Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. 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….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

Well Enough to Read, Well Enough to Write?

A few more passages from Seneca on reading and writing, following up on Seneca’s injunction to alternate between the two.

Moral Epistle 45

“You complain that there’s a lack of books where you are. It is not how many books, but how many good ones you have that makes a difference. A short reading list has advantages; variety brings entertainment. One who reaches his desired place should follow one path and not go roam over many. This is not to travel, but to wander.”

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert, quam multos, sed quam bonos habeas; lectio certa prodest, varia delectat. Qui, quo destinavit, pervenire vult, unam sequatur viam, non per multas vagetur. Non ire istuc, sed errare est.

Moral Epistle 83

“Today has been whole: no one has stolen any part at all from me. The whole day was spent in reading and rest. There was a little bit given to exercise. For this nominal amount, I give thanks to old age. It is not a big deal for me: as soon as I have moved, I am tired.”

Hodiernus dies solidus est; nemo ex illo quicquam mihi eripuit. Totus inter stratum lectionemque divisus est. Minimum exercitationi corporis datum, et hoc nomine ago gratias senectuti: non magno mihi constat; cum me movi, lassus sum

Moral Epistle 65

“Yesterday I spent the day in poor health: it occupied me until noon. After noon, it gave in to me. So, first, I tested my mind with reading. Then, when I handled this, I dared to push myself, or perhaps indulge myself, more: I wrote something…”

Hesternum diem divisi cum mala valetudine; antemeridianum illa sibi vindicavit, postmeridiano mihi cessit. Itaque lectione primum temptavi animum. Deinde cum hanc recepisset, plus illi imperare ausus sum, immo permittere; aliquid scripsi

Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Seneca and Cicero on Education and Research

Some Roman thoughts on academic endeavors.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

“Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant.

Cicero, De Finibus 5.18

“Don’t we observe that people who are attracted to academic studies and the arts take no account of strength or business when they are dedicated to thought itself and knowledge and they are compensated by the pleasure they derive from learning?

Homer seems to me to have understood this when he composed the verses about the Sirens. For they did not seem to attract those who were traveling past by the sweetness of their voices or the newness and variety of their singing, but the men used to cling to their rocks because of a passion for learning the many things they claimed to know.”

qui ingenuis studiis atque artibus delectantur, nonne videmus eos nec valetudinis nec rei familiaris habere rationem omniaque perpeti ipsa cognitione et scientia captos et cum maximis curis et laboribus compensare 49eam quam ex discendo capiant voluptatem? Mihi quidem Homerus huiusmodi quiddam vidisse videtur in iis quae de Sirenum cantibus finxerit. Neque enim vocum suavitate videntur aut novitate quadam et varietate cantandi revocare eos solitae qui praetervehebantur, sed quia multa se scire profitebantur, ut homines ad earum saxa discendi cupiditate adhaerescerent.

Cicero, De Senectute 30

“No teachers of the liberal arts should considered unlucky even when they have aged and lost their physical strength”

nec ulli bonarum artium magistri non beati putandi, quamvis consenuerint vires atque defecerint.

Seneca, De Otio 5

“For have we not seen how great nor how many things there are, but our sight lays open a path of investigation and lays the bedrock of truth so that our inquiry may move from well-known things to hidden and discover something older than the world itself…”

Nec enim omnia nec tanta visimus quanta sunt, sed acies nostra aperit sibi investigandi viam et fundamenta vero iacit, ut inquisitio transeat ex apertis in obscura et aliquid ipso mundo inveniat antiquius…

 

Cicero, De Oratore I.20

“And, by my judgment, no one could be an orator worthy of all praise unless he has pursued learning in all the significant subject and arts. Surely, it is from an understanding of these things that oratory may blossom and grow. Unless this material is sensed and transmitted through his speech, an orator will possess empty, even childish language. Indeed, I will not completely place such a weight upon our orators—especially not our own who  labor in so much distraction from our urban life—that I believe that there is nothing which they may not know—even though the power of the name orator and the very claim of speaking well seems to accept and promise the ability to speak well and at length about any subject which is proposed.”

Ac, mea quidem sententia, nemo poterit esse omni laude cumulatus orator, nisi erit omnium rerum magnarum atque artium scientiam consecutus. Etenim ex rerum cognitione efflorescat et redundet oportet/ oratio; quae, nisi subest res ab oratore percepta et cognita, inanem quamdam habet elocutionem, 21et paene puerilem. Neque vero ego hoc tantum oneris imponam nostris praesertim oratoribus, in hac tanta occupatione urbis ac vitae, nihil ut eis putem licere nescire: quanquam vis oratoris professioque ipsa bene dicendi, hoc suscipere ac polliceri videtur, ut omni de re, quaecumque sit proposita, ab 22eo ornate copioseque dicatur.

On Kindness, Some Roman Words

Seneca, De Beata Vita 3

“Nature commands me to bring help to all people. What difference is it whether they are slaves, born free or freed, whether laws made them free or friends did? Wherever there is a human being, there is a place for kindness.”

Hominibus prodesse natura me iubet. Servi liberine sint hi, ingenui an libertini, iustae libertatis an inter amicos datae, quid refert? Ubicumque homo est, ibi benefici locus est.

Cicero, Laws 1.18

“Where shall we find a kind man if no one acts kindly for anyone else? Where is the grateful man, if those who return a good turn are not actually thankful to those whom they thank? Where is that sacred thing friendship if the friend himself is not loved with the whole heart for his own sake, as the saying going? Why then should a friend be abandoned an rejected when there is no longer an expectation from benefits and profits? What could be more monstrous than this?”

Ubi enim beneficus, si nemo alterius causa benigne facit? ubi gratus, si non eum ipsi cernunt grati, cui referunt gratiam? ubi illa sancta amicitia, si non ipse amicus per se amatur toto pectore, ut dicitur? qui etiam deserendus et abiciendus est desperatis emolumentis et fructibus; quo quid potest dici immanius?

Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.

Image result for ancient roman friendship wall painting

Sick of Seneca

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 12.2

That Annaeus Seneca, when judging Ennius and Cicero, was possessed of light and silly judgment.

Some think of Seneca as a worthless writer, whose books it is not even worth the effort to touch, because his speech seems vulgar and played-out, while his matter and thoughts are characterized either by a bungling and empty force or a light and rather juridical affectation. His learning, however, is common and plebeian, and has neither the grace nor the dignity of the ancient writers. Though others may not deny that he has too little of elegance in his words, they affirm that he is not lacking a knowledge and understanding of the things which he discusses, in addition to a not unpleasing severity in censuring moral lapses. It is not necessary for me to make a judgment or criticism of his talent or writing as a whole; but I would like to consider the nature of the judgment which he made on Cicero, Ennius, and Vergil. In the twenty-second book of his moral epistles, which he wrote to Lucullus, he says that Ennius wrote these ridiculous verses about that ancient man Cethegus:

He was called by the people once,

who lived about that time,

the special flower of the people, and the marrow of Persuasion.

Then he writes about these same verses, ‘I wonder at the fact that the most eloquent and devoted fans of Ennius have praised this claptrap as fine poetry. Cicero, to be sure, mentions these among Ennius’ best lines.’ He then adds about Cicero himself, ‘I am not surprised that there was a man who could write verses like this since there was also a man who would praise them; but perhaps Cicero, that famous orator, was pleading his own case by praising these, in order to make his own awful verses appear good.’ After this, Seneca adds most foolishly, ‘Even in Cicero’s prose you can find some things, from which it is clear that he did not waste his time when he read Ennius.’ Then he includes an example of the sort of thing which he reprehends in Cicero as being  ‘Ennian,’ which he wrote in his book de re publica: ‘Menelaus the Laconian was graced with a sweet-talking charm,’ and in another passage, ‘he cultivates brevity of speech in his oratory.’ Then that clown Seneca has the audacity to make apology for Cicero’s errors by writing, ‘It was not the fault of Cicero himself, but of his times; it was inevitable that one would speak thus, when that sort of thing was commonly read.’ Then he suggests that Cicero included these bits to avoid the charge that his speech was too ornate and polished.

In the same place, he says this of Vergil: ‘Even our own Vergil has, for the same reason, placed certain ugly and unwonted verses which go somewhat beyond the limit, so that his Ennian audience could recognize a little bit of antiquity in his new poem.’

But now I’m sick of Seneca’s words. Nevertheless, I won’t omit to mention these little jokes of that stupid and witless man: ‘There are some verses of Ennius of such great sense that they could, though written among those that smell like goats, could nevertheless please a perfumed audience.’ When he is criticizing the verses about Cethegus which I quoted above, he says, ‘Whoever loves this kind of verse would probably also like the couches of Sotericus.’

Seneca certainly seems worthy for the perusal of adulescents when he compares the dignity and taste of the best ancient poetry to the couches of Sotericus as though they had no grace and were long ago forgotten and condemned. But listen as I remember a few things which Seneca actually said well, such as that which he said about a miser who wanted more money: ‘What does it matter how much money you have? There is always much more which you do not have!’ Was this well-said? Certainly. But good sayings don’t benefit the young as much as bad sayings harm them, and this is especially true when the inferior ones are so much greater in number, and if they are not about some small and simple affair, but a doubtful one which requires serious judgment.

II Quod Annaeus Seneca iudicans de Q. Ennio deque M. Tullio leui futtilique iudicio fuit.

[1] De Annaeo Seneca partim existimant ut de scriptore minime utili, cuius libros adtingere nullum pretium operae sit, quod oratio eius uulgaria uideatur et protrita, res atque sententiae aut inepto inanique impetu sint aut leui et causidicali argutia, eruditio autem uernacula et plebeia nihilque ex ueterum scriptis habens neque gratiae neque dignitatis. Alii uero elegantiae quidem in uerbis parum esse non infitias eunt, sed et rerum, quas dicat, scientiam doctrinamque ei non deesse dicunt et in uitiis morum obiurgandis seueritatem grauitatemque non inuenustam. [2] Mihi de omni eius ingenio deque omni scripto iudicium censuramque facere non necessum est; sed quod de M. Cicerone et Q. Ennio et P. Vergilio iudicauit, ea res cuimodi sit, ad considerandum ponemus. [3] In libro enim uicesimo secundo epistularum moralium, quas ad Lucilium conposuit, deridiculos uersus Q. Ennium de Cetego antiquo uiro fecisse hos dicit:

is dictust ollis popularibus olim, qui tum uiuebant homines atque aeuum agitabant, flos delibatus populi Suada medulla.

[4] Ac deinde scribit de isdem uersibus uerba haec: ‘Admiror eloquentissimos uiros et deditos Ennio pro optimis ridicula laudasse. Cicero certe inter bonos eius uersus et hos refert.’ [5] Atque id etiam de Cicerone dicit: ‘Non miror’ inquit ‘fuisse, qui hos uersus scriberet, cum fuerit, qui laudaret; nisi forte Cicero summus orator agebat causam suam et uolebat suos uersus uideri bonos.’ [6] Postea hoc etiam addidit insulsissime: ‘Aput ipsum quoque’ inquit ‘Ciceronem inuenies etiam in prosa oratione quaedam, ex quibus intellegas illum non perdidisse operam, quod Ennium legit.’ [7] Ponit deinde, quae apud Ciceronem reprehendat quasi Enniana, quod ita scripserit in libris de republica: ‘ut Menelao Laconi quaedam fuit suauiloquens iucunditas’, et quod alio in loco dixerit: ‘breuiloquentiam in dicendo colat.’ [8] Atque ibi homo nugator Ciceronis errores deprecatur et ‘non fuit’ inquit ‘Ciceronis hoc uitium, sed temporis; necesse erat haec dici, cum illa legerentur.’ [9] Deinde adscribit Ciceronem haec ipsa interposuisse ad effugiendam infamiam nimis lasciuae orationis et nitidae. [10] De Vergilio quoque eodem in loco uerba haec ponit: ‘Vergilius quoque noster non ex alia causa duros quosdam uersus et enormes et aliquid supra mensuram trahentis interposuit, quam ut Ennianus populus adgnosceret in nouo carmine aliquid antiquitatis.’ [11] Sed iam uerborum Senecae piget; haec tamen inepti et insubidi hominis ioca non praeteribo: ‘Quidam sunt’ inquit ‘tam magni sensus Q. Ennii, ut, licet scripti sint inter hircosos, possint tamen inter unguentatos placere’; et, cum reprehendisset uersus, quos supra de Cetego posuimus: ‘qui huiuscemodi’ inquit ‘uersus amant, liqueat tibi eosdem admirari et Soterici lectos.’ [12] Dignus sane Seneca uideatur lectione ac studio adulescentium, qui honorem coloremque ueteris orationis Soterici lectis compararit quasi minimae scilicet gratiae et relictis iam contemptisque. [13] Audias tamen commemorari ac referri pauca quaedam, quae idem ipse Seneca bene dixerit, quale est illud, quod in hominem auarum et auidum et pecuniae sitientem dixit: ‘Quid enim refert, quantum habeas? multo illud plus est, quod non habes.’ [14] Benene hoc? sane bene; sed adulescentium indolem non tam iuuant, quae bene dicta sunt, quam inficiunt, quae pessime, multoque tanto magis, si et plura sunt, quae deteriora sunt, et quaedam in his non pro ἐνθυμήματι aliquo rei paruae ac simplicis, sed in re ancipiti pro consilio dicuntur.

Ovid’s Worst Lines

Seneca, Controversiae, 2.2.12

“Ovid rarely gave declamations on controversies, and those always of the ethical (character) variety. He was happier to declaim suasoriae (persuasion speeches). He hated to adduce proofs of any kind. In oratory, he did not choose his words with the same careless lack of restraint which he used in his poems, the faults of which he was not ignorant of – nay, he loved them! The surest proof of this is the fact that once, when he was asked by his friends if he would remove three verses from his poems, he asked in turn that he could make an exception for three verses, against which their request would not stand.

The proposal seemed fair, so they wrote in secret the three which they wanted to see removed, and he wrote down the ones which he wished preserved. In both pieces of paper there were the same three verses, of which the first was (as told by Albinovanus Pedo, who was among the judges):

semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem (Half-ox man, half-man ox)

The second:

et gelidum Borean egelidumque Notum. (Cold Boreas, and not-cold Notus.)

From which it is clear that this man of remarkable talent was not lacking the judgment to hold back the licentiousness of his poems, but rather, he lacked the will to do so. He would occasionally remark that that face was prettier which had a mole upon it.”

Declamabat autem Naso raro controversias et non nisi ethicas. libentius dicebat suasorias. molesta illi erat omnis argumentatio. verbis minime licenter usus est, non (ut) in carminibus, in quibus non ignoravit vitia sua sed amavit. manifestum potest esse (ex eo), quod rogatus aliquando ab amicis suis, ut tolleret tres versus, invicem petit, ut ipse tres exciperet, in quos nihil illis liceret. aequa lex visa est: scripserunt illi quos tolli vellent secreto, hic quos tutos esse vellet. in utrisque codicillis idem versus erant, ex quibus primum fuisse narrabat Albinovanus Pedo, qui inter arbitros fuit:

semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem;

secundum:

et gelidum Borean egelidumque Notum.

ex quo apparet summi ingenii viro non iudicium defuisse ad compescendam licentiam carminum suorum sed animum. aiebat interim decentiorem faciem esse, in qua aliquis naevus fuisset.

Love Of Quotations is not Erudition, It is Only…

Here’s another decontextualize gem from Seneca popular online

For love of bustle is not industry – it is only the restlessness ...

” For love of bustle is not industry,—it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.”

This sounds like a Dale Carnegie line or some sententious dollop in dialogue written now for a movie set in the 1930s. To be fair, the translation is copyrighted to 1917 by Richard M. Gummere (the Loeb translation).

Here’s the Latin:

Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio

In the translation above, there’s no sense of what the demonstrative Illa is doing, and there is definitely something off about the “hunted” for exagitatae, which I think is something closer to “thoroughly bothered/distracted/agitated.” To my taste it is something closer to:

“Taking pleasure in that chaos is not diligence, but the anxiety/movement of a thoroughly troubled mind”

This is decidedly less quotable than the passage above. And it is so because it needs the larger context, which actually, as usual, tells a more complicated, and I think richer, story.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 3.4-6

“There are certain kinds of people who tell things which ought to be entrusted only to friends to anyone they meet and they unload on just any ears whatever has bothered them. Another group of people in turn hesitates at trusting their most dear friends and, if they could, would suppress every secret inside because they do not trust themselves.

But we should do neither thing. It is a mistake both to trust everyone and no one. The first mistake, however, I think is more honest while the second is safer. So, you should criticize both types in this way, those who are always boisterous and those who are always reserved.

For taking pleasure in such disturbance is not diligence, but the anxiety of a troubled mind. And it is not peace to believe that every movement is annoying, but lethargy and apathy. For this, commend to mind this line I have read in Pomponius: “Some people retreat so far into the shadows that they think they are in darkness when in the light.”

People need to mix these habits and one who is resting should move and one who is moving should rest! Take this up with the nature of things: she will explain that she made both the daytime and night. Goodbye!”

Quidam quae tantum amicis committenda sunt, obviis narrant et in quaslibet aures, quicquid illos urserit, exonerant. Quidam rursus etiam carissimorum conscientiam reformidant, et si possent, ne sibi quidem credituri interius premunt omne secretum. Neutrum faciendum est. Utrumque enim vitium est, et omnibus credere et nulli. Sed alterum honestius dixerim vitium, alterum tutius: sic utrosque reprehendas, et eos qui semper inquieti sunt, et eos qui semper quiescunt. Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio. Et haec non est quies, quae motum omnem molestiam iudicat, sed dissolutio et languor. Itaque hoc, quod apud Pomponium legi, animo mandabitur: “quidam adeo in latebras refugerunt, ut putent in turbido esse, quicquid in luce est.” Inter se ista miscenda sunt, et quiescenti agendum et agenti quiescendum est. Cum rerum natura delibera; illa dicet tibi et diem fecisse se et noctem. Vale.

I totally understand why people select parts of ancient works to excerpt. I mean, that’s kind of what we do on this blog every day. But the line quoted out of context above completely subverts Seneca’s meaning in service of a modern flat and unsophisticated understanding of Stoicism. It is ok to be busy and troubled, just not all the time! It is no better to be completely withdrawn! For each quality Seneca discusses above in its extreme form, there is an extreme opposite which is no better.

This is another Cylon-Helen fake.Seneca EM3

 

On Kindness, Some Roman Words

Seneca, De Beata Vita 3

“Nature commands me to bring help to all people. What difference is it whether they are slaves, born free or freed, whether laws made then free or friends did? Wherever there is a human being, there is a place for kindness.”

Hominibus prodesse natura me iubet. Servi liberine sint hi, ingenui an libertini, iustae libertatis an inter amicos datae, quid refert? Ubicumque homo est, ibi benefici locus est.

Cicero, Laws 1.18

“Where shall we find a kind man if no one acts kindly for anyone else? Where is the grateful man, if those who return a good turn are not actually thankful to those whom they thank? Where is that sacred thing friendship if the friend himself is not loved with the whole heart for his own sake, as the saying going? Why then should a friend be abandoned an rejected when there is no longer an expectation from benefits and profits? What could be more monstrous than this?”

Ubi enim beneficus, si nemo alterius causa benigne facit? ubi gratus, si non eum ipsi cernunt grati, cui referunt gratiam? ubi illa sancta amicitia, si non ipse amicus per se amatur toto pectore, ut dicitur? qui etiam deserendus et abiciendus est desperatis emolumentis et fructibus; quo quid potest dici immanius?

Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.

Image result for ancient roman friendship wall painting

Some Roman Morals for a Season of Gifts

Cicero, De Officiis 3.118

“For goodness, generosity and kindness cannot exist any more than friendship if they are not pursued for themselves but are nurtured for the sake of pleasure or advantage.”

Neque enim bonitas nec liberalitas nec comitas esse potest, non plus quam amicitia, si haec non per se expetantur, sed ad voluptatem utilitatemve referantur.

Publilius Syrus, 78

“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”

Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.

Seneca, De Beneficiis 4

“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”

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.

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze
Aeneas Panel from the Ara Pacis

Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. 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….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

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