaret. Cui Scribonia: “Quid te,” inquit, “delectat alienum negotium agere?” Non persuasit illi; manus sibi attulit nec sine causa. Nam post diem tertium aut quartum inimici moriturus arbitrio si vivit, alienum negotium agit.

Non possis itaque de re in universum pronuntiare, cum mortem vis externa denuntiat, occupanda sit an expectanda. Multa enim sunt, quae in utramque partem trahere possunt. Si altera mors cum tormento, altera simplex et facilis est, quidni huic inicienda sit manus? Quemadmodum navem eligam navigaturus et domum habitaturus, sic mortem exiturus e vita.

Image of an analog clock with writing on it. ON the top: the perfect time. On the bottom "for seneca to talk about death"

Tricks with His Lips! Fronto on Why Seneca is Trash

Fronto to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (“On Speeches”, Ambr. 382)

“…I am going to add in some potentially inapt and unfair comments, for I plan to remind you of the experience of having me as a teacher…

Still, it would be better for you to neglect these things than to nurture them poorly. For when it comes to that confused in the combined type, grafted in part on Cato’s pine-nuts and Seneca’s soft and febrile plums, well I think it should be pulled up by the roots—no, to use a Plautine line, uprooted below the roots!

I am not ignorant that Seneca is a person fully stuffed and overflowing with ideas, but to be honest I see his sentences as trotting around, announcing their course with a full gallop, but stopping to fight nowhere and never striking the sublime. Like Laberius, he plays at wit-darts, or really just assembling sounds, rather than composing words worth repeating.

Do you believe that you would uncover graver sentiments on the same ideas in your Annaeus than in Sergius*? Ah, Sergius’ words don’t have the same rhythm or the same speed as Seneca’s, I admit. The sounds don’t sing the same, I won’t deny it.

But what if the same meal is offered to two people and the first picks up the olives on the table with his fingers, brings them to his mouth, puts them between his teeth to chew them in the right and proper way, while the other throws them up high and catches them with his mouth open and then shows them off once caught with his lips like a juggler? Really, children at school would applaud at what was done and the guest would be entertained, but one will have eaten lunch properly while the other did tricks with his lips.

So you say that some things are expressed cleverly and some with weight. But sometimes little silver coins are found in the sewer. Should we take over the job of cleaning the sewers too?”

…pauca subnectam fortasse inepta iniqua, nam rursus faxo magistrum me experiare….

Neglegas tamen vero potius censeo quam prave excolas. Confusam eam ego eloquentiam, catachannae ritu partim pineis nucibus Catonis partim Senecae mollibus et febriculosis prunulis insitam, subvertendam censeo radicitus, immo vero, Plautino ut utar verbo, exradicitus. Neque ignoro copiosum sententiis et redundantem hominem esse: verum sententias eius tolutares video nusquam quadripedo concitas cursu ten<d>ere, nusquam pugnare, nusquam maiestatem studere; ut Laberius dictabolaria, immo dicteria, potius eum quam dicta confingere.

Itane existimas graviores sententias et eadem de re apud Annaeum istum reperturum te quam apud Sergium? Sed non modulatas aeque: fateor;  neque ita| cordaces: ita est; neque ita tinnulas: non nego. Quid vero, si prandium utrique adponatur, adpositas oleas alter digitis prendat, ad os adferat, ut manducandi ius fasque est ita dentibus subiciat, alter autem oleas suas in altum iaciat, ore aperto excipiat, ut calculos praestigiator, primoribus labris ostentet? Ea re profecto pueri laudent, convivae delectentur; sed alter pudice pranderit, alter labellis gesticulatus erit.

At enim sunt quaedam in libris eius scite dicta, graviter quoque nonnulla. Etiam laminae interdum argentiolae cloacis inveniuntur; eane re cloacas purgandas redimemus?

*either Sergius Flavius or Plautus, an author reputed to have used harsh language

Marcus as a young boy

Stop Right There! You Might See a Vice….

Seneca, Moral Epistle 69

“I don’t want you to change places and move all over, first, since such frequent traveling makes for an unstable spirt. You can’t grow mindful without leisure, unless you stop searching about and wandering. Stop your body’s flight first to gain control over your mind. Then, continuous treatments provide the most relief. Your rest and forgetting of your previous life must not be interrupted. Allow your eyes to relearn the world; allow your ears to get used to healthier words.

As many times as you go out–even in the movement itself–you encounter things that remind you of your desires. Just as someone who is trying to forget a love must avoid every reminder of the body loved–since nothing grows back more easily than love–so too must someone who wants to slough off desires for all things for which they have burned with desire, should turn their eyes and ears away from whatever they have left them. Affection returns quickly. Wherever you turn, they see something present worth their fixation.

There’s no evil without some attraction. Greed offers money; luxury provides many different pleasures; ambition offers honor and praise and the power that comes from that and whatever power provides. Vices get under your skin with what they pay–but this life must be lived for free.  It is barely possible to do this over a whole life, to make vices accept our rule when they are so strong from prolonged free reign. It is harder if we divide so brief a time with breaks. Even constant vigilance and intention can barely bring one matter to completion.

If you want to listen to me, consider this and practice how to accept death or, if the situation requires it, summon it. It doesn’t matter whether death stops for us or we go to it. Convince yourself that the saying of the ignorant is wrong: “it is beautiful do die one’s own death.” There’s no one who doesn’t die on their own day! You waste nothing of your time, since what you give up wasn’t yours to begin with. Goodbye.”

Mutare te loca et aliunde alio transilire nolo; primum, quia tam frequens migratio instabilis animi est. Coalescere otio non potest, nisi desît circumspicere et errare. Ut animum possis continere, primum corporis tui fugam siste. Deinde plurimum remedia continuata proficiunt. Interrumpenda non est quies et vitae prioris oblivio. Sine dediscere oculos tuos, sine aures adsuescere sanioribus verbis.

Quotiens processeris, in ipso transitu aliqua, quae renovent cupiditates tuas, tibi occurrent. Quemadmodum ei, qui amorem exuere conatur, evitanda est omnis admonitio dilecti corporis, nihil enim facilius quam amor recrudescit, ita qui deponere vult desideria rerum omnium, quarum cupiditate flagravit, et oculos et aures ab iis, quae reliquit, avertat. Cito rebellat adfectus. Quocumque se verterit, pretium aliquod praesens occupationis suae aspiciet.

Nullum sine auctoramento malum est. Avaritia pecuniam promittit, luxuria multas ac varias voluptates, ambitio purpuram et plausum et ex hoc potentiam et quicquid potest potentia. Mercede te vitia sollicitant; hic tibi gratis vivendum est. Vix effici toto saeculo potest, ut vitia tam longa licentia tumida subigantur et iugum accipiant, nedum, si tam breve tempus intervallis caedimus. Unam quamlibet rem vix ad perfectum perducit adsidua vigilia et intentio.

Si me quidem velis audire, hoc meditare et exerce, ut mortem et excipias et, si ita res suadebit, accersas. Interest nihil, ilia ad nos veniat an ad illam nos. Illud imperitissimi cuiusque verbum falsum esse tibi ipse persuade: “Bella res est mori sua morte.” Nemo moritur nisi sua morte. Illud praeterea tecum licet cogites: nemo nisi suo die moritur. Nihil perdis ex tuo tempore; nam quod relinquis, alienum est. Vale.

Is this a butterfly meme labeled with speaker as seneca, the butterfly as literally anything and the quote as "is this a vice?"

My Epistolary Friend

Seneca, Moral Epistles 67.1-2

“I’ll make a common beginning: spring has started to show itself, but even though we are leaning toward summer when it ought to be warm, it is still cold and there’s nothing sure about it. Often, we turn back to winter. Do you want to know how shaky it still is? I don’t yet trust myself in a cold bath since even now I disturb its temperature.

You can say, “This is no way to endure either heat nor cold.” That’s true, Lucilius, but I am of the age happy with its own chill. I barely thaw out in the heat. So, the greater part of the year finds me wrapped in blankets. I am grateful to old age because it keeps me in bed. Why shouldn’t I be thankful to it for this reason? I can’t do the very things I don’t want to do. Most of my conversation is with books. When your letters come, I imagine I am with you and I don’t feel like I am writing to you, but just responding instead. So, let us talk about your question, whatever it is, as if we were together.”

Vt a communibus initium faciam, ver aperire se coepit, sed iam inclinatum in aestatem, quo tempore calere debebat, intepuit nec adhuc illi fides est. Saepe enim in hiemem revolvitur. Vis scire, quam dubium adhuc sit? Nondum me committo frigidae verae, adhuc rigorem eius infringo. “Hoc est,” inquis, “nec calidum nec frigidum pati.” Ita est, mi Lucili; iam aetas mea contenta est suo frigore.

Vix media regelatur aestate. Itaque maior pars in vestimentis degitur. Ago gratias senectuti, quod me lectulo adfixit. Quidni gratias illi hoc nomine agam? Quicquid debebam nolle, non possum. Cum libellis mihi plurimus sermo est. Si quando intervenerunt epistulae tuae, tecum esse mihi videor et sic adficior animo, tamquam tibi non rescribam, sed respondeam. Itaque et de hoc, quod quaeris, quasi conloquar tecum, quale sit, una scrutabimur.

Colo photograph of two figures holding hands. They are visible only from waist to shoulders and are women-presenting, facing each other
Picture from Wikimediacommons, Mathias Klang from Göteborg, Sweden “Friednship