“Serious people are truly dedicated and on guard to make themselves better by preparing both to keep corrupting things away from them and trying to ensure that good things are near at hand. But they are also unaffected: they have peeled away adornments from their voice and their face.
They also have no concern for business since they abstain from doing anything which transgresses their duty. They do drink, but they do not get drunk. Indeed, they will also not go mad—even though the sometimes the same fantasies will still occur to them because of depression or delirium, but because of the logic of what they have selected but against nature.
And a wise person will never grieve because they understand that grief is an illogical closure of the soul, as Apollodorus says in his Ethics. These people are also godlike because they have some divine aspect in them; the scoundrel is godless.”
“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.
A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”
laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12
“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”
“We would not rightly say that an ox or a horse or any other animal is happy. For it is not possible for any of these to have a common share of ennobling work. This is the reason a child is not happy—they are not yet capable of ennobling actions because of their age. When children are called this, they are being blessed because of their hope for future nobility. There is a need yet, as we said, for complete excellence and a full lifetime.
There are certainly many changes and fortunes of every sort throughout life. It is possible for someone who is extremely fortunate to meet great troubles in old age, just as the story is told about Priam in the heroic epics. No one considers someone who faces these kinds of misfortunes and then dies terribly happy.
But if we then believe that no human being should be considered happy while they live, according to that Solonic saying, “look to the end”—if indeed it must mean this—is it really the case that a person is happy when they’re dead? Well, that would be really strange, right, for us to say others size that this is a kind of obvious happiness? Unless we mean that that dead person is happy, not in the way that Solon wants, but that someone can only say that someone is happy safely when he is out of the way of evils and misfortune.
Even this interpretation has some controversy. For then evil and good seem to be possible for the dead, even as it is for the living even when they do not perceive it, as in the case of honors, and dishonors or the noble or ignoble deeds of children and all of their descendants.
These things are a problem too. For it is possible that someone has lived a rather blessed life up to old age and died in the same way, he could still experience many troubles because of his descendants—some of whom are good and received a life worthy of this, and others who were opposite. It is clear that it is possible for them to be different in every way from their forebears. It would be strange if the dead man would change along with them and become wretched when he was blessed before. But it would also be strange if the affairs of descendants had no impact on their ancestors at all.”
“For this reason we must examine whether or not it is possible for the study of the philosophers to bring us [happiness].”
Quare hoc videndum est, possitne nobis hoc ratio philosophorum dare.
Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 2.1 (1219a25)
“Let the work of the mind be the performance of life—and what this means is using life and being awake (for sleep is some kind of a rest and cessation of life). As a result, since the work of the mind and its virtue are identical, then the work of virtue is an earnest life.
This, then, is the complete good, which is itself happiness. For it is clear from what we have argued—as we said that happiness was the best thing; the goals and the greatest of the goods are in the mind, but aspects of the mind are either a state of being or an action—it is clear that, since an action is better than a state and the best action is better than the best state, that the performance of virtue is the greatest good of the mind. Happiness, then, is the action of a good mind.”
ψυχή: can be translated into English as “spirit” or “soul” instead of “mind”. I avoided the former to sidestep the implication that Aristotle is making some kind of a mystical argument; I avoided the latter because it has such strong religious associations in English.
Seneca De Beneficiis 22
“A just reason for happiness is seeing that a friend is happy—even better, is to make a friend happy.”
iusta enim causa laetitiae est laetum amicum videre, iustior fecisse
Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum: paradox 2: That having virtue is enough for being happy
“No one can be really happy if they rely wholly on themselves and value everything with themselves alone. But those whose reasoning and hope depend entirely on fortune cannot have anything certain—nothing possessed can be expected to last for more than a solitary day.
Threaten that kind of person, should you find one, with these threats of death and exile. In truth, whatever will happen in so thankless a state will happen whether I am protesting or resisting or not. What have I labored over or what have I done or what of my worries and thoughts passing throughout the night, If I have actually accomplished or pursued nothing to put me in a state that rashness of fate or injuries to my friends cannot weaken? Do you threaten death so that I will completely withdraw from humankind or exile so I may abandon the wicked? Death is terrible to those who lose everything along with life but not for those whose praise can never die. Exile is dreadful to those whose home is a mere boundary line but not to those who think that the whole world is one city.”
Nemo potest non beatissimus esse qui est totus aptus ex sese quique in se uno sua ponit omnia; cui spes omnis et ratio et cogitatio pendet ex fortuna, huic nihil potest esse certi, nihil quod exploratum habeat permansurum sibi unum diem. Eum tu hominem terreto, si quem eris nactus, istis mortis aut exilii minis; mihi vero quidquid acciderit in tam ingrata civitate ne recusanti quidem evenerit, non modo non repugnanti, Quid enim ego laboravi aut quid egi aut in quo evigilaverunt curae et cogitationes meae, si quidem nihil peperi tale nihil consecutus sum ut in eo statu essem quem neque fortunae temeritas neque inimicorum labefactaret iniuria? Mortemne mihi minitaris ut omnino ab hominibus, an exilium ut ab improbis demigrandum sit? Mors terribilis est eis quorum cum vita omnia exstinguuntur, non eis quorum laus emori non potest, exilium autem illis quibus quasi circumscriptus est habitandi locus, non eis qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt.
“Posidonios of Apamea records the story of [Athenion] which I am going to lay out even though it is rather long, so that we may examine carefully all men who claim to be philosophers, and not merely trust in their shabby robes and unkempt beards. For, as Agathon says (fr. 12):
If I tell the truth, I won’t make you happy.
But if I am to make you happy, I will say nothing true.
Since the truth, they say, is dear to us, I will tell the whole story about this man.”
I love this story. It fills me with hope and envy.
Aristotle, On Amazing Things Heard 832b
“The story goes that in Abydos there was a man who was afflicted with madness. He went into the theater and watched for many days as if there were actually people acting and applauded. When he had a respite from his affliction, he said that this was the most enjoyable time of his life.”
“Thrasyllos from the deme Aiksône endured an incredible and novel madness. For he left the city and went to the Peiraia and stayed there. He believed that all the ships that sailed in were his and he wrote down their names, checked the list when they left and rejoiced when they returned safely to the harbor again. He spent many years living with this sickness.
When his brother returned from Sicily, he took him to a doctor for treatment and he freed him from that sickness. But he often remembered the avocation of his sickness and used to say that he was never as happy as when he took pleasure at the sight of ships that weren’t his returning safely.”