“When Will This Year Be Over”? Seneca on Speeding Life Along

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“The man who has hoped for the fasces longs to put them down once he gets them and says constantly, “When will this year be over?” This man sponsors games which he once valued as a great opportunity for him, yet he says “When can I get away from them?” A lawyer is raised up by the whole forum and with full crowd beyond where he can be heard, but he complains “When will we have a break?” Everyone speeds their own life along and suffers for a desire for the future and boredom with the present.

But the person who portions out every moment to his own use, who schedules out every day like it is the last, neither hopes for nor fears tomorrows. For what kind of new pleasure is any hour alone capable of bringing? Everything is known and has been enjoyed fully. Fortune may by chance bring out something else, but life is already safe. Something can be added; nothing can be subtracted, and he will accept anything which is added like someone who is already satisfied and full will take some food he does not desire.

Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. He has not lived a while, but he has existed a while. Certainly, what if you thought that he had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions and drove him over the same space in a circle? He did not travel far, but he was tossed around a lot.”

Adsecutus ille quos optaverat fasces cupit ponere et subinde dicit: “Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet. Quid enim est, quod iam ulla hora novae voluptatis possit adferre? Omnia nota, omnia ad satietatem percepta sunt. De cetero fors fortuna, ut volet, ordinet; vita iam in tuto est. Huic adici potest, detrahi nihil, et adici sic, quemadmodum saturo iam ac pleno aliquid cibi, quod nec desiderat et capit. Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

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Johannes von Gmunden: Calendar, [Nuremberg], 1496

Some Ancient Manners: When In Another’s House….

Historia Augusta, Antonius Pius XII

“When he was seeking honors for himself and his sons he conducted everything as if he were a private citizen. He often even attended the dinners of his own friends himself. Among other stories, this is a special indication of his urbanity.

Once when he was visiting the home of Homullus and was admiring some columns decorated with porphyry, he asked where they were from. When Homullus said to him, “when you are in another’s house, you should be deaf and dumb,” he took this in good humor. He always took the many jokes of Homullus with good humor.”

cum sibi et filiishonores peteret, omnia quasi privatus fecit. Frequentavit et ipse amicοrum suorum convivia. interalia etiam hoc civilitatis eius praecipuum argumentum est quod, cum domum Homulli visens miransque columnas porphyreticas requisisset, unde eas haberet, atque Homullus ei dixisset, “cum in domum alienam veneris, et mutus et surdus esto,” patienter tulit. cuius Homulli multa ioca semper patienter accepit.

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So Pius, so very, very Pius

Out of Breath and Trembling: A Hard Night Leads to a Hard Morning

Apuleius, Metamorphoses 1.18

“We had already made it a certain distance when the sun rose and everything was in the light. I was examining my friend’s neck with a intense curiosity in the place where I had seen the sword end up. And I thought to myself, ‘You are mad, ‘You were covered in your cups and wine and dreamed the worst. Look, Socrates is whole, healthy, and untouched. Where is the wound, or the sponge? Where is a scar so new and recent?’

And then I said to him, ‘It is not without reason that trustworthy doctors say that people overstuffed with food and drink have evil, savage dreams. In my case, because I was excessive in my drinking last night, the evening brought me terrible and torturous visions, that I even believed I was covered and polluted with human blood!”

But he was smirking at me when he said, ‘You are not covered in blood, but piss! Indeed, I myself dreamed that my throat was cut. I imagined pain on this neck and I even believed that my heart was ripped out. Even now I remain out of breath: my knees are trembling and I am stumbling. I need some food for strengthening my breath.”

“Aliquantum processeramus et iam iubaris exortu cuncta collustrantur. Et ego curiose sedulo arbitrabar iugulum comitis, qua parte gladium delapsum videram; et mecum ‘Vesane,’ aio ‘qui poculis et vino sepultus extrema somniasti. Ecce Socrates integer, sanus, incolumis. Ubi vulnus, spongia? Ubi postremum cicatrix tam alta, tam recens?’ Et ad illum ‘Non’ inquam ‘immerito medici fidi cibo et crapula distentos saeva et gravia somniare autumant. Mihi denique, quod poculis vesperi minus temperavi, nox acerba diras et truces imagines obtulit, ut adhuc me credam cruore humano aspersum atque impiatum.’

“Ad haec ille surridens ‘At tu’ inquit ‘non sanguine sed lotio perfusus es. Verum tamen et ipse per somnium iugulari visus sum mihi. Nam et iugulum istum dolui et cor ipsum mihi avelli putavi; et nunc etiam spiritu deficior et genua quatior et gradu titubo et aliquid cibatus refovendo spiritu desidero.’

If you need it, Greek and Latin words for hangovers.

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Roman Mosaic displayed at the Chateau de Boudry Museum

Rage: The Seed of Future Enemies

Seneca, De Clementia 8

“Think over this as well that, while endurance of what has already occurred exposes private citizens to the danger of receiving additional injuries, greater safety comes to kings from lenience because frequent punishments serve to suppress the hatred of a few while exciting the anger of every one.

The willingness to rage should be weaker than its cause. If not, just as trees which are pruned sprout again with even more branches and as many other plants are cut back so that they may grow more thickly, in the same way a king’s cruelty increases the number of his enemies by cutting some of them down. For the parents and children of those who were killed along with their relatives and friends take up the place of a single victim.”

Adice nunc, quod privatos homines ad accipiendas iniurias opportuniores acceptarum patientia facit, regibus certior est ex mansuetudine securitas, quia frequens vindicta paucorum odium opprimit, omnium irritat. Voluntas oportet ante saeviendi quam causa deficiat; alioqui, quemadmodum praecisae arbores plurimis ramis repullulant et multa satorum genera, ut densiora surgant, reciduntur, ita regia crudelitas auget inimicorum numerum tollendo; parentes enim liberique eorum, qui interfecti sunt, et propinqui et amici in locum singulorum succedunt.

The Martydom of St. valentine

The Mind Recoils When Left to Itself: What Do You Do on The Weekend?

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 2

“Regret for work only begun grips them and then fear of starting again and then the anxiety of a mind that can find no end—because they can neither control their desires nor serve them, the hesitation of a life which cannot make its own way and the stillness of a soul growing dull among failed schemes.

These traits grow worse when people flee toward leisure because of hatred of unsuccessful work, or they flee to private studies which a mind set on more public achievement cannot tolerate because it desires accomplishment and is restless by nature since it certainly has too little comfort in itself. Therefore, once the distractions are removed which vocations themselves offer those who run to them, the mind cannot endure home, quiet, or the walls of a room as it recoils unwillingly at being left to itself.

From this arises that boredom and displeasure and the volatility of mind that can rest nowhere—the sad and sickly tolerance of one’s own leisure. This especially is true when it is a matter of shame to admit the causes and embarrassment suppresses the torments deeper. Desires compressed in a narrow space without escape choke on one another.

This is the origin of mourning and depression and the endless fluctuations of an uncertain mind which hopes for work begun keep in suspense and the failure makes sorrowful. This is where that feeling that makes people despise their own leisure comes from and why they complain they have nothing to do; this also prompts their hateful envy of other’s success. Their sad lack of motion feeds jealousy and they want everyone to fail because they could not succeed themselves. Then from this dismissal of the success of others and their own despair, the mind is enraged against fortune—it complains of the era, and then retreats and ruminates over its trouble until it bores and shames itself.

For the human mind is naturally agile and prone to motion. It welcomes every cause of excitement and reason for being distracted from itself—even more welcome to those worse types who are worn out more freely in pursuing such diversions.”

Tunc illos et paenitentia coepti tenet et incipiendi timor subrepitque illa animi iactatio non invenientis exitum, quia nec imperare cupiditatibus suis nec obsequi possunt, et cunctatio vitae parum se explicantis et inter destituta vota torpentis animi situs. Quae omnia graviora sunt, ubi odio infelicitatis operosae ad otium perfugerunt, ad secreta studia, quae pati non potest animus ad civilia erectus agendique cupidus et natura inquies, parum scilicet in se solaciorum habens; ideo detractis oblectationibus, quas ipsae occupationes discurrentibus praebent, domum, solitudinem, parietes non fert, invitus aspicit se sibi relictum.

Hinc illud est taedium et displicentia sui et nusquam residentis animi volutatio et otii sui tristis atque aegra patientia; utique ubi causas fateri pudet et tormenta introsus egit verecundia, in angusto inclusae cupiditates sine exitu se ipsae strangulant. Inde maeror marcorque et mille fluctus mentis incertae, quam spes inchoatae suspensam habent, deploratae tristem; inde ille adfectus otium suum detestantium querentiumque nihil ipsos habere, quod agant et alienis incrementis inimicissima invidia. Alit enim livorem infelix inertia et omnes destrui cupiunt, quia se non potuere provehere; ex hac deinde aversatione alienorum processuum et suorum desperatione obirascens fortunae animus et de saeculo querens et in angulos se retrahens et poenae incubans suae, dum illum taedet sui pigetque. Natura enim humanus animus agilis est et pronus ad motus. Grata omnis illi excitandi se abstrahendique materia est, gratior pessimis quibusque ingeniis, quae occupationibus libenter deteruntur.

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MS from Bodleian Library. (Found on Pinterest)

A Source of Fear and Hate

Suetonius, Domitian 13-14

“Once he accepted the cognomen Germanicus after two triumphs, he renamed the months of September and October from his own names, calling one Germanicus and the other Domitianus because he had assumed rule in one and was born in the other.

For these reasons he became a source of fear and hateful to everyone. He was finally overthrown by plots led together by his friends and freedman with his wife’s knowledge. He had a longstanding suspicion over the final year and day of his death. When he was young, astrologers had predicted all these things to him. His father also once mocked him at dinner because he was refusing mushrooms, claiming that he was ignorant of his fate because he did not fear the sword instead. For these reasons he was always fearful and anxious and was excessively upset even over the smallest suspicions.”

Post autem duos triumphos Germanici cognomine assumpto Septembrem mensem et Octobrem ex appellationibus suis Germanicum Domitianumque transnominavit, quod altero suscepisset imperium, altero natus esset.

XIV. Per haec terribilis cunctis et invisus, tandem oppressus est insidiis amicorum libertorumque intimorum simul et uxoris. Annum diemque ultimum vitae iam pridem suspectum habebat, horam etiam nec non et genus mortis. Adulescentulo Chaldaei cuncta praedixerant; pater quoque super cenam quondam fungis abstinentem palam irriserat ut ignarum sortis suae, quod non ferrum potius timeret. Quare pavidus semper atque anxius minimis etiam suspicionibus praeter modum commovebatur.


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Better to Laugh at Life Than Mourn

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi 15

“There is no advantage to have disposed of the causes of private sorrow, for the hatred of humankind is at times overwhelming. When you have considered how uncommon simplicity is, how unknown innocence is, and how trust is hardly anywhere unless it brings some benefit, or when the mass of successful crimes occurs to you along with the profit and losses of desire—each equally hateful—or of ambition so incapable of staying without its limits that it shines forth because of its foulness. The mind descends into night because of these thoughts as if the virtues had been reversed, those qualities it is neither possible to acquire nor profitable to practice, and shadows hang over us.

In this process, however, we should bend ourselves so that all the common faults seem not hateful to us but instead absurd and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter, whenever he stepped outside, used to weep; but the former used to laugh. To one, all human deeds seemed pitiful; to the other, they seemed signs of incompetence. Everything should be taken more lightly and endured with an easy spirit. It is more human to laugh at life than to hate it.

Consider too that that the person who laughs at humanity instead of mourning it deserves better from it. For the one reserves some space for good hope; while the other foolishly weeps affairs which he believes may not possibly be corrected.”

  1. Sed nihil prodest privatae tristitiae causas abiecisse; occupat enim nonnumquam odium generis humani. Cum cogitaveris, quam sit rara simplicitas et quam ignota innocentia et vix umquam, nisi cum expedit, fides, et occurrit tot scelerum felicium turba et libidinis lucra damnaque pariter invisa et ambitio usque eo iam se suis non continens terminis, ut per turpitudinem splendeat: agitur animus in noctem et velut eversis virtutibus, quas nec sperare licet nec habere prodest, tenebrae oboriuntur. In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est 3deridere vitam quam deplorare. Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat.
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v (found here)