Your Friend, The Slender Vine

Seneca, Moral Epistle 112

“By god, I do want your friend to be shaped and trained as you want, but he has been taken up already hardened, or, really–and this is worse–soft and ground down by constant bad habits.

I want to provide you an example from my own technique. Not every vine will submit to grafting–if it is old and starting to rot or too thin and weak, the fine won’t take a shoot or it will refuse to feed it and integrate and it will not accept the quality and the nature of the transplant. So, we typically sever the vine above the ground, so if it does not respond at first, a second attempt is possible. Then the second graft is made below the ground.

This person you are writing and worried about,has no strength and indulges their weaknesses. They have somehow become fat and hard at once. They can neither accept reason nor feed it. You say, “But they want to”. I am not saying that they are lying to you, they want to desire this. But excess has ruined their stomach. Soon they’ll turn back again.

“Yet, they claim their own life offends them!” I don’t deny this. Who is not upset with their own life? People love and hate their own faults at the same time. We will form an opinion about them when they have shown us some proof that they truly hate luxury. Now? They’re just in an argument. BYE.”

Cupio mehercules amicum tuum formari, ut desideras, et institui; sed valde durus capitur, immo, quod est molestius, valde mollis capitur et consuetudine mala ac diutina fractus.

Volo tibi ex nostro artificio exemplum referre. Non quaelibet insitionem vitis patitur; si vetus et exesa est, si infirma gracilisque, aut non recipiet surculum aut non alet nec adplicabit sibi nec in qualitatem eius naturamque transibit. Itaque solemus supra terram praecidere, ut si non respondit, temptari possit secunda fortuna, et iterum repetita infra terram inseratur.

Hic, de quo scribis et mandas, non habet vires; indulsit vitiis. Simul et emarcuit et induruit. Non potest recipere rationem, non potest nutrire. “At cupit ipse.” Noli credere. Non dico illum mentiri tibi; putat se cupere. Stomachum illi fecit luxuria; cito cum illa redibit in gratiam. “Sed dicit se offendi vita sua.“Non negaverim. Quis enim non offenditur? Homines vitia sua et amant simul et oderunt. Tunc itaque de illo feremus sententiam, cum fidem nobis fecerit invisam iam sibi esse luxuriam; nunc illis male convenit. Vale.

color photograph of dry vines in the process of grafting

Teach Me What I Need to Know

Seneca, Moral Epistles 109.17-18

“I have done what you asked, although it was in a series of subjects which are in my works on moral philosophy. Consider what I am in the habit of telling you often: there is nothing in these kinds of studies for us other than practicing our wit. I repeatedly return to this: How does this subject help me? Make me braver now, more just, more temperate. There has been no time to practice yet, I still need my trainer beside me. Why do you ask me about useless knowledge? You made massive promises: check this, watch!. You were saying that I would be fearless even if swords were clashing around me, even if the edges were just touching my throat–you were claiming I would feel safe, even if fires were raging around me, even if a sudden storm would toss my ship over the whole sea!

Offer me this cure now so I can spurn pleasure and glory. After that you will teach me to solve logic problems and make sense of ambiguity. For now, teach me what I need to know. BYE.”

Persolvi id quod exegeras, quamquam in ordine rerum erat, quas moralis philosophiae voluminibus complectimur. Cogita, quod soleo frequenter tibi dicere, in istis nos nihil aliud quam acumen exercere. Totiens enim illo revertor: quid ista me res iuvat? Fortiorem fac iam, iustiorem, temperantiorem. Nondum exerceri vacat; adhuc medico mihi opus est. Quid me poscis scientiam inutilem? Magna promisisti; exige, vide. Dicebas intrepidum fore, etiam si circa me gladii micarent, etiam si mucro tangeret iugulum; dicebas securum fore, etiam si circa me flagrarent incendia, etiam si subitus turbo toto navem meam mari raperet. Hanc mihi praesta curam, ut voluptatem, ut gloriam contemnam. Postea docebis inplicta solvere, ambigua distinguere, obscura perspicere; nunc doce quod necesse est. Vale.

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

I’m Not Sorry for Taking So Long to Respond

Seneca, Moral Epistles 106.1-3

“I am rather late in responding to your messages and not because I was too busy. Be skeptical when you hear this excuse. I had the time and everyone has the time if they want to. Work doesn’t control anyone. People get all mixed up in their tasks and imagine that busyness is a proof of their success.

So, what’s the reason that I didn’t respond right away? Well, that thing that you were asking about was just starting to develop as part of my writing. You know that I am trying to explain moral philosophy and all the issues that attend it. So, I was unsure about whether I would put answering you off until I got to the place of your question or whether it was right for me to answer you out of order. But it seemed nicer to not slow down someone coming from so far away.  So I am taking this out of the logical sequence to send you along with associated questions you didn’t ask for.”

Tardius rescribo ad epistulas tuas, non quia districtus occupationibus sum. Hanc excusationem cave audias; vaco et omnes vacant, qui volunt. Neminem res secuntur. Ipsi illas amplexantur et argumentum esse felicitatis occupationem putant.

Quid ergo fuit, quare non protinus rescriberem? Id, de quo quaerebas, veniebat in contextum operis mei. Scis enim me moralem philosophiam velle conplecti et omnes ad eam pertinentis quaestiones explicare. Itaque dubitavi utrum differrem te, donec suus isti rei veniret locus, an ius tibi extra ordinem dicerem; humanius visum est tam longe venientem non detinere. Itaque et hoc ex illa serie rerum cohaerentium excerpam et, si qua erunt eiusmodi, non quaerenti tibi ultro mittam.

Meme of oil painting with man at writing table holding his head. There is the Latin "non quia districtus occupationibus sum." This means I am writing rather late to you and not because I was occupied"

Every Day is an Entire Life

CW: ableism

Seneca, Moral Epistles 101.10-12

So, hurry, my Lucilius, and live–treat each individual day like a whole life. Who ever adapts in this way–whoever’s daily life is complete–feels safe. But the time right in front of them always slides away from those who live for hope and that greed and that miserable fear of death that makes everything else miserable slips in.

It is from there that that foulest prayer of Maecenas comes. In it, he does not swear off weakness, deformity, and then at the end the painful cross as long as he can continue life throughout.

Give me a broken hand, weaken my foot;
grow a hump on my back and shake my teeth loose
as long as life persists, it’s all good.
Keep it going, even if I lie on a sharp cross

He begs for something that would be completely pitiable if it merely happened to him and he pleads for a delay as if he were asking for life!”

Ideo propera, Lucili mi, vivere et singulos dies singulas vitas puta. Qui hoc modo se aptavit, cui vita sua cotidie fuit tota, securus est; in spem viventibus proximum quodque tempus elabitur subitque aviditas et miserrimus ac miserrima omnia efficiens metus mortis. Inde illud Maecenatis turpissimum votum, quo et debilitatem non recusat et deformitatem et novissime acutam crucem, dummodo inter haec mala spiritus prorogetur:

​Debilem facito manu, debilem pede coxo,
Tuber adstrue gibberum, lubricos quate dentes;
Vita dum superest, benest; hanc mihi, vel acuta
Si sedeam cruce, sustine.

Quod miserrimum erat, si incidisset, optatur et tamquam vita petitur supplici mora.

GIF from life of Brian with man on cross singing "always look on the bright side of life"

Fourth Place is Still Better than You!

Seneca, Moral Epistle 100.9

“Offer up someone you think is better than Fabianus. Sure, there’s Cicero , who has nearly as many books relevant to philosophy as Fabianus does. I’ll allow this, but it is no minor affair to be somewhat less than the best. Then there’s Asinius Pollio. I’ll grant that too and respond that it is impressive to be third after those two. Name Livy too, for he also wrote dialogues, which you can include as philosophy no less than history, alongside books that expressly contain philosophy. I grant Livy his place as well. Think, then, of how many authors Fabianus surpasses if he is inferior to only three, and three rhetorical greats as it is!”

adfer, quem Fabiano possis praeponere. Dic Ciceronem, cuius libri ad philosophiam pertinentes paene totidem sunt, quot Fabiani; cedam, sed non statim pusillum est, si quid maximo minus est. Dic Asinium Pollionem; cedam, et respondeamus: in re tanta eminere est post duos esse. Nomina adhuc T. Livium, scripsit enim et dialogos, quos non magis philosophiae adnumerare possis quam historiae, et ex professo philosophiam continentis libros; huic quoque dabo locum. Vide tamen, quam multos antecedat, qui a tribus vincitur et tribus eloquentissimis.

color photography of a black figure greek vase.  nude youths on horseback in horse-race
C Painter (late work) – period / date: high archaic, ca. 560-550 BC


Dude, Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Seneca, Moral Epistle 99.4-5

“But most people don’t add up how many things they have gained, how much joy they have experienced. This grief of yours has this problem among others: not only is it excessive, it is also ungrateful. Have you had a friend like this for no reason at all? Is it worthless that you have had so many years, such a profound sharing of life, so deep a well of shared interests? Do you entomb friendship with the friend? Why mourn that you lost if you gained nothing to have had it in the first place?

Believe me, a great part of those we have loved remains with us even after fortune has removed them. What has passed is ours and no time better safeguarded than what has already been. We remain ungrateful for what we had because we hang on the hope of the future as if the future–provided we have any at all–will not quickly join the past.

Whoever finds joy only in the present chooses a limit for the enjoyment of things. the future and the past also delight us, one by anticipation, the other through memory. But one is only potential and may not happen, while the the other necessarily happened.”

“Sed plerique non computant, quanta perceperint, quantum gavisi sint. Hoc habet inter reliqua mali dolor iste: non supervacuus tantum, sed ingratus est. Ergo quod habuisti talem amicum, periit opera? Tot annis, tanta coniunctione vitae, tam familiari studiorum societate nil actum est? Cum amico effers amicitiam? Et quid doles amisisse, si habuisse non prodest? Mihi crede, magna pars ex iis, quos amavimus, licet ipsos casus abstulerit, apud nos manet. Nostrum est, quod praeteriit, tempus nec quicquam est loco tutiore quam quod fuit. Ingrati adversus percepta spe futuri sumus, quasi non quod futurum est, si modo successerit nobis, cito in praeterita transiturum sit. Anguste fructus rerum determinat, qui tantum praesentibus laetus est; et futura et praeterita delectant, haec exspectatione, illa memoria, sed alterum pendet et non fieri potest, alterum non potest non fuisse.

Drake happy and sad meme, happy about the past, sad about the future

Outlaw Wealth? Maybe Not

Seneca, Moral Epistle  87.41

“Let’s imagine that we are called to an assembly: a law is on offer concerning outlawing wealth. Would we be advocating for or against it based on our philosophical arguments? Could we use our disputations to persuade the Roman people to request and praise poverty, that fundamental cause of our own empire,  and also to fear their own wealth?

Could we make them see that they have discovered it among those they have conquered, to understand that from wealth  ambition, corruption, and strife have disrupted a city once the most sacred and moderate, that thanks to it we show off the spoils of other nations excessively; and that whatever one people have stolen from all others can be easily taken back from the one by everyone else?

It is enough to advocate for the law and to control our own actions rather than to write our way around them. Let us speak more bravely, if we can; if we cannot, more honestly.”

Putemus nos ad contionem vocatos; lex de abolendis divitiis fertur. His interrogationibus suasuri aut dissuasuri sumus? His effecturi, ut populus Romanus paupertatem, fundamentum et causam imperii sui, requirat ac laudet, divitias autem suas timeat, ut cogitet has se apud victos repperisse, hinc ambitum et largitiones et tumultus in urbem sanctissimam et temperantissimam inrupisse, nimis luxuriose ostentari gentium spolia, quod unus populus eripuerit omnibus, facilius ab omnibus uni eripi posse? Hanc satius est suadere et expugnare adfectus, non circumscribere. Si possumus, fortius loquamur; si minus, apertius. Vale.

bad choice good choice meme with woman disliking "outlawing wealth" and liking "be less ostentatious"

He Sees The Secrets That We Keep

Seneca, Moral Epistles 83.1-3

“You demand that I describe each of my days to you and in their entirety too. If you think that there’s nothing I should hide among these, you have a high opinion of me. Still, this is certainly the way we should live, as if out in front of everyone. This is also how we should think, as if there is someone out there who can see into our deepest heart. And there is. For what is the advantage if something can be kept secret from a person? Nothing is secret from God. He is in our souls and is present among our thoughts. He enters among them, I say, as someone who may leave at any time.

So, I will do what you demand and write you openly what I am doing and in what order. I will observe myself constantly and take stock of every day, which is a very useful practice. This is what makes us the worst: no one examines their own life. We think about only what we are going to do, even though our future plans rely on the past.”

Singulos dies tibi meos et quidem totos indicari iubes; bene de me iudicas, si nihil esse in illis putas, quod abscondam. Sic certe vivendum est, tamquam in conspectu vivamus; sic cogitandum, tamquam aliquis in pectus intimum introspicere possit; et potest. Quid enim prodest ab homine aliquid esse secretum? Nihil deo clusum est. Interest animis nostris et cogitationibus mediis intervenit—sic intervenit, dico, tamquam aliquando discedat. Faciam ergo, quod iubes, et quid agam et quo ordine, libenter tibi scribam. Observabo me protinus et, quod est utilissimum, diem meum recognoscam. Hoc nos pessimos facit, quod nemo vitam suam respicit. Quid facturi simus cogitamus. Atqui consilium futuri ex praeterito venit.

they don't know meme with captions "they don't know how much I have examined my life"

Seneca’s Spirit in the Sky

Seneca, Moral Epistles 79.11-13

“Much of our work is done–well, if I am willing to tell the truth, it isn’t much. For goodness is not being better than the worst. Who would brag about their eyes after just glimpsing daylight? Someone who has seen the sun shine through a mist may be happy that they have fled the shadows even though they still do not enjoy the light’s benefit.

Our spirits will not have a reason to congratulate themselves until they are freed from the shadows they’re stumbling in and have not glanced at the light with fleeting vision but have exulted in the whole day and have been restored to their own place in the sky–when they return to the place they inhabited before they were born.

Their origins call souls on high–and they can make it back there even before being released from this prison once they abandon their vices and launch purely and lightly into divine contemplation.

It pleases me, dearest Lucilius, that we are doing this,  that we pursue it with all our strength,  even though few people–or none at all–know about it. Fame is virtue’s shadow–it follows even against our will.”

Iam multum operis effecti est; immo, si verum fateri volo, non multum. Nec enim bonitas est pessimis esse meliorem. Quis oculis glorietur, qui suspicetur diem? Cui sol per caliginem splendet, licet contentus interim sit effugisse tenebras, adhuc non fruitur bono lucis. Tunc animus noster habebit, quod gratuletur sibi, cum emissus his tenebris, in quibus volutatur, non tenui visu clara prospexerit, sed totum diem admiserit et redditus caelo suo fuerit, cum receperit locum, quem occupavit sorte nascendi. Sursum illum vocant initia sua. Erit autem illic etiam antequam hac custodia exsolvatur, cum vitia disiecerit purusque ac levis in cogitationes divinas emicuerit.

Hoc nos agere, Lucili carissime, in hoc ire impetu toto, licet pauci sciant, licet nemo, iuvat. Gloria umbra virtutis est; etiam invitam comitabitur.

Lemberg meme from office space saying "if you could just overcome your vices and have pure thoughts, that'd be great"

Best to Write Last? Seneca Breaks ChatGPT

Seneca, Moral Epistle 79.6

“There’s a big difference in whether you write on material that has been thoroughly worked through or on something just breaking. New material expands each day and what you know doesn’t stand in the way of new discoveries. But the best opportunity is to write last: the words are waiting for you and they look different when arranged in a new way. You’re not stealing them as if they belong to someone else–they’re in the public domain!”

Multum interest, utrum ad consumptam materiam an ad subactam accedas; crescit in dies et inventuris inventa non obstant. Praeterea condicio optima est ultimi; parata verba invenit, quae aliter instructa novam faciem habent. Nec illis manus inicit tamquam alienis. Sunt enim publica

kermit d frog at a typewriter meme with the words "the secret to writing is stealing the best words"