After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength

I Hope This Email Finds You…Busy

Cicero to Quintus Cornificius (Ad Fam. 12.30)

 “Is this true? Does no one apart from suitors take my letters to you? There are certainly many of those types lately–since you have made it clear that no one is safely recommended to you without my letter. But who of all your friends said that I would give my letter to anyone without meaning to do so? What greater pleasure remains to me than writing to you or reading a letter from you since I can’t actually talk to you?

What annoys me the most is that I have so much work to do that I am not capable of writing to you whenever I want to. I would have assaulted you not only with letters but huge tomes that I would have used rightly to be challenged to you to write back.

Although you are busy, you still have more leisure than I; or, if you don’t have free time, don’t be so shameless as to annoy me by asking for ever more responses when you only write to me after long breaks.”

itane? praeter litigatores nemo ad te meas litteras? multae istae quidem ; tu enim perfecisti ut nemo sine litteris meis tibi se commendatum putaret ; sed quis umquam tuorum mihi dixit esse cui darem, quin dederim? aut quid mi iucundius quam, cum coram tecum loqui non possim, aut scribere ad te aut tuas legere litteras? illud magis mihi solet esse molestum, tantis me impediri occupationibus, ut ad te scribendi meo arbitratu facultas nulla detur.non enim te epistulis sed voluminibus lacesserem ; quibus quidem me a te provocari oportebat. 

quamvis enim occupatus sis,’ oti tamen plus habes ; aut, si ne tu quidem vacas, noli impudens esse nec mihi molestiam exhibere et a me litteras crebriores, cum tu mihi raro mittas, flagitare.

How We Spend Our Days–Do Nothing Rather Than Something Useless

Pliny, Letters 9 To Minucius Fundanus

“It is amazing how the schedule is or seems on individual days in the city when they all blend together. If you ask anyone “what did you do today?” He may say, “I went to a toga-ceremony, an engagement, or a marriage. I was the witness at a will-signing, or at court as a witness or supporter.” These things which you do seem necessary on the day that you do them but empty if you remember that you have done the same kind of things every day and they seem even sillier if you consider them when you are away.

Then the realization comes over you: “How many days have I wasted in trivial pursuits!” This occurs to me whenever I am reading or writing or taking some time to exercise, to keep my mind fit for my work, at my Laurentum. I hear nothing and I say nothing which later on it hurts me that I said or heard. No one troubles me with evil rumors. I find no one to blame but myself when I write with too little ease. I am troubled by no hope, no fear; I am disrupted by no gossip. I speak only with myself and my little books.

What a fine and sincere life! What sweet and honest leisure, finer than nearly any business at all. The sea, the beach, my own true and private museum—how much you discover for me, how much you have told me!

Take the first chance you can to leave that noise, the empty conversation, and so many useless tasks and dedicate yourself to studies or relaxing. For our friend Atilius put it most elegantly and intelligently when he said “it is better to do engage in leisure than to do nothing.”

Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.

1Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque

Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in 3 consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” 4 Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! 7 Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. 8 Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

Nothing To Write about: Cicero Gives Up

Cicero to Atticus, 129 (VII.6) Formiae, ca. 18 December 50 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“There’s clearly nothing for me to write to you about. You know everything worth knowing and I have nothing to expect from you. Still, let me keep up our practice so that we don’t let anyone travel near you without a letter.

I am really afraid for our country. I have barely found anyone who doesn’t think we should give Caesar what he wants, rather than fighting with him.”

Plane deest quid ad te scribam. nota omnia tibi sunt, nec ipse habeo a te quod exspectem. tantum igitur nostrum illud sollemne servemus, ut ne quem istuc euntem sine litteris dimittamus.

De re publica valde timeo, nec adhuc fere inveni qui non concedendum putaret Caesari quod postularet potius quam depugnandum.

I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Greek Epigram by Sopater

Collective Madness and False Beliefs

Seneca, Moral Epistles 94.17

“This part of precepts should be tossed away because it can’t give to everyone what it guarantees to a small few. Wisdom, however, welcomes all. There’s no difference, really, between the popular madness in general and the kind that requires medical treatment except that the individual suffers from a disease and the masses are afflicted by false opinions. For one, the symptoms of insanity develop from poor health, the other arises from sick minds.

If one offers maxims to a madman about how to speak, or walk, or how to act in public and private, they’d prove to be crazier than the one they’re advising. Someone really needs to treat their black bile and remove the initial cause of the affliction. This is what is required for a diseased mind too. The madness needs to be shed first, otherwise all your words of warning are useless.”

“Ergo ista praeceptiva pars summovenda est, quia quod paucis promittit, praestare omnibus non potest; sapientia autem omnes tenet. Inter insaniam publicamet hanc, quae medicis traditur, nihil interest nisi quod haec morbo laborat, illa opinionibus falsis. Altera causas furoris traxit ex valitudine, altera animi mala valitudo est. Si quis furioso praecepta det, quomodo loqui debeat, quomodo procedere, quomodo in publico se gerere, quomodo in privato, erit ipso, quem monebit, insanior. Ei bilis1 nigra curanda est et ipsa furoris causa removenda. Idem in hoc alio animi furore faciendum est. Ipse discuti debet; alioqui abibunt in vanum monentium verba.”


Detail from The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488–1516).

I Hope this Finds You With Nothing to Write About

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 128 (VII.5)

 “Right now I simply have nothing to write to you about. Certainly not politics, since we know the same things and we also know each other’s domestic matters. Jokes are all that remain, if that guy will allow it.

I am one who thinks that it is better to give in to his demands than start a war. It is too late for us to resist someone we’ve been raising against us for ten years!

What’s my strategy? Nothing unless by your judgment and nothing before I’ve completed my own affairs or given them up. Take care of yourself!”

Iam plane mihi deest quid ad te scribam; nec enim de re publica, quod uterque nostrum scit eadem, et domestica nota sunt ambobus. reliquum est iocari, si hic sinat; nam ego is sum qui illi concedi putem utilius esse quod postulat quam signa conferri; sero enim resistimus ei quem per annos decem aluimus contra nos. ‘quid senti<e>s4 igitur?’ inquis. nihil scilicet nisi de sententia tua, nec prius quidem quam nostrum negotium aut confecerimus aut deposuerimus. cura igitur ut valeas…

Top third of a surviving 4th-century Roman letter, from Vitalis to his dominus Achillio, from Franz Steffens’ Lateinische Paläographie (1903), table 13. The letter is reported to be Latin papyrus “Argent 1”, at Strassbourg.

I Am Dedicating My Life to Philosophy. Please Send Me Some Gossip From Rome

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (25; II.5)

“I am waiting for your letters on those events [in Rome]: what is Arrius saying and what is is opinion about being overthrown. Which consuls are being prepared—is it Pompey and Crassus as people claim or, as was just written to me, is it Servius Sulpicius with Gabinius. Are there new laws? Is there anything worthy of news at all? Or, who, since Nepos has left, is going to be nominated as Augur? (and this is the one thing I might be captured with by those people—look at how easy I am!)

Why do I ask these things when I want to put them aside and pursue philosophy with all my focus? This, I say, is what is in my mind. I wish I had pursued this from the start. But now when I have learned that everything which I thought was precious is empty, I am planning to dedicate myself to all the Muses.

Nevertheless, please do tell me in your reply about ?Tutius? and whether they have readied someone for his place and also what has become of Publius Clodius. Write me about everything, as you promised, at leisure. And also tell me on what day you think you will leave Rome so that I may tell you more certainly where I will be then? Please send me a letter right away on the things I have written you about. I am deeply awaiting your letter.”

De istis rebus exspecto tuas litteras, quid Arrius narret, quo animo se destitutum ferat, et qui consules parentur, utrum, ut populi sermo, Pompeius et Crassus, an, ut mihi scribitur, cum Gabinio Ser. Sulpicius, et num quae novae leges et num quid novi omnino, et, quoniam Nepos proficiscitur, cuinam auguratus deferatur, quo quidem uno ego ab istis capi possum—vide levitatem meam! sed quid ego haec, quae cupio deponere et toto animo atque omni cura ϕιλοσοϕεῖν? sic, inquam, in animo est; vellem ab initio, nunc vero, quoniam quae putavi esse praeclara expertus sum quam essent inania, cum omnibus Musis rationem habere cogito.

3Tu tamen de †Tutio†1 ad me rescribe certius et num quis in eius locum paretur, et quid de P. Clodio fiat, et omnia, quem ad modum polliceris, ἐπὶ σχολῆς scribe. et quo die Roma te exiturum putes velim ad me scribas, ut certiorem te faciam quibus in locis futurus sim, epistulamque statim des de iis rebus de quibus ad te scripsi. valde enim exspecto tuas litteras.

Письменные принадлежности и аксессуары – 308 photos
Chroniques de Hainaut (vers 1470)

The Best People Sickness Can Make

Pliny The Younger, Letters, 7.26

“A friend’s sickness has lately reminded me that we are the best people when we are sick. Does greed or lust ever bother a sick person? They are not controlled by their desires or their love of honors. They don’t care about wealth and think whatever little bit they have is enough, because they will leave it behind! The sick remember the gods and realize they are mortal. They don’t feel envy or awe or contempt for other people. Slander doesn’t attract or encourage the sick and all they dream of are baths and fountains.

These are the end of their concerns, the object of their prayers. And they promise that will be enough if they are lucky to survive. I can now say briefly and clearly what the philosophers try to convey in so many endless words: When we’re healthy we should strive to be the kind of people we promised to be when we were sick. Goodbye!”

Nuper me cuiusdam amici languor admonuit, optimos esse nos dum infirmi sumus. Quem enim infirmum aut avaritia aut libido sollicitat? Non amoribus servit, non adpetit honores, opes neglegit et quantulumcumque, ut relicturus, satis habet. Tunc deos tunc hominem esse se meminit, invidet nemini, neminem miratur neminem despicit, ac ne sermonibus quidem malignis aut attendit aut alitur: balinea imaginatur et fontes.

Haec summa curarum, summa votorum mollemque in posterum et pingue destinat vitam. Possum ergo quod plurimis verbis plurimis etiam voluminibus philosophi docere conantur, ipse breviter tibi mihique praecipere, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi. Vale.

Euricius Cordus (1486-1535); Fur die newe, hievor vnerhorte und erschrocklich todtliche Kranckheyt und schnellen todt, die English schweyee-sucht geant, Strassbourg: 1529.Early books on medicine..Published: 1928..Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Souls Burning for Censure: Sallust Advises Caesar

Sallust, First Letter to Caesar 8-10

I have offered you as briefly as possible what things I think are necessary for our nation and your glory. It does not seem any worse to say a few things now about what I have accomplished here.

Most mortals possess—or pretend to possess—enough intelligence to make judgments. But, in truth, everyone’s soul burns to criticize the words and deeds of others, even though their mouth and tongue are not large and quick enough to produces the words contemplated in their hearts.

It causes me no grief to be subject to these men—no, it would hurt more to stay quiet. For whether you persist on this path or another one, I have spoken and offered help in a manly way. All that is left is to hope that the immortal gods smile on what you do and allow it to turn out well.

Quae rei publicae necessaria tibique gloriosa ratus sum, quam paucissimis apsolvi. Non peius videtur pauca nunc de facto meo disserere. Plerique mortales ad iudicandum satis ingenii habent aut simulant; verum enim ad reprehendunda aliena facta aut dicta ardet omnibus animus, vix satis apertum os aut lingua prompta videtur quae meditata pectore evolvat. Quibus me subiectum haud paenitet, magis reticuisse pigeret. Nam sive hac seu meliore alia via perges, a me quidem pro virili parte dictum et adiutum fuerit. Relicuum est optare uti quae tibi placuerint ea di immortales adprobent beneque evenire sinant.

From Wikipedia