“And the affair followed and these were my fears, leaving me with a desire for nothing but death. And my conversations with everyone nearby were about this as were my prayers to the gods. One who mentioned baths was my enemy; anyone who mentioned dinner was my enemy.
And I fled in exile from the books which contained the classical texts of my toil; I fled from writing and composition of my lectures. I lost my ability to speak even though my students were shouting for me. Whenever I tried, I was taken off track like a boat facing an opposing wind. Even though they harbored hopes of hearing me, I still went silent. My doctors were telling me to seek healing somewhere else because there were no medicines for these kinds of ills in their craft.”
“Furthermore, for these things it is believed that their opposites are born from fear, just as in hatred of women as in the Misogunos of Atilius or that against the whole race of humankind which we have heard that Timon who is called the Misanthrope felt or even being inhospitable. All these diseases of the soul develop from a special fear of those things which people fear and then hate. They define a disease of the soul, moreover, as a vehement belief about a thing which is not desired even though it is anticipated powerfully, a belief which is constant and deeply held.”
Quae autem sunt his contraria, ea nasci putantur a metu, ut odium mulierum, quale in Μισογύνῳ Atilii1 est, ut in hominum universum genus, quod accepimus de Timone, qui μισάνθρωπος appellatur, ut inhospitalitas est: quae omnes aegrotationes animi ex quodam metu nascuntur earum rerum, quas fugiunt et oderunt. Definiunt autem animi aegrotationem opinationem vehementem de re non expetenda, tamquam valde expetenda sit, inhaerentem et penitus insitam.
“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.
But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.
It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”
In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere. Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…
Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5
“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”
Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.
Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX
“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”
“Finally, what do you prefer that she was sane or insane while she was writing? You claim sane? Therefore, she was not under the influence of occult arts. You will say she was insane? In that case, she was unconscious of what she wrote and must not be trusted. Or, more to the case, if she had been insane, she would not have known that she was insane.
For, it is like when someone is not silent because he says he is silent and by the utterance itself undermines his own claim. But saying “I’m crazy” betrays someone even more because it is not true unless he says it without understanding. The person is sane, moreover, who knows what insanity is; and, certainly, insanity cannot know itself any more than blindness can see itself.
Therefore, Prudentilla was sound in mind, if she did not think she was sound in mind. I could add more, if I wanted to, but I will leave philosopher behind now.”
Postremo quid vis: sanam an insanam fuisse, dum scriberet? Sanam dices? Nihil ergo erat magicis artibus passa. Insanam respondebis? Nesciit ergo quid scripserit, eoque ei fides non habenda est; immo etiam, si fuisset insana, insanam se esse nescisset. Nam ut absurde facit qui tacere se dicit, quod ibidem dicendo tacere sese non tacet et ipsa professione quod profitetur infirmat, ita vel magis hoc repugnant, “ego insanio,” quod verum non est, nisi sciens dicit. Porro sanus est, qui scit quid sit insania, quippe insania scire se non potest, non magis quam caecitas se videre; igitur Pudentilla compos mentis fuit, si compotem mentis se non putabat. Possum, si velim, pluribus, sed mitto dialectica
“Just as, therefore, the storm which keeps you from docking is more dangerous than the one that won’t let you sail, the storms of the soul are worse when they do not allow a person to control or put down his troubled thoughts—this person goes without a helmsman, without ballast in confusion and wandering, taking off in steep and opposite courses until suffering a harrowing shipwreck and crushing his life. This is why it is worse to suffer sickness of mind than the body: For those who are sick, merely suffer; the sick of mind suffer and harm others.
But why is it necessary to repeat the great number of afflictions? Current events remind me of them. Do you see this immense, mix up crowd which clings together and mixes around the seat of government and the market?”
How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? It is probably not at all coincidental that I keep turning to authors from the Roman Imperial period for answers….
Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69
“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. The these examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs. This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”
Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.
Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health.
Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d
“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].
And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”
“If you were sick, you would break from personal affairs and neglect your work responsibilities—you would not care enough for an client to work on his case during a brief respite from illness. No, you would work with all your mind to free yourself from sickness as soon as possible.
What then? Won’t you do the same thing now? Dismiss all obstacles and dedicate yourself to a healthy mind. No one who is distracted can achieve this. Philosophy rules her own realm: she makes the time and does not accept appointments. She is not a random assignment but a regular obligation. She is master: she is here and commands. Alexander, to a certain state who promised him half of their possessions and lands, said “I came into Asia not with the plain of me taking what you offered but for you to have whatever I left behind.” In the same way, philosophy says to all other affairs: “I am not going to accept the time you don’t need, but you may have the time I don’t take.”
Si aeger esses, curam intermisisses rei familiaris et forensia tibi negotia excidissent nec quemquam tanti putares cui advocatus in remissione descenderes; toto animo id ageres ut quam primum morbo liberareris. Quid ergo? non et nunc idem facies? omnia impedimenta dimitte et vaca bonae menti: nemo ad illam pervenit occupatus. Exercet philosophia regnum suum; dat tempus, non accipit; non est res subsiciva; ordinaria est, domina est, adest et iubet.  Alexander cuidam civitati partem agrorum et dimidium rerum omnium promittenti ‘eo’ inquit ‘proposito in Asiam veni, ut non id acciperem quod dedissetis, sed ut id haberetis quod reliquissem’. Idem philosophia rebus omnibus: ‘non sum hoc tempus acceptura quod vobis superfuerit, sed id vos habebitis quod ipsa reiecero’.
This reminded me of a passage from Epictetus:
Epictetus, Treatises Collected by Arrian, 2.15: To those who cling to any judgments they have made tenaciously
“Whenever some men hear these words—that it is right to be consistent, that the moral man is free by nature and never compelled, while everything else may be hindered, forced, enslaved, subjected to others—they imagine that it is right that they maintain every judgment they have made without compromising at all. But the first issue is that the judgment should be a good one. For, if I wish to maintain the state of my body, it should be when it is healthy, well-exercised. If you show me that you have the tone of a crazy person and brag about it, I will say ‘Man, look for a therapist. This is not health, but sickness.’ “