Little Machines that Won’t Try

Seneca, Moral Epistles 116.6-8

“As much as possible, let’s step back from the slippery slope. We stand too shakily on dry ground as it is! You will surely present me with that public complaint about Stoics: “You promise too many great things, your commands are too hard. We are only little machines, we can’t deny ourselves everything! We will grieve, but too little; we will desire, but temperately; we will get angry, but we will be appeased.”

You know why we can’t do these things? Because we don’t believe it is possible. Really, my god, there’s more in this, because we love our faults, we defend them and prefer to make excuses for them instead of addressing them. Nature has given us enough strength, if we use it, if we gather all our abilities together for us or at least we don’t let them work against us. Our unwillingness is the cause, inability is pretense. BYE.”

Quantum possumus, nos a lubrico recedamus; in sicco quoque parum fortiter stamus. Occurres hoc loco mihi illa publica contra Stoicos voce: “Nimis magna promittitis, nimis dura praecipitis. Nos homunciones sumus, omnia nobis negare non possumus. Dolebimus, sed parum; concupiscemus, sed temperate; irascemur, sed placabimur.” Scis, quare non possumus ista? Quia nos posse non credimus. Immo mehercules aliud est in re: vitia nostra quia amamus, defendimus et malumus excusare illa quam excutere. Satis natura homini dedit roboris, si illo utamur, si vires nostras colligamus ac totas pro nobis, certe non contra nos concitemus. Nolle in causa est, non posse praetenditur. Vale.

Color photograph of an oil painting. Geometric abstract art: one large black circle with many colored circles within it. There are think diagonal lines bisecting the main circle: yellow from left to upper right; green-blue from upper left to lower right. Various straight lines are among the circles within

How Fast A Rotten Foundation Falls

Epictetus, Discourses 2.15 (Go here for the full text)

“If you put down a rotten foundation, already falling apart, not even a little shack can be built upon it, and the greater and more forceful thing you build upon it, the faster it will fall to the ground.

So you are depriving this dear person of life without any reason, a citizen of the very same state, both the larger one and the local one. Then, as you commit an act of murder and destroy another human being who did no wrong, you claim that “you have to stick to what was decided!”  If it ever occurred to you to kill me, would you have to stick to your decisions then?

That kind of a person is scarcely persuaded to change his mind. But it is impossible to transform others today. So, now, I think I understand that proverb that used to confuse me, that “you can’t persuade or break a fool!”

May I never have a wise fool as a friend, there’s nothing harder to deal with. He says, “I have decided.” Well, people who are out of their minds decided too. But just as much as they believe that what isn’t true is solid, that’s how much hellebore they need to drink.”

ἂν δὲ σαπρὸν ὑποστήσῃ καὶ καταπῖπτον, οὐκ οἰκοδομημάτιον, ὅσῳ δ᾿ ἂν πλείονα καὶ ἰσχυρότερα ἐπιθῇς, τοσούτῳ θᾶττον κατενεχθήσεται. ἄνευ πάσης αἰτίας ἐξάγεις ἡμῖν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν φίλον καὶ συνήθη, τῆς αὐτῆς πόλεως πολίτην καὶ τῆς μεγάλης 11καὶ τῆς μικρᾶς· εἶτα φόνον ἐργαζόμενος καὶ ἀπολλύων ἄνθρωπον μηδὲν ἠδικηκότα λέγεις ὅτι τοῖς κριθεῖσιν ἐμμένειν δεῖ. εἰ δ᾿ ἐπῆλθέν σοί πώς ποτ᾿ ἐμὲ ἀποκτεῖναι, ἔδει σε ἐμμένειν τοῖς κριθεῖσιν;

Ἐκεῖνος μὲν οὖν μόγις μετεπείσθη. τῶν δὲ νῦν τινας οὐκ ἔστι μεταθεῖναι. ὥστε μοι δοκῶ ὃ πρότερον ἠγνόουν νῦν εἰδέναι, τί ἐστι τὸ ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ λεγόμενον· μωρὸν οὔτε πεῖσαι οὔτε ῥῆξαι ἔστιν. μή μοι γένοιτο φίλον ἔχειν σοφὸν μωρόν. δυσμεταχειριστότερον οὐδέν ἐστιν. “κέκρικα.” καὶ γὰρ οἱ μαινόμενοι· ἀλλ᾿ ὅσῳ βεβαιότερον κρίνουσι τὰ οὐκ ὄντα, τοσούτῳ πλείονος ἐλλεβόρου δέονται.

Robert Delaunay, “Fenétre Sur La Ville” 1914

Appropriating Like A Stoic

CW: Slavery, self harm, suicide

Seneca, Moral Epistle 77.14-15

“Now, you think I am going to offer examples of great men? I’ll talk about a boy.  There’s a tale of that Spartan youth that people still tell. When he was captured, he was shouting, “I will not serve” in his own Doric dialect. And he kept his promise. As soon as he was ordered to carry out some basic and insulting service–he was ordered to empty a chamber pot–he bashed is head against a wall.

Freedom is so close, yet some people are still slaves? Wouldn’t you prefer your own child to die this way rather than through slow old age. Why are you upset when even a child can die bravely. Imagine you don’t want to follow this example? You will be taken there. Wrest control over what belongs to another! Won’t you take up the that boy’s spirit and say, “I am not a slave!”

Sad man, you are a slave to people, to things, to life. For life is slavery if you are not brave enough to die.”

Exempla nunc magnorum virorum me tibi iudicas relaturum? Puerorum referam. Lacon ille memoriae traditur inpubis adhuc, qui captus clamabat “non serviam” sua illa Dorica lingua, et verbis fidem inposuit; ut primum iussus est servili fungi et contumelioso ministerio, adferre enim vas obscenum iubebatur, inlisum parieti caput rupit. Tam prope libertas est; et servit aliquis? Ita non sic perire filium tuum malles quam per inertiam senem fieri? Quid ergo est, cur perturberis, si mori fortiter etiam puerile est? Puta nolle te sequi; duceris. Fac tui iuris, quod alieni est. Non sumes pueri spiritum, ut dicas “non servio”? Infelix, servis hominibus, servis rebus, servis vitae. Nam vita, si moriendi virtus abest, servitus est.

GIF from Spartacus where everyone says "i am spartacus" but the title says "i am a stoic"

Stop Right There! You Might See a Vice….

Seneca, Moral Epistle 69

“I don’t want you to change places and move all over, first, since such frequent traveling makes for an unstable spirt. You can’t grow mindful without leisure, unless you stop searching about and wandering. Stop your body’s flight first to gain control over your mind. Then, continuous treatments provide the most relief. Your rest and forgetting of your previous life must not be interrupted. Allow your eyes to relearn the world; allow your ears to get used to healthier words.

As many times as you go out–even in the movement itself–you encounter things that remind you of your desires. Just as someone who is trying to forget a love must avoid every reminder of the body loved–since nothing grows back more easily than love–so too must someone who wants to slough off desires for all things for which they have burned with desire, should turn their eyes and ears away from whatever they have left them. Affection returns quickly. Wherever you turn, they see something present worth their fixation.

There’s no evil without some attraction. Greed offers money; luxury provides many different pleasures; ambition offers honor and praise and the power that comes from that and whatever power provides. Vices get under your skin with what they pay–but this life must be lived for free.  It is barely possible to do this over a whole life, to make vices accept our rule when they are so strong from prolonged free reign. It is harder if we divide so brief a time with breaks. Even constant vigilance and intention can barely bring one matter to completion.

If you want to listen to me, consider this and practice how to accept death or, if the situation requires it, summon it. It doesn’t matter whether death stops for us or we go to it. Convince yourself that the saying of the ignorant is wrong: “it is beautiful do die one’s own death.” There’s no one who doesn’t die on their own day! You waste nothing of your time, since what you give up wasn’t yours to begin with. Goodbye.”

Mutare te loca et aliunde alio transilire nolo; primum, quia tam frequens migratio instabilis animi est. Coalescere otio non potest, nisi desît circumspicere et errare. Ut animum possis continere, primum corporis tui fugam siste. Deinde plurimum remedia continuata proficiunt. Interrumpenda non est quies et vitae prioris oblivio. Sine dediscere oculos tuos, sine aures adsuescere sanioribus verbis.

Quotiens processeris, in ipso transitu aliqua, quae renovent cupiditates tuas, tibi occurrent. Quemadmodum ei, qui amorem exuere conatur, evitanda est omnis admonitio dilecti corporis, nihil enim facilius quam amor recrudescit, ita qui deponere vult desideria rerum omnium, quarum cupiditate flagravit, et oculos et aures ab iis, quae reliquit, avertat. Cito rebellat adfectus. Quocumque se verterit, pretium aliquod praesens occupationis suae aspiciet.

Nullum sine auctoramento malum est. Avaritia pecuniam promittit, luxuria multas ac varias voluptates, ambitio purpuram et plausum et ex hoc potentiam et quicquid potest potentia. Mercede te vitia sollicitant; hic tibi gratis vivendum est. Vix effici toto saeculo potest, ut vitia tam longa licentia tumida subigantur et iugum accipiant, nedum, si tam breve tempus intervallis caedimus. Unam quamlibet rem vix ad perfectum perducit adsidua vigilia et intentio.

Si me quidem velis audire, hoc meditare et exerce, ut mortem et excipias et, si ita res suadebit, accersas. Interest nihil, ilia ad nos veniat an ad illam nos. Illud imperitissimi cuiusque verbum falsum esse tibi ipse persuade: “Bella res est mori sua morte.” Nemo moritur nisi sua morte. Illud praeterea tecum licet cogites: nemo nisi suo die moritur. Nihil perdis ex tuo tempore; nam quod relinquis, alienum est. Vale.

Is this a butterfly meme labeled with speaker as seneca, the butterfly as literally anything and the quote as "is this a vice?"

Sure, Retire; The Universe Has Your Number

Seneca, Moral Epistle 68.1-2

“I agree with your plan: retreat into leisure. But hide your leisure as well. When you do this, you know that you are following the Stoic example if not their command. But, you will be in line with the command too and will earn approval from yourself and anyone you want.

As Stoics, we do not commend public life in every matter, all the time, or without boundaries. In addition, when we have given someone wise to a public life worth their time–by which I mean the whole world–they cannot ever be outside the public realm, even when withdrawn. No, instead someone perhaps has given up one little part of it and has moved on to more important and broader territory. Then, when they have made it to heaven, they understand how humble a place was occupied when they were in the curule chair or on the judge’s bench.

Keep this in your thoughts. The wise person never does more than when divine and human matters appear together in view.”

Consilio tuo accedo; absconde te in otio. Sed et ipsum otium absconde. Hoc te facturum Stoicorum etiam si non praecepto, at exemplo licet scias. Sed ex praecepto quoque facies; et tibi et cui voles adprobabis. Nec ad omnem rem publicam mittimus nec semper nec sine ullo fine.

Praeterea, cum sapienti rem publicam ipso dignam dedimus, id est mundum, non est extra rem publicam, etiam si recesserit, immo fortasse relicto uno angulo in maiora atque ampliora transit et caelo inpositus intellegit, cum sellam aut tribunal ascenderet, quam humili loco sederit. Depone hoc apud te, numquam plus agere sapientem, quam quom in conspectum eius divina atque humana venerunt.

Old man on phone meme with latin "Consilio tuo accedo" which means I agree with your plan

Seeking One Who Explains; Or, The Difference Between Grammar and Philosophy

Epictetus Encheiridion, 49

“Whenever someone is haughty because he understands and can explain the books of Chrysippus, say to him: “If Chrysippus hadn’t written so obscurely, you’d have nothing to be haughty about.”

But what do I desire? To understand nature and follow it. Therefore, I seek one who explains it. And because I have heard that Chrysippus does this, I go to him. But I do not understand what he has written. Therefore, I seek out someone who explains him. And within these steps there is nothing worthy of pride. Whenever I find the right interpreter, it is still up to me to practice his precepts. This alone is worthy of pride.

But if I am amazed at this act of explanation, have I done anything but transform into a grammarian instead of a philosopher? (Except, I interpret Chryippos instead of Homer.) Hence, whenever anyone says to me “Read me Chrysippus,” I turn red when I am incapable of demonstrating actions equal to and harmonious with his words

Ὅταν τις ἐπὶ τῷ νοεῖν καὶ ἐξηγεῖσθαι δύνασθαι τὰ Χρυσίππου βιβλία σεμνύνηται, λέγε αὐτὸς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὅτι “εἰ μὴ Χρύσιππος ἀσαφῶς ἐγεγράφει, οὐδὲν ἂν εἶχεν οὗτος, ἐφ᾿ ᾧ ἐσεμνύνετο.

 Ἐγὼ δὲ τί βούλομαι; καταμαθεῖν τὴν φύσιν καὶ ταύτῃ ἕπεσθαι. ζητῶ οὖν, τίς ἐστὶν ὁ ἐξηγούμενος· καὶ ἀκούσας, ὅτι Χρύσιππος, ἔρχομαι πρὸς αὐτόν. ἀλλ᾿ οὐ νοῶ τὰ γεγραμμένα· ζητῶ οὖν τὸν ἐξηγούμενον. καὶ μέχρι τούτων οὔπω σεμνὸν οὐδέν. ὅταν δὲ εὕρω τὸν ἐξηγούμενον, ἀπολείπεται χρῆσθαι τοῖς παρηγγελμένοις· τοῦτο αὐτὸ μόνον σεμνόν ἐστιν. ἂν δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ ἐξηγεῖσθαι θαυμάσω, τί ἄλλο ἢ γραμματικὸς ἀπετελέσθην ἀντὶ φιλοσόφου; πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι ἀντὶ Ὁμήρου Χρύσιππον ἐξηγούμενος. μᾶλλον οὖν, ὅταν τις εἴπῃ μοι “ἐπανάγνωθί μοι Χρύσιππον,” ἐρυθριῶ, ὅταν μὴ δύνωμαι ὅμοια τὰ ἔργα καὶ σύμφωνα ἐπιδεικνύειν τοῖς λόγοις.

BERNARD Emile,1887 – Young Woman in Kimono, reading

On Not Cutting Off Your Penis, or Beard

Epictetus, Discourses 1.2

“Similar too is the athlete who was at the risk of dying unless his penis was cut off. His brother—that one was a philosopher—came to him and said, “Come on, brother, what are you going to do? Are we going to cut that bit off and go to the gym still?” He wouldn’t allow it, so died, steadfast in his convictions.

When someone asked, “How did he do that? As an athlete or a philosopher.” Epictetus answered, “As a man. As a man who had been announced at the Olympic games and competed there and was well-suited to that place, not just rubbed down in oil at Batôn’s gym. A different man would have cut off his neck if he could live separate from it. This is what living in alignment with your persona means. It is so strong for those who are accustomed to introduce their own experiences into examinations.

“Come Epictetus, shave!” If I am a philosopher, I say, “I will not shave my beard.” And he answers, “Then I will cut off your neck.” So I say, if it seems better to you that way, cut it.”

Τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον καὶ ἀθλητής τις κινδυνεύων ἀπο-θανεῖν, εἰ μὴ ἀπεκόπη τὸ αἰδοῖον, ἐπελθόντος αὐτῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ (ἦν δ’ ἐκεῖνος φιλόσοφος) καὶ εἰπόντος ‘ἄγε, ἀδελφέ, τί μέλλεις ποιεῖν; ἀποκόπτομεν τοῦτο τὸ μέρος καὶ ἔτι εἰς γυμνάσιον προερχόμεθα;’ οὐχ ὑπέμεινεν, ἀλλ’ ἐγκαρτερήσας ἀπέθανεν. πυθομένου δέ τινος·

Πῶς τοῦτο ἐποίησεν; ὡς ἀθλητὴς ἢ ὡς φιλόσοφος; <῾Ως> ἀνήρ, ἔφη, ἀνὴρ δ’ ᾿Ολύμπια κεκηρυγμένος καὶ ἠγωνισμένος, ἐν τοιαύτῃ τινὶ χώρᾳ ἀνεστραμμένος, οὐχὶ παρὰ τῷ Βάτω<ν>ι ἀλειφόμενος. ἄλλος δὲ κἂν τὸν τράχηλον ἀπετμήθη, εἰ ζῆν ἠδύνατο δίχα τοῦ τραχήλου. τοιοῦτόν ἐστι τὸ κατὰ πρόσωπον· οὕτως ἰσχυρὸν παρὰ τοῖς εἰθισμένοις αὐτὸ συνεισφέρειν ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐν ταῖς σκέψεσιν. ‘ἄγε οὖν, ᾿Επίκτητε, διαξύρησαι.’ ἂν ὦ φιλόσοφος, λέγω ‘οὐ διαξυρῶμαι’. ‘ἀλλ’ ἀφελῶ σου τὸν τράχηλον.’ εἰ σοὶ ἄμεινον, ἄφελε.

MET Accession 62.4

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

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

Rich Dudes: Take A Little, Pass it On

Epictetus, Encheiridion 15

“Remember that it is right to act as if you are at a dinner party. When something is passed around to you, reach out and take a little kindly. It moves on. Don’t hold it. When it hasn’t made it to you yet, don’t express that you want it, but be patient.

Act the same way toward children, a spouse, and wealth. Then, someday you will be worthy of a dinner with the gods. Yet, if you do not take these things when they are offered, but instead look down on them, you will not merely be a dinner guest of the gods, but you will host with them too. This is how Diogenes and Heraclitus behaved along with other men who were similarly divine and rightly called so.”

c. 15. Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὡς ἐν συμποσίῳ σε δεῖ ἀναστρέφεσθαι. περιφερόμενον γέγονέ τι κατὰ σέ· ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα κοσμίως μετάλαβε. παρέρχεται· μὴ κάτεχε. οὔπω ἥκει· μὴ ἐπίβαλλε πόρρω τὴν ὄρεξιν, ἀλλὰ περίμενε, μέχρις ἂν γένηται κατὰ σέ. οὕτω πρὸς τέκνα, οὕτω πρὸς γυναῖκα, οὕτω πρὸς ἀρχάς, οὕτω πρὸς πλοῦτον· καὶ ἔσῃ ποτὲ ἄξιος τῶν θεῶν συμπότης. ἂν δὲ καὶ παρατεθέντων σοι μὴ λάβῃς, ἀλλ᾿ ὑπερίδῃς, τότε οὐ μόνον συμπότης τῶν θεῶν ἔσῃ, ἀλλὰ καὶ συνάρχων. οὕτω γὰρ ποιῶν Διογένης καὶ Ἡράκλειτος καὶ οἱ ὅμοιοι ἀξίως θεῖοί τε ἦσαν καὶ ἐλέγοντο.

Wild, nearly comical banquet scene: shirtless bearded men around a table with a woman on the side with lots of fruit and food. Classical garb throughout
School of Peter Paul Reubens: “The banquet of Acheloos “