Advice on Buying Gifts from Seneca

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

Related image

 

Seneca Says: We Are Worse off at Death than At Birth

Your periodic reminder from Seneca: we are all going to die.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 22.12-13

“If you desire to be free of this and freedom seems truly attractive to you, and if you seek help for this reason alone—that it might be allowed for you to do this without constant trouble—how would the whole gang of Stoics fail to approve it? Every Zeno and Chrysippus will advise you about your moderation and honor. But if you keep turning your back so you can try to see how much you carry with you and how much money you need for leisure you will never find an end to it.

No one can swim to safety with their bags. Emerge to a better life with divine favor but let it not be in that way in which they are favorable to those people to whom they grant great evils with pleasant and pleasing glances—and they are excused for doing so because those things which burn and torture are given to those who beg for them.

I was already closing this letter with a seal, but it had to be opened again so that it may come to you with the dutiful contribution and bring some great saying to you. And look, here is something that comes to my mind which I don’t know if it is truer or more well-put. “Whose saying?” you ask? It is Epicurus, for I am still sewing my quilt from other people’s fragments. “Everyone leaves from life just as if they just had entered it”.

Grab anyone suddenly—a youth, an old man, someone in the middle—and you will find them equally afraid of death and without understanding of life. No one has finished anything, because we keep postponing everything we do to tomorrow. Nothing makes me happier in that quotation than the fact that it calls old men out for being babies.

“No one”, he says, “leaves the world differently from the way in which they were born.” This is false! We are worse when we die than when we are born. This is our fault, not nature’s. Nature ought to criticize us, saying, “What is this? I produced you without desires, without fear, without superstition, without treachery and these diseases! Leave as you were when you got here!”

Sed si deponere illam in animo est et libertas bona fide placuit, in hoc autem unum advocationem petis, ut sine perpetua sollicitudine id tibi facere contingat, quidni tota te cohors Stoicorum probatura sit? Omnes Zenones et Chrysippi moderata, honesta, tua suadebunt. Sed si propter hoc tergiversaris, ut circumspicias, quantum feras tecum et quam magna pecunia instruas otium, numquam exitum invenies. Nemo cum sarcinis enatat. Emerge ad meliorem vitam propitiis dis, sed non sic, quomodo istis propitii sunt, quibus bono ac benigno vultu mala magnifica tribuerunt, ad hoc unum excusati, quod ista, quae urunt, quae excruciant, optantibus data sunt.

13Iam inprimebam epistulae signum; resolvenda est, ut cum sollemni ad te munusculo veniat et aliquam magnificam vocem ferat secum, et occurrit mihi ecce nescio utrum verior an eloquentior. “Cuius?” inquis; Epicuri, adhuc enim alienas sarcinas adsero; “Nemo non ita exit e vita, tamquam modo intraverit.” Quemcumque vis occupa, adulescentem senem medium; invenies aeque timidum mortis, aeque inscium vitae. Nemo quicquam habet facti, in futurum enim nostra distulimus. Nihil me magis in ista voce delectat quam quod exprobratur senibus infantia. “Nemo,” inquit, “aliter quam qui modo natus est exit e vita.” Falsum est; peiores morimur quam nascimur. Nostrum istud, non naturae vitium est. Illa nobiscum queri debet et dicere: “Quid hoc est? Sine cupiditatibus vos genui, sine timoribus, sine superstitione, sine perfidia ceterisque pestibus; quales intrastis exite.”

Image result for ancient greek death mosaic

Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.Monday

Collective Madness and False Beliefs

Seneca, Moral Epistles 94.17

“This part of precepts should be tossed away because it can’t give to everyone what it guarantees to a small few. Wisdom, however, welcomes all. There’s no difference, really, between the popular madness in general and the kind that requires medical treatment except that the individual suffers from a disease and the masses are afflicted by false opinions. For one, the symptoms of insanity develop from poor health, the other arises from sick minds.

If one offers maxims to a madman about how to speak, or walk, or how to act in public and private, they’d prove to be crazier than the one they’re advising. Someone really needs to treat their black bile and remove the initial cause of the affliction. This is what is required for a diseased mind too. The madness needs to be shed first, otherwise all your words of warning are useless.”

“Ergo ista praeceptiva pars summovenda est, quia quod paucis promittit, praestare omnibus non potest; sapientia autem omnes tenet. Inter insaniam publicamet hanc, quae medicis traditur, nihil interest nisi quod haec morbo laborat, illa opinionibus falsis. Altera causas furoris traxit ex valitudine, altera animi mala valitudo est. Si quis furioso praecepta det, quomodo loqui debeat, quomodo procedere, quomodo in publico se gerere, quomodo in privato, erit ipso, quem monebit, insanior. Ei bilis1 nigra curanda est et ipsa furoris causa removenda. Idem in hoc alio animi furore faciendum est. Ipse discuti debet; alioqui abibunt in vanum monentium verba.”


Detail from The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488–1516).

Feeling Sad? Just Think of All the Famous Dead People

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.47

“Always keep in mind that all sorts of people from all kinds of occupations and from every country on earth have died. And take this thought to Philistion and Phoibos and Origanion. Turn to the rest of the peoples on earth too.

We have to cross over to the same place where all those clever speakers and so many serious philosophers have gone—Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates—and where those great heroes of old, the brave generals and tyrants have gone too. Among them are Eudoxos, Hipparchus, Archimedes,  and other sharp natures, big minds, tireless men, bold men, and those who mock the temporary and disposable nature of life itself, like Menippus and the rest.

Think about all these people, that they have been dead for a long time. Why is this terrible for them? Why worry about those who are no longer named? This one thing is worth much: to keep on living with truth and justice and in good will even among liars and unjust men.”

Ἐννόει συνεχῶς παντοίους ἀνθρώπους καὶ παντοίων μὲν ἐπιτηδευμάτων, παντοδαπῶν δὲ ἐθνῶν, τεθνεῶτας· ὥστε κατιέναι τοῦτο μέχρι Φιλιστίωνος καὶ Φοίβου καὶ Ὀριγανίωνος. μέτιθι νῦν ἐπὶ τὰ ἄλλα φῦλα. ἐκεῖ δὴ μεταβαλεῖν ἡμᾶς δεῖ, ὅπου τοσοῦτοι μὲν δεινοὶ ῥήτορες, τοσοῦτοι δὲ σεμνοὶ φιλόσοφοι, Ἡράκλειτος, Πυθαγόρας, Σωκράτης· τοσοῦτοι δὲ ἥρωες πρότερον, τοσοῦτοι δὲ ὕστερον στρατηγοί, τύραννοι· ἐπὶ τούτοις δὲ Εὔδοξος, Ἵππαρχος, Ἀρχιμήδης, ἄλλαι φύσεις ὀξεῖαι, μεγαλόφρονες, φιλόπονοι, πανοῦργοι, αὐθάδεις, αὐτῆς τῆς ἐπικήρου καὶ ἐφημέρου τῶν ἀνθρώπων ζωῆς χλευασταί, οἶον Μένιππος καὶ ὅσοι τοιοῦτοι. περὶ πάντων τούτων ἐννόει, ὅτι πάλαι κεῖνται. τί οὖν τοῦτο δεινὸν αὐτοῖς; τί δαὶ τοῖς μηδ᾿ ὀνομαζομένοις ὅλως; Ἓν ὧδε πολλοῦ ἄξιον, τὸ μετ᾿ ἀληθείας καὶ δικαιοσύνης εὐμενῆ τοῖς ψεύσταις καὶ ἀδίκοις διαβιοῦν.

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpg

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates 1787

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.

Image result for Medieval manuscript hobby
MS from Bodleian Library. (Found on Pinterest)

Hearing Color, Seeing Words

Aristotle, On Gorgias 980b

“For how can someone express in words what they have seen? Or how is it possible for a thing to be clear to someone who has only heard it but has not seen it? For just as sight cannot recognize sounds, so too hearing cannot sense colors. So, the speaker speaks but not a color or a thing. How can someone communicate what is not actually in their mind in speech or in any other sign which is different from the thing itself other than through a color, if a thing is seen, or a sound if something is heard?

To start, no one speaks sound or color, but words. For this reason, it is not possible to think a color but only to see it nor a sound but only to hear it. Since we accept that we know and read words, how then does someone who hears the same thing conceptualize it?”

ὃ γὰρ εἶδε, πῶς ἄν τις, φησί, τοῦτο εἴποι λόγῳ; ἢ πῶς ἂν ἐκεῖνο δῆλον ἀκούσαντι γίγνοιτο, μὴ ἰδόντι; ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδὲ ἡ ὄψις τοὺς φθόγγους γιγνώσκει, οὕτως οὐδὲ ἡ ἀκοὴ τὰ χρώματα ἀκούει, ἀλλὰ φθόγγους· καὶ λέγει ὁ λέγων, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ χρῶμα οὐδὲ πρᾶγμα. ὃ οὖν τις μὴ ἐννοεῖ, πῶς ἂν αὐτὸ παρ᾿ ἄλλου λόγῳ ἢ σημείῳ τινί, ἑτέρῳ τοῦ πράγματος, ἐννοήσειεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ ἐὰν μὲν χρῶμα, ἰδών, ἐὰν δὲ <φθόγγος, ἀκροώ> μενος; ἀρχὴν γὰρ οὐ<δεὶς> λέγει <φθόγ>γον οὐδὲ χρῶμα, ἀλλὰ λόγον· ὥστ᾿ οὐδὲ διανοεῖσθαι χρῶμα ἔστιν, ἀλλ᾿ ὁρᾶν, οὐδὲ ψόφον, ἀλλ᾿ ἀκούειν. εἰ δὲ καὶ ἐνδέχεται γιγνώσκειν τε καὶ ἀναγιγνώσκειν λόγον, ἀλλὰ πῶς ὁ ἀκούων τὸ αὐτὸ ἐννοήσει;

File:Modern Tropical Art-Window of Perception.jpg
Window of Perception 

Life Without a Nemesis

Seneca, de providentia 1.4.3

 “I congratulate you not so much as a brave person but as if you had won the consulship or a praetorship: you have leveled up in honor! Similarly I would say to a good person if no misfortune had given them the change to demonstrate their spirit’s strength, “I think you’re unlucky because you have never been unlucky. You have made it through life without a nemesis. No one will know what you’re capable of, not even you!”

For someone to really know themselves, they need to be tested. No one discovers what they can do without trying! This is why some people have intentionally given themselves to misfortune and have searched for some way to make their true value shine bright when it might instead pass into the unknown.

Great men, I say, often delight in facing trouble, as brave soldiers do when they face war. I once heard a gladiator named Triumphus in the reign of Tiberius Caesar complaining about how few competitions there were: “How beautiful an age has slipped away!”

Non gratulor tamquam viro forti, sed tanquam consulatum praeturamve adepto; honore auctus es. Item dicere et bono viro possum, si illi nullam occasionem difficilior casus dedit in qua una1 vim animi sui ostenderet: “Miserum te iudico, quod numquam fuisti miser. Transisti sine adversario vitam; nemo sciet quid potueris, ne tu quidem ipse.” Opus est enim ad notitiam sui experimento; quid quisque posset nisi temptando non didicit. Itaque quidam ipsi ultro se cessantibus malis obtulerunt et virtuti iturae in obscurum occasionem per quam 4enitesceret quaesierunt. Gaudent, inquam, magni viri aliquando rebus adversis, non aliter quam fortes milites bello. Triumphum ego murmillonem sub Tib. Caesare de raritate munerum audivi querentem: “Quam bella,” inquit, “aetas perit!”

 

Gnomologium Vaticanum, 518

“Sophokles the tragic poet, after he heard that Euripides died in Macedonia, said “The whetstone of my poetry is gone.”

Σοφοκλῆς, ὁ τῶν τραγῳδιῶν ποιητής, ἀκούσας Εὐριπίδην ἐν Μακεδονίᾳ τεθνηκέναι εἶπεν· „ἀπώλετο ἡ τῶν ἐμῶν ποιημάτων ἀκόνη.”

Leaving Life From an Inn, Not a Home

Cicero De Senectute, 84

“Even if some god should permit that I would return to the time of my birth from this age, I would sternly refuse–for, truly, I do not wish to restart as if to retrace a race run from the finish line to the starting post.

What attraction does life have? Or, rather, what labor does it lack? Let it have clear charm–even still, it must have either satiety or a conclusion. It is not my purpose to deplore life as many–even learned men–have often done. And I do not regret that I have lived, because I lived in a such a way that I do not believe I was pointlessly born.  And I am leaving life as if from an inn, not a home. For nature has given us a way-station for a brief delay, not to permanently reside.”

Et si quis deus mihi largiatur ut ex hac aetate repuerascam et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem, nec vero velim quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari. Quid habet enim vita commodi? Quid non potius laboris? Sed habeat sane; habet certe tamen aut satietatem aut modum. Non libet enim mihi deplorare vitam, quod multi et ei docti saepe fecerunt, neque me vixisse paenitet, quoniam ita vixi, ut non frustra me natum existimem, et ex vita ita discedo tamquam ex hospitio, non tamquam e domo; commorandi enim natura divorsorium nobis, non habitandi dedit.

This last bit made me think of Lucretius:

De Rerum Natura, 3.970-971

“Thus one thing never ceases to arise from another,
and life is given to no one for ownership, but to all for rent.”

sic aliud ex alio numquam desistet oriri
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu

Image result for medieval manuscript de senectute

Loving Flesh, Fearing Violence

Seneca, Moral Episitles 14

“I admit that we all have an innate love for our body; I admit that we manage its safety. I don’t deny that it should be indulged, but that it must not be our master. Whoever serves their body will have many masters–one who fears too much for it, who judges everything by what the body needs. We should make our decisions not as if we live for the body but as if we could not live without it. Too great a love for the flesh troubles us with fear, weighs us down with worry, and makes us exposed to insult. Virtue is cheap for one who holds the body too dear. We should care for our bodies as much as we can, but we should be ready to surrender them to flames when reason, respect, or duty demand it.

Yet, we should live as much as possible to avoid discomfort and danger and to retreat to safe-ground by always thinking of how we can ward off fear. Unless I am in error, there are three causes of this. We fear poverty, sickness, and the dangers that come from a stronger person’s violence. Of these, nothing shakes us as much as someone else having power over us. This comes with a great shout and trouble. But the natural troubles of poverty and sickness sneak up on us quietly and suddenly, giving no warning fright to eyes or ears.”

Fateor insitam esse nobis corporis nostri caritatem; fateor nos huius gerere tutelam. Non nego indulgendum illi; serviendum nego. Multis enim serviet, qui corpori servit, qui pro illo nimium timet, qui ad illud omnia refert. Sic gerere nos debemus, non tamquam propter corpus vivere debeamus, sed tamquam non possimus sine corpore. Huius nos nimius amor timoribus inquietat, sollicitudinibus onerat, contumeliis obicit. Honestum ei vile est, cui corpus nimis carum est. Agatur eius diligentissime cura, ita tamen, ut cum exiget ratio, cum dignitas, cum fides, mittendum in ignes sit.

Nihilominus, quantum possumus, evitemus incommoda quoque, non tantum pericula, et in tutum nos reducamus excogitantes subinde, quibus possint timenda depelli. Quorum tria, nisi fallor, genera sunt: timetur inopia, timentur morbi, timentur quae per vim potentioris eveniunt. Ex his omnibus nihil nos magis concutit, quam quod ex aliena potentia inpendet. Magno enim strepitu et tumultu venit. Naturalia mala quae rettuli, inopia atque morbus, silentio subeunt nec oculis nec auribus quicquam terroris incutiunt. Ingens alterius mali pompa est.

Bust of Seneca, Italian c.1700, Albertinum, Dresden