Silly Mortals, Lifetimes Are Plenty Long!

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae I

“A great number of mortals, Paul, grumble about nature’s cruelty–that we are born to a short life and that this time rushes by so quickly and surprisingly through its granted span that, with the exception of only a few, life’s end comes just when we’re ready to truly live. And it isn’t just a complaint of the public and the uninformed masses: this feeling brings the same quarrel from famous people too–this prompted the shout from the most famous doctors, that “life is short, art is everlasting.”

This also caused Aristotle to express a charge ill fit to a wise person when he was hypothesizing about Nature that when it comes to lifespan she has granted so much to animals that they live five or ten lives when so little has been given to human beings who achieve so much more! We don’t have too little time, but we do waste much of it.

Life is long enough and it has been granted sufficiently for finishing great things as long as the whole time is dedicated to them. Yet when life is wasted in luxury and recklessness or when it is devoted to nothing good, we are forced by the last moment to understand that life has left us before we understood it was going. So it goes–we don’t get a short life, but make it so; and it isn’t limited, we just waste it.”

Maior pars mortalium, Pauline, de naturae malignitate conqueritur, quod in exiguum aevi gignamur, quod haec tam velociter, tam rapide dati nobis temporis spatia decurrant, adeo ut exceptis admodum paucis ceteros in ipso vitae apparatu vita destituat. Nec huic publico, ut opinantur, malo turba tantum et imprudens1 volgus ingemuit; clarorum quoque virorum hic affectus querellas evocavit. Inde illa maximi medicorum exclamatio est: ‘vitam brevem  esse, longam artem’; inde Aristotelis cum rerum natura exigentis minime conveniens sapienti viro lis: ‘aetatis illam animalibus tantum indulsisse, ut quina aut dena saecula educerent, homini in tam multa ac magna genito tanto citeriorem terminum  stare.’ 

Non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdimus. Satis longa vita et in maximarum rerum consummationem large data est, si tota bene collocaretur; sed ubi per luxum ac neglegentiam diffluit, ubi nulli bonae rei impenditur, ultima demum necessitate cogente quam ire non intelleximus  transisse sentimus. Ita est: non accipimus brevem vitam, sed facimus, nec inopes eius sed prodigi sumus.

Tower clock at the south side of the Schwabentor with the painting “Kosmos” by Carl Roesch, Vorstadt 69, Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Seneca Goes Stir-crazy 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, their mind is enraged against fortune—it complains of the era, and they retreat 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 for being distracting from itself—even more welcome to those worse types who are worn out more freely in pursuing them.”

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)

Hey Tough Guy! Get Comfortable With Masks

Epictetus, Discourses 2.1.15-19

“Just as masks seem frightening and awful to children because of their inexperience, so too do we suffer something similar to current events—it is not different from how children respond to bogeymen. For what is childish? Ignorance. What else is childish? Lack of learning. When a child has learned something, they are no worse off than we are.

What is death? A bogeyman. Turn it around, get personal with it. Look! How can it bite? This little body needs to be separated from the spirit just as it was once before, either now or some time later. Why is it troubling if it happens now? If it doesn’t, it will later. Why? So that the cycle of the universe doesn’t stop. It requires everything that exists now, all things that will happen, and all those that happened before.

What is pain? It’s a bogeyman. Turn it around and get comfortable with it…”

ὡς γὰρ τοῖς παιδίοις τὰ προσωπεῖα φαίνεται δεινὰ καὶ φοβερὰ δι’ ἀπειρίαν, τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ ἡμεῖς πάσχομεν πρὸς τὰ πράγματα δι’ οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἢ ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ παιδία πρὸς τὰς μορμολυκείας. τί γάρ ἐστι παιδίον; ἄγνοια. τί ἐστι παιδίον; ἀμαθία. ἐπεὶ ὅπου οἶδεν, κἀκεῖνα οὐδὲν ἡμῶν ἔλαττον ἔχει.

θάνατος τί ἐστιν; μορμολύκειον. στρέψας αὐτὸ κατάμαθε· ἰδοῦ, πῶς οὐ δάκνει. · ἰδοῦ, πῶς οὐ δάκνει. τὸ σωμάτιον δεῖ χωρισθῆναι τοῦ πνευματίου, ὡς πρότερον ἐκεχώριστο, ἢ νῦν ἢ ὕστερον. τί οὖν ἀγανακτεῖς, εἰ νῦν; εἰ γὰρ μὴνῦν, ὕστερον. διὰ τί; ἵνα ἡ περίοδος ἀνύηται τοῦ κόσμου· χρείαν γὰρ ἔχει τῶν μὲν ἐνισταμένων, τῶν δὲ μελ-λόντων, τῶν δ’ ἠνυσμένων. πόνος τί ἐστιν; μορμολύκειον. στρέψον αὐτὸ καὶ κατάμαθε…”

Portrait of Domenica Morghen as Tragedy and Maddalena Volpato as Comedy (Tragedy and Comedy). by Angelica Kauffman 1791

Writing Your Way Out of Misery

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.4

“Many scholars of Greek studies were not able to communicate what they could teach to their own people because they were unsure that they could share in Latin what they had learned from the Greeks. But I think that in style we have made such improvement that the Greeks do not defeat us even in abundance of words.

The great sickness and heavy pain of our fortune also compelled my mind to this work. If I could have discovered any greater relief, I would not have taken refuge in this most potent comfort. Indeed, I was incapable of enjoying this in any other way that not merely reading books but also writing a monograph on all of philosophy.

We most readily come to learn every part of a subject and all of its parameters when all the questions are explained by writing. And philosophy, moreover, is a certain kind of marvelous continuation and series of things where different ideas appear to be interwoven with each other and they all connect in some way and are bound together.”

Complures enim Graecis institutionibus eruditi ea quae didicerant cum civibus suis communicare non poterant, quod ilia quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent: quo in genere tantum profecisse videmur ut a Graecis ne verborum quidem copia vinceremur. Hortata etiam est ut me ad haec conferrem animi aegritudo fortunae magna et gravi commota iniuria; cuius si maiorem aliquam levationem reperire potuissem, non ad hanc potissimum confugissem, ea vero ipsa nulla ratione melius frui potui quam si me non modo ad legendos libros sed etiam ad totam philosophiam pertractandam dedissem. Omnes autem eius partes atque omnia membra tum facillume noscuntur cum totae quaestiones scribendo explicantur; est enim admirabilis quaedam continuatio seriesque rerum, ut alia ex alia nexa et omnes inter se aptae conligataeque videantur.

Cicero, after 10 months in quarantine

After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength

Harmony and Bad Ideas

Plotinus, Ennead 1.6 On beauty

“How can theories be well-measured in respect to one another? If they do in fact agree, there can be agreement and harmony even between bad ideas. The assertion that “prudence is silliness” is in agreement and harmony with the notion that “justice is a noble stupidity”, these ideas agree with one another.

Every kind of virtue is a beauty of the soul and this beauty is truer than those previously mentioned. But how is it well-measured? Not in terms of size or number. Since the soul has many parts, what is the recipe or mixture for minds and their theories? By what notion would the beauty of the mind stand alone?”

Θεωρήματα γὰρ σύμμετρα πρὸς ἄλληλα πῶς ἂν εἴη; Εἰ δ᾿ ὅτι σύμφωνά ἐστι, καὶ κακῶν ἔσται ὁμολογία τε καὶ συμφωνία. Τῷ γὰρ τὴν σωφροσύνην ἠλιθιότητα εἶναι τὸ τὴν δικαιοσύνην γενναίαν εἶναι εὐήθειαν σύμφωνον καὶ συνῳδὸν καὶ ὁμολογεῖ πρὸς ἄλληλα. Κάλλος μὲν οὖν ψυχῆς ἀρετὴ πᾶσα καὶ κάλλος ἀληθινώτερον ἢ τὰ πρόσθεν· ἀλλὰ πῶς σύμμετρα; Οὔτε γὰρ ὡς μεγέθη οὔτε ὡς ἀριθμὸς σύμμετρα· καὶ πλειόνων μερῶν τῆς ψυχῆς ὄντων, ἐν ποίῳ γὰρ λόγῳ ἡ σύνθεσις ἢ ἡ κρᾶσις τῶν μερῶν ἢ τῶν θεωρημάτων; Τὸ δὲ τοῦ νοῦ κάλλος μονουμένου τί ἂν εἴη;

Hell panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights. It is alleged that Bosch’s self-portrait is in the upper centre at right under the “table”.

Writing Your Way Out of Misery

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.4

“Many scholars of Greek studies were not able to communicate what they could teach to their own people because they were unsure that they could share in Latin what they had learned from the Greeks. But I think that in style we have made such improvement that the Greeks do not defeat us even in abundance of words.

The great sickness and heavy pain of our fortune also compelled my mind to this work. If I could have discovered any greater relief, I would not have taken refuge in this most potent comfort. Indeed, I was incapable of enjoying this in any other way that not merely reading books but also writing a monograph on all of philosophy.

We most readily come to learn every part of a subject and all of its parameters when all the questions are explained by writing. And philosophy, moreover, is a certain kind of marvelous continuation and series of things where different ideas appear to be interwoven with each other and they all connect in some way and are bound together.”

Complures enim Graecis institutionibus eruditi ea quae didicerant cum civibus suis communicare non poterant, quod ilia quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent: quo in genere tantum profecisse videmur ut a Graecis ne verborum quidem copia vinceremur. Hortata etiam est ut me ad haec conferrem animi aegritudo fortunae magna et gravi commota iniuria; cuius si maiorem aliquam levationem reperire potuissem, non ad hanc potissimum confugissem, ea vero ipsa nulla ratione melius frui potui quam si me non modo ad legendos libros sed etiam ad totam philosophiam pertractandam dedissem. Omnes autem eius partes atque omnia membra tum facillume noscuntur cum totae quaestiones scribendo explicantur; est enim admirabilis quaedam continuatio seriesque rerum, ut alia ex alia nexa et omnes inter se aptae conligataeque videantur.

Cicero, after 10 months in quarantine

Frenemies Make for Awkward Conference Panels

Aelian, Varia Historia 3.19

“It is reported that the first difference between Plato and Aristotle developed for the following reasons. Plato was displeased with Aristotle’s life, and in the clothing he selected. See, Aristotle dressed in well-made clothes and shoes; he also had his haircut in a manner disliked by Plato; he also took pride in wearing many rings. His face, moreover, bore a certain aspect of derision; and within this face, an untimely talkativeness brought his character into question too. All these characteristics are obviously foreign to a philosopher. When Plato saw them, he was repelled by the man and preferred Xenocrates, Speusippos, Amykles, and others. These men received his respect and regular conversation.

When Xenocrates was out of town to visit his home, Aristotle set upon Plato and made a chorus of his companions around him with Mnason of Phocis and other similar men. Speusippus was ill and was incapable of walking with Plato who was already eighty years old. Thanks to his age, he had lost some parts of his memory. Aristotle plotted against him and set upon him: he questioned him rather aggressively and in the manner of refutation, which was clearly unjust and unsympathetic. Because of this, Plato stopped going for his walk outside; he walked inside with his friends.”

Λέγεται τὴν διαφορὰν ᾿Αριστοτέλους πρὸς Πλάτωνα τὴν πρώτην ἐκ τούτων γενέσθαι. οὐκ ἠρέσκετο τῷ βίῳ αὐτοῦ ὁ Πλάτων οὐδὲ τῇ κατασκευῇ τῇ περὶ τὸ σῶμα. καὶ γὰρ ἐσθῆτι ἐχρῆτο περιέργῳ ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης καὶ ὑποδέσει, καὶ κουρὰν δὲ ἐκείρετο καὶ ταύτην ἀήθη Πλάτωνι, καὶ δακτυλίους δὲ πολλοὺς φορῶν ἐκαλλύνετο ἐπὶ τούτῳ· καὶ μωκία δέ τις ἦν αὐτοῦ περὶ τὸ πρόσωπον, καὶ ἄκαιρος στωμυλία λαλοῦντος κατηγόρει καὶ αὕτη τὸν τρόπον αὐτοῦ. πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ὡς ἔστιν ἀλλότρια φιλοσόφου, δῆλον. ἅπερ οὖν ὁρῶν ὁ Πλάτων οὐ προσίετο τὸν ἄνδρα, προετίμα δὲ αὐτοῦ Ξενοκράτην καὶ Σπεύσιππον καὶ ᾿Αμύκλαν καὶ ἄλλους, τῇ τε λοιπῇ δεξιούμενος αὐτοὺς τιμῇ καὶ οὖν καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ τῶν λόγων.

ἀποδημίας δὲ γενομένης ποτὲ τῷ Ξενοκράτει ἐς τὴν πατρίδα, ἐπέθετο τῷ Πλάτωνι ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης, χορόν τινα τῶν ὁμιλητῶν τῶν ἑαυτοῦ περιστησάμενος, ὧν ἦν Μνάσων τε ὁ Φωκεὺς καὶ ἄλλοι τοιοῦτοι. ἐνόσει δὲ τότε ὁ Σπεύσιππος, καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἀδύνατος ἦν συμβαδίζειν τῷ Πλάτωνι. ὁ δὲ Πλάτων ὀγδοήκοντα ἔτη ἐγεγόνει, καὶ ὁμοῦ τι διὰ τὴν ἡλικίαν ἐπελελοίπει τὰ τῆς μνήμης αὐτόν. ἐπιθέμενος οὖν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐπιβουλεύων ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης, καὶ φιλοτίμως πάνυ τὰς ἐρωτήσεις ποιούμενος καὶ τρόπον τινὰ καὶ ἐλεγκτικῶς, ἀδικῶν ἅμα καὶ ἀγνωμονῶν ἦν δῆλος· καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἀποστὰς ὁ Πλάτων τοῦ ἔξω περιπάτου, ἔνδον ἐβάδιζε σὺν τοῖς ἑταίροις.

Aelian, Varia Historia 4.9

“Plato used to call Aristotle Pôlos [the Foal]. What did he wish with that name? Everyone knows that a foal, when it has had its fill of baby’s milk, kicks its mother. Thus Plato was signaling a certain ingratitude on Aristotle’ part. Indeed, Aristotle received the greatest seeds of Philosophy from Plato and then, though he was filled to the brim with the best ideas, he broke with Plato rebelliously. He founded his own house, took his friends on Plato’s walk, and set himself up to be Plato’s rival.”

῾Ο Πλάτων τὸν ᾿Αριστοτέλη ἐκάλει Πῶλον. τί δὲ ἐβούλετο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα ἐκεῖνο; δηλονότι ὡμολόγηται τὸν πῶλον, ὅταν κορεσθῇ τοῦ μητρῴου γάλακτος, λακτίζειν τὴν μητέρα. ᾐνίττετο οὖν καὶ ὁ Πλάτων ἀχαριστίαν τινὰ τοῦ ᾿Αριστοτέλους. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος μέγιστα ἐς φιλοσοφίαν παρὰ Πλάτωνος λαβὼν σπέρματα καὶ ἐφόδια, εἶτα ὑποπλησθεὶς τῶν ἀρίστων καὶ ἀφηνιάσας, ἀντῳκοδόμησεν αὐτῷ διατριβὴν καὶ ἀντιπαρεξήγαγεν ἐν τῷ περιπάτῳ ἑταίρους ἔχων καὶ ὁμιλητάς, καὶ ἐγλίχετο ἀντίπαλος εἶναι Πλάτωνι.

Image result for aristotle and plato

Seneca on Why Presents Should be Opened RIGHT AWAY

Seneca, De Beneficiis 2.2

“When the spirit is worn out and begins to hate a benefit while it waits for it, is it possible to still be grateful? Just as it is the most bitter cruelty which makes a punishment last longer and that killing quickly is a kind of mercy since torment supplies its own final end and the time which comes before death is the greatest period of suffering, so too gratitude for a gift will be greater the shorter the duration of suspense.

For the expectation of good things is upsetting too and since most gifts bring relief from some kind of thing, if anyone allows someone else to be tortured for a while when he was able to free him of burden or if he is slow to rejoice, he has added a punitive slap to his good deed. All generosity should move quickly—someone who acts quickly is someone who acts voluntarily. If someone drags his feet day to day, he does not act according to his spirit. He has thus lost two precious things: time and the demonstration of willing friendship. Consenting slowly is an indication of someone who is unwilling.”

Ubi in taedium adductus animus incipit beneficium odisse, dum expectat, potest ob id gratus esse? Quemadmodum acerbissima crudelitas est, quae trahit poenam, et misericordiae genus est cito occidere, quia tormentum ultimum finem sui secum adfert, quod antecedit tempus, maxima venturi supplicii pars est, ita maior est muneris gratia, quo minus diu pependit. Est enim etiam bonarum rerum sollicita expectatio, et cum plurima beneficia remedium alicuius rei adferant, qui aut diutius torqueri patitur, quem protinus potest liberare, aut tardius gaudere, beneficio suo manus adfert. Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.

Gift Meme

Seneca Admits: Giving Gifts Ain’t Easy

Seneca De Vita Beata 24

“Whoever thinks that giving presents is an easy matter is wrong. This is a subject of extreme difficulty, if the gifts are made carefully and not just cast about randomly and impulsively. To one person I do a favor; to another I return one; to one I help; another I show pity.

I give to someone else because they shouldn’t be overcome by poverty and obsessed by it; to some I will give nothing even though they need it because they would still be in need whatever I give; to others I offer aid and some people I force to take it. I cannot be negligent in this effort and I am never more certain to write down names than when I am making a gift.”

Errat, si quis existimat facilem rem esse donare; plurimum ista res habet difficultatis, si modo consilio tribuitur, non casu et impetu spargitur. Hunc promereor, illi reddo; huic succurro, huius misereor; illum instruo dignum quem non deducat paupertas nec occupatum teneat; quibusdam non dabo, quamvis desit, quia, etiam si dedero, erit defuturum; quibusdam offeram, quibusdam etiam inculcabo. Non possum in hac re esse neglegens; numquam magis nomina facio quam cum dono.

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background https://www.flickr.com/photos/72153088@N08/6510934443