“What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles?!”

Seneca, Moral Epistle 98

“Therefore I do not suggest that you be indifferent. Rather, you should avoid whatever makes you fear. Whatever can be anticipated through planning, anticipate. Whatever would do you harm, spot it and avoid it long before it happens. In this, confidence and a mind hardened enough to tolerate everything will bring you the greatest aid. Whoever can endure fortune, can also beware of it. Certainly, there are no rolling waves on tranquil waters. Nothing is more pitiful or foolish than fearing things ahead of time! What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles!

Finally, to summarize briefly what I believe and to outline for you those troublemakers and self-abusers—for they are as intemperate in their misfortunes as they were before them. The person suffers more than is needed who suffers before it is needed. This kind of a person does not put his sorrow in perspective for the same reason he does not expect it—because of the same intemperance he imagines that his own happiness will last forever and that whatever he encounters will continue to improve as long as they last. Forgetful of the balance upon which all human affairs are chanced, one safeguards for himself only the consistency of chance.”

Nec ideo praecipio tibi neglegentiam. Tu vero metuenda declina. Quidquid consilio prospici potest, prospice. Quodcumque laesurum est, multo ante quam accidat, speculare et averte. In hoc ipsum tibi plurimum conferet fiducia et ad tolerandum omne obfirmata mens. Potest fortunam cavere, qui potest ferre. Certe in tranquillo non tumultuatur. Nihil est nec miserius nec stultius quam praetimere. Quae ista dementia est malum suum antecedere? Denique ut breviter includam quod sentio, et istos satagios ac sibi molestos describam tibi, tam intemperantes in ipsis miseriis quam sunt ante illas. Plus dolet quam necesse est, qui ante dolet quam necesse est; eadem enim infirmitate dolorem non aestimat, qua non exspectat; eadem intemperantia fingit sibi perpetuam felicitatem suam, fingit crescere debere quaecumque contigerunt, non tantum durare; et oblitus huius petauri, quo humana iactantur, sibi uni fortuitorum constantiam spondet.

Image result for Ancient Roman Shipwreck frieze
Marble Relief on the Copenhagen Sarcophagus, 3rd Century CE

The Mind Rules All (Or Fails…)

Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 1

“The race of man complains wrongly about its nature, namely the fact that it is feeble in strength, limited in years and ruled more by chance than virtue. To the contrary, you can realize through contemplation that nothing else is greater or more extraordinary—that human nature lacks only perseverance instead of strength or time. The leader and ruler of mortal life is the mind. When it proceeds to glory along virtue’s path, it is fully powerful, potent and famous; it does not need fortune since fortune cannot grant or revoke honesty, perseverance, or any other good quality from any man. But a mind seized by desires is dedicated to laziness and worn by obedience to physical pleasure; accustomed to ruinous temptation for too long, when, thanks to sloth, strength, age and wit have diminished, only then is the weakness of nature at fault. Every man shifts his own responsibility to his circumstances.”

[1] Falso queritur de natura sua genus humanum, quod inbecilla atque aevi brevis forte potius quam virtute regatur. Nam contra reputando neque maius aliud neque praestabilius invenias magisque naturae industriam hominum quam vim aut tempus deesse. Sed dux atque imperator vitae mortalium animus est. Qui ubi ad gloriam virtutis via grassatur, abunde pollens potensque et clarus est neque fortuna eget, quippe quae probitatem, industriam aliasque artis bonas neque dare neque eripere cuiquam potest. Sin captus pravis cupidinibus ad inertiam et voluptates corporis pessum datus est, perniciosa libidine paulisper usus, ubi per socordiam vires tempus ingenium diffluxere, naturae infirmitas accusatur: suam quisque culpam auctores ad negotia transferunt.

BH- Zeus Olympia

I can’t help but thinking that maybe Sallust had read (or heard) the beginning of the Odyssey where Zeus complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”

But, of course, there is a typically eclectic blend of Roman philosophy in Sallust’s statements: some Stoicism, an echo, perhaps, of Empedocles and much more….

Some Advice on Starting the Year Anew from Macrobius

Macrobius, 1.11.8-11


“Some are slaves to desire, others to greed, others to ambition; all are enthralled to hope, all to fear. To be sure, there is no slavery more base than one voluntarily undertaken. But we walk all over the man subjected to the yoke imposed by fortune as though he were a wretched and worthless character, but we do not suffer the yoke which we place upon our own necks to be jeered at. You will find among servants one with a deeper purse than the others, you will even find a lord himself kissing the hands of another man’s servants in the hope of financial gain; I do not, therefore, form my opinion of people based on their fortune, but on their character. Chance assigns you a condition, but you give yourself a character.”

alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. at nos iugo a fortuna imposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus, quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi. invenies inter servos aliquem pecunia fortiorem, invenies dominum spe lucri oscula alienorum servorum manibus infigentem: non ergo fortuna homines aestimabo sed moribus. sibi quisque dat mores, condicionem casus adsignat.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.218-227: Children, Shipwrecked into Life

“Why does nature nourish and increase the races
of horrible beasts, enemies to humankind on land and sea?
Why do the seasons of the year bring diseases?
Why does an early death come suddenly?
So a child, just like a shipwrecked man tossed by savage waves,
lies naked and speechless on the ground needing everything required
to support life at the very moment when nature pours him
from his mother’s womb into the world of light,
he fills the room with a sorrowful wail, as if he knows
the measure of troubles that still remain for him to endure in life.”

praeterea genus horriferum natura ferarum
humanae genti infestum terraque marique
cur alit atque auget? cur anni tempora morbos
adportant? quare mors inmatura vagatur?
tum porro puer, ut saevis proiectus ab undis
navita, nudus humi iacet infans indigus omni
vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras
nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit,
vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut aequumst
cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.

Homer, Odyssey 11.100-117: Teiresias implies that the Arrival of the Suitors is Odysseus’ Fault

[Today the Almeida Theater in the UK is presenting a live reading of the Odyssey. Duly inspired, we are re-posting some of our favorite Odyssey themed posts]

“You seek a thought-softening homecoming, Odysseus: but the god has made it hard for you, since I do not think that the earth-shaker will forget anger he set in his heart, enraged as he is because you blinded his dear son. But still, even now, though you have suffered evils, you may come home, if indeed you wish to save your own life and your companions. When your well-made ship first nears the island of Thrinakia as you wander over the dark sea, you will find the cattle and fat flocks of Helios who oversees and witnesses everything. If you leave them alone and think of your homecoming, then you will return to Ithaca, even though you have suffered evils. If you harm them, that will be a sign of ruin for your ship and companions. Even if you survive yourself, you will come home badly, after losing all of your companions, and you will find pain in your house: arrogant men who consume your household, suitors of your godly wife and bringers of bridegifts.”

‘νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ• 100
τὸν δέ τοι ἀργαλέον θήσει θεός. οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
λήσειν ἐννοσίγαιον, ὅ τοι κότον ἔνθετο θυμῷ,
χωόμενος ὅτι οἱ υἱὸν φίλον ἐξαλάωσας.
ἀλλ’ ἔτι μέν κε καὶ ὧς, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε,
αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃς σὸν θυμὸν ἐρυκακέειν καὶ ἑταίρων, 105
ὁππότε κεν πρῶτον πελάσῃς εὐεργέα νῆα
Θρινακίῃ νήσῳ, προφυγὼν ἰοειδέα πόντον,
βοσκομένας δ’ εὕρητε βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα
᾿Ηελίου, ὃς πάντ’ ἐφορᾷ καὶ πάντ’ ἐπακούει.
τὰς εἰ μέν κ’ ἀσινέας ἐάᾳς νόστου τε μέδηαι, 110
καί κεν ἔτ’ εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε•
εἰ δέ κε σίνηαι, τότε τοι τεκμαίρομ’ ὄλεθρον
νηΐ τε καὶ ἑτάροισ’. αὐτὸς δ’ εἴ πέρ κεν ἀλύξῃς,
ὀψὲ κακῶς νεῖαι, ὀλέσας ἄπο πάντας ἑταίρους,
νηὸς ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίης• δήεις δ’ ἐν πήματα οἴκῳ, 115
ἄνδρας ὑπερφιάλους, οἵ τοι βίοτον κατέδουσι
μνώμενοι ἀντιθέην ἄλοχον καὶ ἕδνα διδόντες.

(1) Some god made your homecoming hard (100); Poseidon is angry (101-102); Helios will be angry (109-110)
(2) You blinded Polyphemos (making Poseidon angry, 103)
(3) Your men might harm the flocks (angering Helios, 108-11)
(4) They will suffer and so will you

The divine actions are positioned as reactions to human action (itself unmotivated by the divine). So if Odysseus had not angered Poseidon then they would not end up on Thrinakia where his companions would not have the option to anger Helios by eating his sacred cows.

All of this is in accord with Zeus’ opening statement in the Odyssey where he complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.

Solon and Critias on Fortune, Fate and Good Sense

Solon, (fr. 11 1-4) seems to echo Zeus’ comments from the Odyssey (that men are always blaming the gods).

“If you have suffered grief through your own wickedness
Don’t blame the gods for this fate.”

εἰ δὲ πεπόνθατε λυγρὰ δι’ ὑμετέρην κακότητα,
μὴ θεοῖσιν τούτων μοῖραν ἐπαμφέρετε·

The later Presocratic Critias (fr. 10.3) is more explicit in his play Pirithous:

“Fortune is a friend to men of good sense.”

ὡς τοῖσιν εὖ φρονοῦσι συμμαχεῖ τύχη

This is no Terminator ethic (“no fate but what we make”) but it is a long way off from oracular predestination!

The Connection(s) Between Speaking and Fate: Varro, On the Latin Language VI.52

“A man speaks [fatur] who first releases from his mouth a sound that has a meaning. From this, children are called infants [lit. the ‘unspeaking’] before they can do this; when they can do this, they are said “to speak”. Then, the words ‘soothsayer’ [fariolus] and ‘prophet’ [fatuus] are made based on similarity to a child’s speech. Because of the fact that the fates set the lifetime for a child by “speaking” [fando], the words ‘fate’ [fatum] and ‘fateful’ [fatales res] have developed. From the very same word, those who speak easily are called “eloquent” [facundi dicti] and those who are in the habit of uttering the future by sensing it beforehand are called “speakers of fate” [fatidici] and are also described as “speaking prophecy” [vaticinari] because they do this when their mind is in a frenzy: but this will be addressed later when we talk about poets.”

Fatur is qui primum homo significabilem ore mittit vocem. Ab eo, ante quam ita faciant, pueri dicuntur infantes; cum id faciunt, iam fari; cum hoc vocabulum, tum a similitudine vocis pueri fariolus ac fatuus dictum. Ab hoc tempora quod tum pueris constituant Parcae fando, dictum fatum et res fatales. Ab hac eadem voce qui facile fantur facundi dicti, et qui futura praedivinando soleant fari fatidici; dicti idem vaticinari, quod vesana mente faciunt: sed de hoc post erit usurpandum, cum de poetis dicemus.