When You Can, Live as You Should

Seneca, Moral Epistles 7.8-9

“Both habits, moreover, should be avoided. Don’t imitate bad people, because there are many of them, nor hate the many, because you aren’t like them. Take shelter in yourself, whenever you can. Spend time with people who will make you a better person. Embrace those whom you can make better. Such improvement is a partnership, for people learn while they teach.”

Utrumque autem devitandum est; neve similis malis fias, quia multi sunt, neve inimicus multis, quia dissimiles sunt. Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. Cum his versare, qui te meliorem facturi sunt. Illos admitte, quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines, dum docent, discunt.

Seneca, De Beata Vita 17-18

“ ‘This is enough for me: to each day lose one of my vices and recognize my mistakes. I have not perfected my health, nor certainly will I. I hope to relieve my gout rather than cure it, happy if it comes less frequently and cause less pain. But when I compare myself to your feet, I am a sprinter even though crippled.’

I do not say these things for myself—since I am deep in every kind of vice—but for the person who has done something.

You say, “You talk one way but you live another.” This insult, most shameful and hateful friend, was thrown at Plato, tossed at Epicurus, and dropped on Zeno. For all these people were talking not about how they were living themselves but about how they should live. When it comes to virtue, I do not talk about myself, and my fight is with vices, but chiefly my own. When I can, I will live as I should.”

Hoc mihi satis est, cotidie aliquid ex vitiis meis demere et errores meos obiurgare. Non perveni ad sanitatem, ne perveniam quidem; delenimenta magis quam remedia podagrae meae compono, contentus, si rarius accedit et si minus verminatur; vestris quidem pedibus comparatus, debilis1 cursor sum.” Haec non pro me loquor—ego enim in alto vitiorum omnium sum—, sed pro illo, cui aliquid acti est.

 “Aliter,” inquis, “loqueris, aliter vivis.” Hoc, malignissima capita et optimo cuique inimicissima, Platoni obiectum est, obiectum Epicuro, obiectum Zenoni; omnes enim isti dicebant non quemadmodum ipsi viverent, sed quemadmodum esset ipsis vivendum. De virtute, non de me loquor, et cum vitiis convicium facio, in primis meis facio. 2Cum potuero, vivam quomodo oportet.

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Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0070, f. 42v.

Babies and Knowing the Highest Good

Seneca, EM 125 7-8

“But we say that being “blessed” are those things which are following Nature. What follows nature, moreover, is clear and straightforward just as anything which is whole. What follows nature and what is granted to us immediately at birth I do not call a good but merely the beginning of a good.

You grant the greatest good—pleasure—to infants so that a child begins life where the perfected man should arrive. You put the peak of the tree at its roots! If anyone should claim that some child, enclosed in their mother’s whom, of uncertain gender, soft, incomplete and unformed, that this child is in some stage of the good, they would seem to be a bit off.

And yet consider how little different there is between one who just now found life and another who is still a burden of maternal organs? They are both equally advanced in their understanding of good and evil and An infant is no more conscious of the Good than a tree or any other speechless creature.”

Dicimus beata esse, quae secundum naturam sint, Quid autem secundum naturam sit, palam et protinus apparet, sicut quid sit integrum. Quod secundum naturam est, quod contigit protinus nato, non dico bonum, sed initium boni. Tu summum bonum, voluptatem, infantiae donas, ut inde incipiat nascens, quo consummatus homo pervenit.

Cacumen radicis loco ponis. Si quis diceret illum in materno utero latentem, sexus quoque incerti,tenerum et inperfectum et informem iam in aliquo bono esse, aperte videretur errare. Atqui quantulum interest inter eum, qui cum1 maxime vitam accipit, et illum, qui maternorum viscerum latens onus est? Uterque, quantum ad intellectum boni ac mali, aeque maturus est, et non magis infans adhuc boni capax est quam arbor aut mutum aliquod animal.

“Learn As Long As You Are Ignorant”: Seneca on What He Has to Teach

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher? You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.

But the human race still shames me every time I enter the school. Near to that theater of the Neapolitans, I have to pass that house of Metronax. There, the place is packed too as with a burning desire they judge who is the best flute player. The Greek horn and a herald bring a crowd. But in the place where we seek what a good man is, where how to be a good man may be learned, the smallest audience sits and they seem to most people to be up to no good in their pursuit. They are called useless and lazy. May such derision touch me. For the insults of the ignorant should be heard with a gentle mind. Contempt itself must be held in contempt as we journey toward better things.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum. Pudet autem me generis humani, quotiens scholam intravi. Praeter ipsum theatrum Neapolitanorum, ut scis, transeundum est Metronactis petenti domum. Illud quidem fartum est et ingenti studio, quis sit pythaules bonus, iudicatur; habet tubicen quoque Graecus et praeco concursum. At in illo loco, in quo vir bonus quaeritur, in quo vir bonus discitur, paucissimi sedent, et hi plerisque videntur nihil boni negotii habere quod agant; inepti et inertes vocantur. Mihi contingat iste derisus; aequo animo audienda sunt inperitorum convicia et ad honesta vadenti contemnendus est ipse contemptus.

 

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The Home as a Microcosm of the State: Seneca on Slavery

A passage from Macrobius which generalizes about slavery. As a friend on Macrobius draws heavily on Seneca

Seneca Moral Epistle 47.13–14

“Live mercifully with your slave, even in a friendly way. Invite him to a conversation, to share your plans and to live with you. At this suggestion the whole band of elites will shout at me: “Nothing is baser or fouler than this”. These very same men I often catch kissing on the hands of other men’s slaves.

Don’t you see this, at least, how our forebears tried to erase everything insidious and every kind of insult from slaveholding? They called the master a “father of the family” and slaves “family members”, a fact that endures today in mimes. They started a festival day one which it was custom and obligation for masters to eat with their servants. They also permitted slaves to earn honors in the home and to pronounce judgments so that the home was a microcosm of the state.”

Vive cum servo clementer, comiter quoque, et in sermonem illum admitte et in consilium et in convictum. Hoc loco adclamabit mihi tota manus delicatorum: “Nihil hac re humilius, nihil turpius.” Hos ego eosdem deprehendam alienorum servorum osculantes manum. Ne illud quidem videtis, quam omnem invidiam maiores nostri dominis, omnem contumeliam servis detraxerint? Dominum patrem familiae appellaverunt, servos, quod etiam in mimis adhuc durat, familiares. Instituerunt diem festum, non quo solo cum servis domini vescerentur, sed quo utique; honores illis in domo gerere, ius dicere permiserunt et domum pusillam rem publicam esse iudicaverunt.

Just before this passage, he writes to try to encourage people to treat slaves better. Unfortunately, Seneca seems to accept slavery as a condition of human life. This is part of the point of Macrobius’ post too, that we are all ‘slaves’ to something and therefore never truly free. Yet this certainly overlooks the very real difference in agency and liberty between those who are ‘slaves’ to desire and those who are literally enslaved to another human being (or to a state). 

Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.10-12

“Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!

I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. Your age is still good. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croesus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?”

Vis tu cogitare istum, quem servum tuum vocas, ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum. Mariana clade multos splendidissime natos, senatorium per militiam auspicantes gradum, fortuna depressit, alium ex illis pastorem, alium custodem casae fecit; contemne nunc eius fortunae hominem, in quam transire, dum contemnis, potes.

Nolo in ingentem me locum inmittere et de usu servorum disputare, in quos superbissimi, crudelissimi, contumeliosissimi sumus. Haec tamen praecepti mei summa est: sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere. Quotiens in mentem venerit, quantum tibi in servum liceat, veniat in mentem tantundem in te domino tuo licere. “At ego,” inquis, “nullum habeo dominum.” Bona aetas est; forsitan habebis. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Platon, qua Diogenes?

 

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11

“You see how much care comes from a slave to the highest of the gods. From whence comes such a great and vain loathing for slaves, as though they did not stem from and receive their nourishment from the same elements as you, and as though they did not draw the same breath from the same source? Would you think about those whom you call slaves – that they, born from the same seed, enjoy the same sky, and live and die just as you? They are slaves, you say? No, they are people! They are slaves, you say? No, they are fellow slaves, if you would but consider that Fortune may employ the same license against you as it does against them. You can see him free just as soon as he might see you a slave. Do you not know at what age Hecuba, Croesus, the mother of Darius, Diogenes, and even Plato himself all began to be slaves? Finally, why do we fear the name of slavery?

Sure, he’s a slave – but by compulsion, and perhaps he is a slave with a free soul. This will harm him, if you can show who is not a slave. One person may serve desire, another avarice, another ambition – all of us are slaves to hope, all of us are slaves to fear. And to be sure, there is no slavery more abject than slavery which we have chosen for ourselves. But here we trample underfoot a man lying under the yoke which Fortune has thrown upon him as though he were wretched and worthless, yet we do not allow the yoke which we have accepted for ourselves to be criticized.”

 

Vides, quanta de servo ad deorum summum cura pervenerit. Tibi autem unde in servos tantum et tam inane fastidium, quasi non ex isdem tibi et constent et alantur elementis eundemque spiritum ab eodem principio carpant? Vis tu cogitare eos quos ius tuum vocas isdem seminibus ortos eodem frui caelo, aeque vivere aeque mori? Servi sunt? immo homines. Servi sunt? immo conservi, si cogitaveris tantundem in utrosque licere fortunae. Tam tu illum videre liberum potes, quam ille te servum. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Diogenes, qua Plato ipse?  Postremo quid ita nomen servitutis horremus? Servus est quidem: sed necessitate, sed fortasse libero animo servus est. Hoc illi nocebit, si ostenderis quis non sit. Alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. Et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. At nos iugo a fortuna inposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus: quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi.

 

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Image from Wikipedia Commons but found here

Why Doesn’t Remembering Sadness Make Me Sad?

Augustine, Confessions X. 21-22

“The same memory holds my mind’s affections too—not in that manner in which the mind has them when it is experiencing them, but in a very different manner, just as the power of memory conducts itself. For I remember that I was once happy even when I am not happy; and I may recall that I was previously said without being said; I can recollect that I once feared something without fear and also remember ancient desire without feeling desire. But sometimes it is the opposite: I remember previous sadness when I am happy and happiness when I am sad.

This fact is not remarkable for the body: the soul is a different thing from the body. So if I take pleasure in remembering prior pain, this is not surprising. Here, honestly, the mind may also be like memory itself. For when we command that something be recalled, we say “look, keep that in mind.” And when we forget, we said “it’s not in my mind” and “it slipped from my mind”, calling memory itself our mind—although were this the case, why is it that when I recall my past sadness while I am happy, my soul keeps its happiness and my memory its sadness and my mind is happy because of the happiness within it even though the memory which is within it is sad?

Perhaps this is because the memory isn’t integral to the mind? Who could say this? It is not unlikely that the memory is something like the mind’s stomach and happiness and sadness are like its sweet or bitter food. When they are contained within memory, they are unable to be tasted like food taken into the stomach. It is absurd to think that this things are comparable—but still, they are not completely different.”

 

  1. (21) Affectiones quoque animi mei eadem memoria continet, non illo modo quo eas habet ipse animus cum patitur eas, sed alio multum diverso, sicut sese habet vis memoriae. nam et laetatum me fuisse reminiscor non laetus, et tristitiam meam praeteritam recordor non tristis, et me aliquando timuisse recolo sine timore et pristinae cupiditatis sine cupiditate sum memor. aliquando et e contrario tristitiam meam transactam laetus reminiscor et tristis laetitiam. quod mirandum non est de corpore: aliud enim animus, aliud corpus. itaque si praeteritum dolorem corporis gaudens memini, non ita mirum est. hic vero, cum animus sit etiam ipsa memoria—nam et cum mandamus aliquid ut memoriter habeatur, dicimus, “vide ut illud in animo habeas,” et cum obliviscimur, dicimus, “non fuit in animo” et “elapsum est animo,” ipsam memoriam vocantes animum—cum ergo ita sit, quid est hoc, quod cum tristitiam meam praeteritam laetus memini, animus habet laetitiam et memoria tristitiam laetusque est animus ex eo quod inest ei laetitia, memoria vero ex eo quod inest ei tristitia tristis non est? num forte non pertinet ad animum? quis hoc dixerit? nimirum ergo memoria quasi venter est animi, laetitia vero atque tristitia quasi cibus dulcis et amarus: cum memoriae commendantur, quasi traiecta in ventrem recondi illic possunt, sapere non possunt. ridiculum est haec illis similia putare, nec tamen sunt omni modo dissimilia.
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What Audience Are You Writing For? Cicero on the Middle-Ground

[Marcus Varro is the speaker in this excerpt]

Cicero, Academica 1.4

“Because I recognized that philosophy had been most expertly explored in the Greek language, I believed that anyone from Rome who was inclined toward the subject would prefer to read it in Greek, if they were educated in Greek doctrines. If they shuddered at Greek arts and learning, they would not be interested in those very matters which could not be understood without Greek. So, I did not want to write what the unlearned could not understand or what the learned would not care to.”

Nam cum philosophiam viderem diligentissime Graecis litteris explicatam, existimavi si qui de nostris eius studio tenerentur, si essent Graecis doctrinis eruditi, Graeca potius quam nostra lecturos; sin a Graecorum artibus et disciplinis abhorrerent, ne haec quidem curaturos quae sine eruditione Graeca intellegi non possunt; itaque ea nolui scribere quae nec indocti intellegere possent nec docti legere curarent.

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Anger, Insult, and Wounds

Seneca, De Ira, 28

“Anger hobbles many, it makes many disabled even when it finds ready material. Add to this the fact that nothing is born so submissive that it will pass on without any threat for its destroyer. Pain and danger make some of the weak equal to the strongest. What, don’t most of the things we get angry about insult us more than they wound?

Indeed, there is a great difference whether someone resists my will, steals it from me, or does not agree with it. But we attach equal value to each, whether someone takes something or denies it, whether he crushes our hope or puts it off, whether he acts against us or for himself, and whether because of love or out of hate.”

Multos iracundia mancos, multos debiles fecit, etiam ubi patientem est nancta materiam. Adice nunc quod nihil tam imbecille natum est, ut sine elidentis periculo pereat; imbecillos valentissimis alias dolor, alias casus exaequat. Quid, quod pleraque eorum, propter quae irascimur, offendunt nos magis quam laedunt? Multum autem interest, utrum aliquis voluntati meae obstet an desit, eripiat an non det. Atqui in aequo ponimus, utrum aliquis auferat an neget, utrum spem nostram praecidat an differat, utrum contra nos faciat an pro se, amore alterius an odio nostri. Quidam vero non tantum iustas causas standi contra nos, sed etiam honestas habent.

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Angry Fish The Hague, KA 16, 14th c.

 

Hegesias, The Death-Persuader

CW: Suicide, self-harm

In an earlier post I talked about “threshold” theory and some of the very different beliefs Ancient Greeks and Romans had about suicide. This excerpt from Cicero touches upon some of the philosophical ideas about taking one’s own life while also reflecting in part on the group effect. While Hegesias’ arguments are extreme, they have some affinity with Epicurean doctrines against fearing death. In this formulation, however, the argument that death is preferable because it frees us from evils reaches a bit of an absurd conclusion. Diogenes Laertius provides an over of the Cyrenaic School.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.83-84

“Therefore, death removes us from evils not from goods, if we are seeking the truth. This, in fact, is argued by Hegesias the Cyrenaic so fully that it is said he was prohibited from speaking on these matters in schools because many people killed themselves after they heard him speak.

There is also an epigram attributed to Callimachus on the topic of Cleombrotus the Ambracian who, he says, even though nothing bad happened to him, he threw himself from the wall into the see after reading a book of Plato. From that book of Hegesias I mentioned—Starving to Death—there is a person who while in the process of leaving life by starvation is called back by his friends to whom he responds by listing the unpleasantries of human life.

I could do the same, although I will not go as far as he who thinks that there is no point for anyone to live at all. I am overlooking all others—is it still meaningful for me to continue on? I live deprived of the comfort and decoration of a family or of a public life and, certainly, if I had died previously, death would have saved me from evils not from good.”

A malis igitur mors abducit, non a bonis, verum si quaerimus. Et quidem hoc a Cyrenaico Hegesia sic copiose disputatur, ut is a rege Ptolemaeo prohibitus esse dicatur illa in scholis dicere, quod multi iis auditis mortem sibi ipsi consciscerent. Callimachi quidem epigramma in Ambraciotam Cleombrotum est, quem ait, cum ei nihil accidisset adversi, e muro se in mare abiecisse lecto Platonis libro. Eius autem, quem dixi, Hegesiae liber est, ᾽Αποκαρτερῶν, in quo a vita quidam per inediam discedens revocatur ab amicis, quibus respondens vitae humanae enumerat incommoda. Possem idem facere, etsi minus quam ille, qui omnino vivere expedire nemini putat. Mitto alios: etiamne nobis expedit? qui et domesticis et forensibus solaciis ornamentisque privati certe, si ante occidissemus, mors nos a malis, non a bonis abstraxisset.

Suda, pi 1471

“Hegesias is called the ‘death-persuader’

Πεισιθάνατος ὁ ῾Ηγησίας ἐλέγετο.

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

“To live in Flight”: ‘Carpe Diem’ is Too Cautious

Seneca, Consolation ad Marciam 10.5

“The spirit must be warned that it loves things which will one day leave—no, they are already leaving. Whatever is granted to you by fortune, take it as if it has no guaranty. Seize up the pleasures of your children and allow your children to enjoy you in turn. And drink down every bit of joy without stopping.

Nothing is promised to you for this evening—I have granted too much a pledge—nothing is promised for this hour. You must hurry, we are being chased from behind. Soon this friend will be elsewhere, soon these friendships will be lost lost when the battle’s cry is raised. In truth, everything is stolen away. Poor are you fools who do not know how to live in flight.”

Saepe admonendus est animus, amet ut recessura, immo tamquam recedentia. Quicquid a fortuna datum est, tamquam exempto auctore possideas. Rapite ex liberis voluptates, fruendos vos in vicem liberis date et sine dilatione omne gaudium haurite; nihil de hodierna nocte promittitur—nimis magnam advocationem dedi—, nihil de hac hora. Festinandum est, instatur a tergo. Iam disicietur iste comitatus, iam contubernia ista sublato clamore solventur. Rapina verum omnium est; miseri nescitis in fuga vivere!

It's #MorbidMonday and here comes death riding a skeletal horse @BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137
@BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137

Pickpockets of Words

Quintilian, 8.3 (29-31)

“Sallust is assailed by an epigram of no less repute: “Crispus, pickpocket of the words of Ancient Cato / and architect of Jugurtha’s history”. This is a pitifully minor concern—for it is easy for anyone and really poor because the composer will not fit words to facts but will introduce unrelated facts when the words are easier to use.

Neologism, as I said in the first book, is more a custom of the Greeks who are not reluctant to change words for certain sounds and feelings with a liberty little different from when early human beings first gave names to things. Our rare attempts in compounding or deriving new words have rarely been welcomed as sufficient.”

Nec minus noto Sallustius epigrammate incessitur et verba antiqui multum furate Catonis,: Crispe, Iugurthinae conditor historiae.

Odiosa cura: nam et cuilibet facilis et hoc pessima, quod eius studiosus non verba rebus aptabit, sed res extrinsecus arcesset quibus haec verba conveniant. Fingere, ut primo libro dixi, Graecis magis concessum est, qui sonis etiam quibusdam et adfectibus non dubitaverunt nomina aptare, non alia libertate quam qua illi primi homines rebus appellationes dederunt. Nostri aut in iungendo aut in derivando paulum aliquid ausi vix in hoc satis recipiuntur.

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 British Library MS Additional 49622 fol. 153r