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

The Things You Love

Seneca Moral Epistles 66.24-26

“The fact is that friendship among people is like what is sought in things. I think that you would not love a good man who is rich more than a poor one, nor a strong and broad one more than someone with a slight, thin frame; so I don’t think that you will seek or love something that is funny and calming more than something distracting and complex.

Well, if this is the case, then  from two equally good and wise men you are tending more to the one who is clean and well-kempt rather than the dirty, unshaven one. Then you’d proceed so far as to care more about the man with strong limbs and clean skin than one who is weak or nearly blind. If you did this, your attention would eventually get to the point that you would prefer a man with curly hair from two equally just and wise choices.

Whenever the virtue is equal in both, there’s no clear inequality in other characteristics. All the other things are no parts, but additions. For who would judge their children so unequally as to prefer to care more for a healthy child than a sick one, or a tall, huge one over someone who is short or average in height. Wild animals show no favor to their children and nourish them the same. Birds distribute their their food equally.

Odysseus hurries back to the rocks of Ithaca as quickly as Agamemnon rushes home to the walls of Mycenae. No one loves their homeland because it is great, but because it is their own.”

Quod amicitia in hominibus est, hoc in rebus adpetitio. Non, puto, magis amares virum bonum locupletem quam pauperem, nec robustum et lacertosum quam gracilem et languidi corporis; ergo ne rem quidem magis adpetes aut amabis hilarem ac pacatamquam distractam et operosam.

Aut si hoc est, magis diliges ex duobus aeque bonis viris nitidum et unctum quam pulverulentum et horrentem. Deinde hoc usque pervenies, ut magis diligas integrum omnibus membris et inlaesum quam debilem aut luscum. Paulatim fastidium tuum illo usque procedet, ut ex duobus aeque iustis ac prudentibus comatum et crispulum malis. Ubi par in utroque virtus est, non conparet aliarum rerum inaequalitas. Omnia enim alia non partes, sed accessiones sunt. Num quis tam iniquam censuram inter suos agit, ut sanum filium quam aegrum magis diligat, procerumve et excelsum quam brevem aut modicum? Fetus suos non distinguunt ferae et se in alimentum pariter omnium sternunt; aves ex aequo partiuntur cibos. Vlixes ad Ithacae suae saxa sic properat, quemadmodum Agamemnon ad Mycenarum nobiles muros. Nemo enim patriam quia magna est amat, sed quia sua.

Heart shape from hands around sunset near the ocean with text in latin saying "Nemo enim patriam quia magna est amat, sed quia sua." This means: "No one loves their homeland because it is great, but because it is their own."

Causes and Things and Causes of Things

Seneca, Moral Epistles 65.11-14

“This mob of causes offered by Plato and Aristotle includes either too much or too little. For if they count as a cause anything without which something cannot be made then they have included too few. They should put time among the causes; nothing can happen without time. They should include place among the causes, since if there is nowhere for a thing to happen, it certainly will not happen. They should include movement, since nothing happens nor stops without motion. No art happens without motion; no change happens.

But since we are looking for the first, general cause, this ought to be simple. For matter is simple too. Do we ask what the cause is? Well, it is the reason that creates. This is god. For those things you have reported are not a bunch of independent causes but they depend upon one thing that creates them. You suggest that form is a cause? A creator puts form on their work. Form is a part of the cause, but it is not the cause. A pattern is also not a cause, but it a necessary tool of the cause. Artists find a pattern as necessary as a chisel or a file–art can make no progress without these.

And yet non of these things are part of the art or its cause. You may say, “The intention of the artist compels him to make something, this is the cause.” True, this may be a cause but it is not the efficient cause, it is an ancillary one. These kinds are countless, but we are seeking the general cause. What those philosophers say is against their customary clarity: they claim the whole universe, the completed work it is, is a cause. Yet there’s a big difference between an outcome and its cause.”

Haec, quae ab Aristotele et Platone ponitur, turba causarum aut nimium multa aut nimium pauca conprendit. Nam si, quocumque remoto quid effici non potest, id causam iudicant esse faciendi, pauca dixerunt. Ponant inter causas tempus; nihil sine tempore potest fieri. Ponant locum; si non fuerit, ubi fiat aliquid, ne fiet quidem. Ponant motum; nihil sine hoc nec fit nec perit. Nulla sine motu ars, nulla mutatio est. Sed nos nunc primam et generalem quaerimus causam. Haec simplex esse debet; nam et materia simplex est. Quaerimus, quid sit causa? Ratio scilicet faciens, id est deus. Ista enim, quaecumque rettulistis, non sunt multae et singulae causae, sed ex una pendent, ex ea, quae faciet. Formam dicis causam esse? Hanc inponit artifex operi; pars causae est, non causa.

Exemplar quoque non est causa, sed instrumentum causae necessarium. Sic necessarium est exemplar artifici, quomodo scalprum, quomodo lima; sine his procedere ars non potest. Non tamen hae partes artis aut causae sunt. “Propositum,” inquit, “artificis, propter quod ad faciendum aliquid accedit, causa est.” Ut sit causa, non est efficiens causa, sed superveniens. Hae autem innumerabiles sunt; nos de causa generali quaerimus. Illud vero non pro solita ipsis subtilitate dixerunt, totum mundum et consummatum opus causam esse. Multum enim interest inter opus et causam operis.

giant domino meme with latin insctrption that reads "there's a big difference between an outcome and its cause"

Powering Up with Philosophy!

Seneca, Moral Epistles 64.2-4

“We talked about different things as one does at dinner, taking no matter to conclusion, but leaping from one thing to another.. Then we had a book read aloud by Quintus Sextius the father, a great man, if you trust me, and a Stoic, even if he denies it. Good gods, how much vigor and spirit in the man! You don’t find this in all philosophers–many with famous names have feeble writings. They propose, they dispute, but they don’t make it spirited because they lack it.

But when you read Sextius you conclude: “He is alive! He is strong! He is free! He is beyond a man and he sends me away filled with belief. I’ll tell you how I feel when I read his work: I need to call our every chance, to shout, “Why do you hold back, Fortune? Come on–see how I am prepared!” I put on the character of a man who seeks to test himself, some way to show his worth.”

Varius nobis fuit sermo, ut in convivio, nullam rem usque ad exitum adducens, sed aliunde alio transiliens. Lectus est deinde liber Quinti Sextii patris, magni, si quid mihi credis, viri et, licet neget, Stoici. Quantus in illo, di boni, vigor est, quantum animi! Hoc non in omnibus philosophis invenies; quorundam scripta clarum habentium nomen exanguia sunt. Instituunt, disputant, cavillantur, non faciunt animum, quia non habent; cum legeris Sextium, dices: “Vivit, viget, liber est, supra hominem est, dimittit me plenum ingentis fiduciae.” In qua positione mentis sim, cum hunc lego, fatebor tibi: libet omnis casus provocare, libet exclamare: “Quid cessas, fortuna? Congredere; paratum vides.” Illius animum induo, qui quaerit, ubi se experiatur, ubi virtutem suam ostendat,

screen shot from super mario brothers. mario about to get a power uo

Grief Fatigue and Limits to Mourning

Seneca, Moral Epistle 63.12-14

“You have buried someone you loved; seek someone else you can love. It is better to replace a friend than mourn one. I know that what I am about to add is extremely cliched, but I won’t avoid it just because many have said it. Whoever makes no end to grief intentionally, finds one in time. The most shameful cure for grief for a wise person is being worn out by sorrow. I would prefer that you give up on pain rather than it give up on you and, further, that you stop it as soon as possible, since even if you desire to keep it up, you can’t go on for long.

Our ancestors decided that a year is a long enough time for a woman to mourn, not so that they may weep that long, but for no longer. There was no limit given to men because no amount was considered right. Still, for all those women who could not barely be pulled away from a corpse, how many can you find whose tears outlasted a month?

Nothing inspires hatred as quickly as grief. When it is new, it finds compassion and draws people to itself; but once it becomes constant, it turns into a joke, and not without reason. It seems either faked or foolish.

I am writing these words to you even though I was the one who was so undone by weeping for my dearest friend Annaeus Serenius that I must include myself among the list of people whom sorrow defeated, against my wishes. Today I speak out against my action and I know that the reason I mourned so much was that I didn’t even suspect his death would come before mine. My only thought was that he was younger than me by a lot, as if the fates kept track of the order in which we were born!”

Quem amabas, extulisti; quaere, quem ames. Satius est amicum reparare quam flere. Scio pertritum iam hoc esse, quod adiecturus sum, non ideo tamen praetermittam, quia ab omnibus dictum est: finem dolendi etiam qui consilio non fecerat, tempore invenit. Turpissimum autem est in homine prudente remedium maeroris lassitudo maerendi. Malo relinquas dolorem quam ab illo relinquaris, et quam primum id facere desiste, quod etiam si voles, diu facere non poteris. Annum feminis ad Iugendum constituere maiores, non ut tam diu lugerent, sed ne diutius; viris nullum legitimum tempus est, quia nullum honestum. Quam tamen mihi ex illis mulierculis dabis vix retractis a rogo, vix a cadavere revulsis, cui lacrimae in totum mensem duraverint? Nulla res citius in odium venit quam dolor, qui recens consolatorem invenit et aliquos ad se adducit, inveteratus vero deridetur, nec inmerito. Aut enim simulatus aut stultus est.

Haec tibi scribo is, qui Annaeum Serenum, carissimum mihi, tam inmodice flevi, ut, quod minime velim, inter exempla sim eorum, quos dolor vicit. Hodie autem factum meum damno et intellego maximam mihi causam sic lugendi fuisse, quod numquam cogitaveram mori eum ante me posse. Hoc unum mihi occurrebat, minorem esse et multo minorem, tamquam ordinem fata servarent.

Picture of a fragment of a Roman wall painting. Two women incline their heads toward each other
Roman wall painting of women gossiping. Getty Villa 96.AG.302

Adjusting Your Horizon of Deathpectation

Seneca, Moral Epistles 61

“We should stop wanting what we used to. I am surely doing that. As an old man, I stopped wanting those things I did as a boy. My days, my nights, my labor are in this alone, this thought: to bring some end to long-lasting problems. I am acting as if each day is a whole life. By Heracles, I am not “seizing the day as if it is the last”, although I suspect that it is. I am writing this letter with that in mind–as if death might call me even as I write. it. I am ready to leave and I am enjoying life because I am not worrying too much about how long in the future this will be.

Before old age, I was dedicated to living well; now that I am old, it’s about dying well. Dying well is dying freely. Put a lot of effort into never doing something unwillingly. Something that is required should you refuse it is a choice if you want it. I mean this: whoever accepts orders freely avoids the worst part of slavery: doing what you don’t want to. Someone who is ordered to do something is not unhappy, but someone who works unwillingly is miserable.

So, Let us rearrange our thoughts to want whatever a matter asks of us and foremost that we may think about our death without sadness. We should be preparing for death before life. Life is well enough equipped, but we are too greedy for its accommodations. Something seems missing; something always seems missing.  Whether we have lived long enough isn’t about years or days but the mind. I have lived long enough, dearest Lucilius. I am awaiting death, full. Goodbye.

Desinamus, quod voluimus, velle. Ego certe id ago: senex ea desii velle quae puer volui. In hoc unum eunt dies, in hoc noctes, hoc opus meum est, haec cogitatio: inponere veteribus malis finem. Id ago, ut mihi instar totius vitae dies sit. Nec mehercules tamquam ultimum rapio, sed sic illum aspicio, tamquam esse vel ultimus possit. Hoc animo tibi hanc epistulam scribo, tamquam me cum maxime scribentem mors evocatura sit. Paratus exire sum et ideo fruar vita, quia quam diu futurum hoc sit, non nimis pendeo.

Ante senectutem curavi, ut bene viverem, in senectute, ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori. Da operam, ne quid umquam invitus facias. Quicquid necesse futurum est repugnanti, volenti necessitas non est. Ita dico: qui imperia libens excipit, partem acerbissimam servitutis effugit, facere quod nolit. Non qui iussus aliquid facit, miser est, set qui invitus facit. Itaque sic animum conponamus, ut quicquid res exiget, id velimus et in primis ut finem nostri sine tristitia cogitemus. Ante ad mortem quam ad vitam praeparandi sumus. Satis instructa vita est, sed nos in instrumenta eius avidi sumus; deesse aliquid nobis videtur et semper videbitur. Ut satis vixerimus, nec anni nec dies faciunt, sed animus. Vixi, Lucili carissime, quantum satis erat; mortem plenus exspecto. Vale.

black and white photograph of a skull

Hungry Hungry Humans

Seneca, Moral Epistle  60

“I make a complaint, I sue, I am enraged. Do you still want what your nurse, your tutor, or your mommy have prayed for you. Don’t you know how much evil they begged? How harmful are the wishes of our loved ones! And the more successful they are, the more hostile they turn out to be. This is why I am not amazed that all these bad things plague us from youth. We’ve grown up among our parents’ curses! May they gods listen to our voice too, since it asks for nothing.

How long will we keep begging the gods as if we can’t take care of ourselves? How long will we fill the markets of our cities with goof. How long will people fill the city? How long will so many vessels carry the supplies for a single meal from many seas? The bull gets full by feeding on just a few acres; a single forest is good enough for many elephants. Yet a human being snacks on earth and sea.

What? Did nature make our gut so insatiable when we got these small bodies that we should outstrip the greed of the largest and hungriest animals? Nope. How little is enough for us naturally? Just a little bit. It is not our bellies’ hunger that costs us so much, but our envy.

So, those who, as Sallust says, “are obedient to their bellies” should be counted among the animals, not people. And some of them shouldn’t be ranked with the animals, but consigned instead to the dead. Whoever makes use of many is alive; whoever makes use of themselves, lives too. But those who hide away and grow overfull live in homes like tombs. We should inscribe their names in marble above their doors, since they’re dead before they died.”

Queror, litigo, irascor. Etiamnunc optas, quod tibi optavit nutrix tua aut paedagogus aut mater? Nondum intellegis, quantum mali optaverint? O quam inimica nobis sunt vota nostrorum! Eo quidem inimiciora quo cessere felicius. Iam non admiror, si omnia nos a prima pueritia mala secuntur; inter execrationes parentum crevimus. Exaudiant di nostram quoque1 pro nobis vocem gratuitam.

Quousque poscemus aliquid deos ita quasi nondum ipsi alere nos possimus? Quamdiu sationibus inplebimus magnarum urbium campos? Quamdiu nobis populus metet? Quamdiu unius mensae instrumentum multa navigia et quidem non ex uno mari subvehent? Taurus paucissimorum iugerum pascuo impletur; una silva elephantis pluribus sufficit; homo et terra et mari pascitur. Quid ergo? Tam insatiabilem nobis natura alvum dedit, cum tam modica corpora dedisset, ut vastissimorum edacissimorumque animalium aviditatem vinceremus? Minime. Quantulum est enim, quod naturae datur?

Parvo illa dimittitur. Non fames nobis ventris nostri magno constat, sed ambitio. Hos itaque, ut ait Sallustius, “ventri oboedientes” animalium loco numeremus, non hominum, quosdam vero ne animalium quidem, sed mortuorum. Vivit is, qui multis usui est, vivit is, qui se utitur; qui vero latitant et torpent, sic in domo sunt, quomodo in conditivo. Horum licet in limine ipso nomen marmori inscribas, mortem suam antecesserunt. Vale.

picture of the game hungry hippos meme style with a latin quotation "homo et terra et mari pascitur." this means "a human snacks on land and sea"

The Ol’ Stoic Killjoy

Seneca, Moral Epistle 59.1-2

“I got a lot of pleasure from your letter–permit me to use words commonly, without insisting on their Stoic meaning. We believe that pleasure is a vice. It may very well be. Still, we have the habit of using that term for characterizing a joyous feeling in the mind. I know that if we measure words by our dictionary that pleasure is a matter of bad repute and joy is available only to the wise.

Joy is the elation of a mind that relies in its own goodness and truth. Still, when we use it casually, we say we get great joy from a friend’s consulate, or their marriage, or the birth of their child. These things are not really joyous as much as the seeds of future sadness. Nope. Real joy is made to never stop, to never be turned into its opposite.”

Magnam ex epistula tua percepi voluptatem; permitte enim mihi uti verbis publicis nec illa ad significationem Stoicam revoca. Vitium esse voluptatem credimus. Sit sane; ponere tamen illam solemus ad demonstrandam animi hilarem adfectionem. Scio, inquam, et voluptatem, si ad nostrum album verba derigimus, rem infamem esse et gaudium nisi sapienti non contingere. Est enim animi elatio suis bonis verisque fidentis. Vulgo tamen sic loquimur, ut dicamus magnum gaudium nos ex illius consulatu aut nuptiis aut ex partu uxoris percepisse, quae adeo non sunt gaudia, ut saepe initia futurae tristitiae sint. Gaudio autem iunctum est non desinere nec in contrarium verti.

Photograph of oil painting. bright colors in abstract composition "Joy, Collage of Life" Oil painting on canvas by artist René Cheng - Finalist of the First International Art Prize Meneghetti. Private collection
“Joy, Collage of Life” Oil painting on canvas by artist René Cheng – Finalist of the First International Art Prize Meneghetti. Private collection

Scheduling a Time to leave

Seneca, Moral Epistles 58.32-34

“Frugality can bring about old age which, I suppose, shouldn’t be desired any more than it is refused. There’s pleasure in spending as much time with oneself as possible, when you’ve made yourself worthy of enjoying. The point then on which we should make our judgment is whether we should seek out the final stages and not await the end, or make it happen. Someone who waits for their fate slowly is like one who is afraid, as if a bit of a drunkard who drains a full jar and slurps up the dregs too.

But we should nevertheless still ask about this too: “Is the last part of life the dregs, or is it the clearest and purest of all, provided that the mind is free of injury and the senses give their support to the body and the body is not tired or too close to death?” Oh, there’s a big difference between someone extending their life and putting off their death.

But if the body is not useful for its tasks, why should we free its laboring spirit? Well, maybe we should do this just a bit before we must lest we lose the ability to do it. Since the danger of living poorly is greater than the danger of dying quickly, then someone who refuses to wager a small bit of time for great profit is a fool.”

Potest frugalitas producere senectutem, quam ut non puto concupiscendam, ita ne recusandam quidem. Iucundum est secum esse quam diutissime, cum quis se dignum, quo frueretur, effecit. Itaque de isto feremus sententiam, an oporteat fastidire senectutis extrema et finem non opperiri, sed manu facere. Prope est a timente, qui fatum segnis expectat, sicut ille ultra modum deditus vino est, qui amphoram exiccat et faecem quoque exorbet. De hoc tamen quaeremus, pars summa vitae utrum faex sit an liquidissimum ac purissimum quiddam, si modo mens sine iniuria est et integri sensus animum iuvant nec defectum et praemortuum corpus est.

Plurimum enim refert, vitam aliquis extendat an mortem. At si inutile ministeriis corpus est, quidni oporteat educere animum laborantem? Et fortasse paulo ante quam debet, faciendum est, ne cum fieri debebit, facere non possis. Et cum maius periculum sit male vivendi quam cito moriendi, stultus est, qui non exigua temporis mercede magnae rei aleam redimit.

a screen shot of a doodle poll about scheduling a meeting