Politics Getting You Down? Here’s a Pep-talk from Cicero

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum: paradox 2: That having virtue is enough for being happy

“No one can be really happy if they rely wholly on themselves and value everything with themselves alone. But those whose reasoning and hope depend entirely on fortune cannot have anything certain—nothing possessed can be expected to last for more than a solitary day.

Threaten that kind of person, should you find one, with these threats of death and exile. In truth, whatever will happen in so thankless a state will happen whether I am protesting or resisting or not. What have I labored over or what have I done or what of my worries and thoughts passing throughout the night, If I have actually accomplished or pursued nothing to put me in a state that rashness of fate or injuries to my friends cannot weaken? Do you threaten death so that I will completely withdraw from humankind or exile so I may abandon the wicked? Death is terrible to those who lose everything along with life but not for those whose praise can never die. Exile is dreadful to those whose home is a mere boundary line but not to those who think that the whole world is one city.”

Nemo potest non beatissimus esse qui est totus aptus ex sese quique in se uno sua ponit omnia; cui spes omnis et ratio et cogitatio pendet ex fortuna, huic nihil potest esse certi, nihil quod exploratum habeat permansurum sibi unum diem. Eum tu hominem terreto, si quem eris nactus, istis mortis aut exilii minis; mihi vero quidquid acciderit in tam ingrata civitate ne recusanti quidem evenerit, non modo non repugnanti, Quid enim ego laboravi aut quid egi aut in quo evigilaverunt curae et cogitationes meae, si quidem nihil peperi tale nihil consecutus sum ut in eo statu essem quem neque fortunae temeritas neque inimicorum labefactaret iniuria? Mortemne mihi minitaris ut omnino ab hominibus, an exilium ut ab improbis demigrandum sit? Mors terribilis est eis quorum cum vita omnia exstinguuntur, non eis quorum laus emori non potest, exilium autem illis quibus quasi circumscriptus est habitandi locus, non eis qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt.

Cicero, copy by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1799-1800 of Roman bust

Anger and Masks of Injury

Seneca, De Ira 5-8

“Some one will be said to have spoken badly of you: think whether you did this first; think of how many people you talk about. Let us think, I say, that some are not offending us, but repaying us; that some are doing good for us, that others are forced to act, and some are just ignorant. There are those who do what they do willingly and with full understanding who attach us not for the injury itself: one is either seduced by the sweetness of his wit; other does it not to move against us but because he cannot pursue his own aims unless he moves through us.

Often praise, although it flatters, offends. Whoever reminds himself of how many times he has encountered false suspicion or how many good services fortune has disguised with masks of injury, or how many people he learned to love after hating them, he will not anger quickly. As you are offended each time, say to yourself quietly: “I have done this myself.”

And where would you encounter a judge this just? The one who desires everyone’s wife and believes that it is just enough a reason to love her that someone else has her refuses to have his own wife seen. The traitor has the harshest demands on loyalty and the perjurer is obsessed with lies himself. The devious lawyer despises any charge made against him and the man who thinks nothing of his own shame will not abide the temptation of others. We keep everyone else’s vices in clear view, but own own behind our backs.”

Dicetur aliquis male de te locutus; cogita an prior feceris, cogita de quam multis loquaris. Cogitemus, inquam, alios non facere iniuriam sed reponere, alios pro nobis facere, alios coactos facere, alios ignorantes, etiam eos, qui volentes scientesque faciunt, ex iniuria nostra non ipsam iniuriam petere; aut dulcedine urbanitatis prolapsus est, aut fecit aliquid, non ut nobis obesset, sed quia consequi ipse non poterat, nisi nos repulisset; saepe adulatio, dum blanditur, offendit. Quisquis ad se rettulerit, quotiens ipse in suspicionem falsam inciderit, quam multis officiis suis fortuna speciem iniuriae induerit, quam multos post odium amare coeperit, poterit non statim irasci, utique si sibi tacitus ad singula quibus offenditur dixerit: “Hoc et ipse commisi.” Sed ubi tam aequum iudicem invenies? Is qui nullius non uxorem concupiscit et satis iustas causas putat amandi, quod aliena est, idem uxorem suam aspici non vult; et fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus, et mendacia persequitur ipse periurus, et litem sibi inferri aegerrime calumniator patitur; pudicitiam servulorum suorum adtemptari non vult qui non pepercit suae. Aliena vitia in oculis habemus, a tergo nostra sunt.

 

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Roman Calvary Sports Mask, MET

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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Life’s Purpose, The Pursuit of Knowledge?

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 7.2

“Hêrillos the Karthaginian said that our purpose was knowledge: we should live by adducing the life of knowledge to everything and surrendering nothing to ignorance. He believed that knowledge was a practice of the imagination, imperturbable by argument. He used to say that there was no single end, but that it changed depending on events and situations, just as a bronze figure could be made into either Alexander or Socrates.”

Ἥριλλος δ᾿ ὁ Καρχηδόνιος τέλος εἶπε τὴν ἐπιστήμην, ὅπερ ἐστὶ ζῆν ἀεὶ πάντ᾿ ἀναφέροντα πρὸς τὸ μετ᾿ ἐπιστήμης ζῆν καὶ μὴ τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ διαβεβλημένον. εἶναι δὲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην ἕξιν ἐν φαντασιῶν προσδέξει ἀνυπόπτωτον ὑπὸ λόγου. ποτὲ δ᾿ ἔλεγε μηδὲν εἶναι τέλος, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς περιστάσεις καὶ τὰ πράγματ᾿ ἀλλάττεσθαι αὐτό, ὡς καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν χαλκὸν ἢ Ἀλεξάνδρου γινόμενον ἀνδριάντα ἢ Σωκράτους.”

Lactantius, Inst. Div. 3.7

“The highest good according to Herillus is knowledge; according to Zeno, to live congruously with nature, and according to some Stoics, to pursue virtue.”

Herilli summum bonum est scientia, Zenonis cum natura congruenter vivere, quorundam Stoicorum virtutem sequi.

Cicero, De Finibus 2.14

“Erillus, moreover, since he refers everything back to knowledge, imagines one certain good, but it is not the greatest good by which you could steer a life. For this reason, Erillus has been dismissed for a long time. No one has directly disputed him since Chrysippus.”

Erillus autem ad scientiam omnia revocans unum quoddam bonum vidit, sed nec optimum nec quo vita gubernari possit. Itaque hic ipse iam pridem est reiectus; post enim Chrysippum non sane est disputatum.

Cicero, Academica  2.42

“I am not including the philosophies which now seem abandoned, for example Erillus who positioned the highest good in thinking and knowledge. Although he was a pupil of Zeno, you can see how much he disagreed with him and how little with Plato.”

Omitto illa quae relicta iam videntur—ut Erillum, qui in cognitione et scientia summum bonum ponit; qui cum Zenonis auditor esset, vides quantum ab eo dissenserit et quam non multum a Platone.

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How Do You Persuade the Close-Minded?

 Epictetus’ Dissertationes ad Arriano Digestae (“Treatises Collected and Edited by Arrian”)

Book 1.5 Against the Academics

“Epictetus said that if someone resists what is clearly true, then it is not easy to devise an argument to persuade him to change his mind. This is due neither to the man’s strength or the teacher’s weakness, but instead because once someone has been assailed and hardens to stone, how could anyone prevail upon him with reason?

Men are hardened to reason in two ways: one is the petrification of thought; the other comes from shame, whenever someone is deployed in battle to such a degree that he will not acknowledge what is obvious or depart from his fellow combatants. Most of us fear the necrosis of our bodies and we will do anything to avoid having this happen in anyway; but we don’t think at all about the mortification of our mind. By Zeus, if a man is disposed in such a way concerning the mind itself that he can’t follow any argument or understand anything, we believe that he is ill. But if shame or self-regard hardens a man, we still persist in calling this strength!

Do you sense that you are awake? “No”, he answers, “Not more than when I imagine that I am awake while I dream.” The fantasy of dreaming differs in no way from being awake? “Not at all.”

How do I have a conversation with this man? What kind of fire or iron can I take to him to make him perceive that he has turned to stone? Although he realizes it, he pretends he does not. He is even worse than a corpse. One man does not perceive the conflict—he is sick. The other perceives it and neither moves nor responds—he is even worse. His sense of shame and his self-regard have been amputated and his reason has not been excised but instead has been mutilated.

Should I call this strength? May it not be so, unless I should also it strength when perverts do and say everything that occurs to them in public.”

ε′. Πρὸς τοὺς ᾿Ακαδημαικούς.

῎Αν τις, φησίν, ἐνίστηται πρὸς τὰ ἄγαν ἐκφανῆ, πρὸς τοῦτον οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστιν εὑ<ρεῖν λόγ>ον, δι’ οὗ μεταπείσει τις αὐτόν. τοῦτο δ’ οὔτε παρὰ <τὴν ἐκεί>νου γίνεται δύναμιν οὔτε παρὰ τὴν τοῦ διδάσκοντος ἀσθένειαν, ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἀπαχθεὶς ἀπολιθωθῇ, πῶς ἔτι χρήσηταί τις αὐτῷ διὰ λόγου;

᾿Απολιθώσεις δ’ εἰσὶ διτταί· ἡ μὲν τοῦ νοητικοῦ ἀπολίθωσις, ἡ δὲ τοῦ ἐντρεπτικοῦ, ὅταν τις παρατεταγμένος ᾖ μὴ ἐπινεύειν τοῖς ἐναργέσι μηδ’ ἀπὸ τῶν μαχομένων ἀφίστασθαι. οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ τὴν μὲν σωματικὴν ἀπονέκρωσιν φοβούμεθα καὶ πάντ’ <ἂν> μηχανησαίμεθα ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ περιπεσεῖν τοιούτῳ τινί, τῆς ψυχῆς δ’ ἀπονεκρουμένης οὐδὲν ἡμῖν μέλει. καὶ νὴ Δία ἐπὶ αὐτῆς τῆς ψυχῆς ἂν μὲν ᾖ οὕτως διακείμενος, ὥστε μηδεν<ὶ> παρακολουθεῖν μηδὲ συνιέναι μηδέν, καὶ τοῦτον κακῶς ἔχειν οἰόμεθα· ἂν δέ τινος τὸ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ αἰδῆμον ἀπονεκρωθῇ, τοῦτο ἔτι καὶ δύναμιν καλοῦμεν.

Καταλαμβάνεις ὅτι ἐγρήγορας; ‘οὔ’, φησίν· ‘οὐδὲ γάρ, ὅταν ἐν τοῖς ὕπνοις φαντάζωμαι, ὅτι ἐγρήγορα’. οὐδὲν οὖν διαφέρει αὕτη ἡ φαντασία ἐκείνης; ‘οὐδέν’. ἔτι τούτῳ διαλέγομαι; καὶ ποῖον αὐτῷ πῦρ ἢ ποῖον σίδηρον προσαγάγω, ἵν’ αἴσθηται ὅτι νενέκρωται; αἰσθανόμενος οὐ προσποιεῖται· ἔτι χείρων ἐστὶ τοῦ νεκροῦ. μάχην οὗτος οὐ συνορᾷ· κακῶς ἔχει. συνορῶν οὗτος οὐ  κινεῖται οὐδὲ προκόπτει· ἔτι ἀθλιώτερον ἔχει. ἐκτέτμηται τὸ αἰδῆμον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ τὸ λογικὸν οὐκ ἀποτέτμηται, ἀλλ’ ἀποτεθηρίωται. ταύτην ἐγὼ δύναμιν εἴπω; μὴ γένοιτο, εἰ μὴ καὶ τὴν τῶν κιναίδων, καθ’ ἣν πᾶν τὸ ἐπελθὸν ἐν μέσῳ καὶ ποιοῦσι καὶ λέγουσι.

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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.

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Chrysippus

“We Are Not Born for Ourselves”: Cicero on Private Property

Cicero De officiis 1.21-22

“There is, moreover, no private property naturally, but it develops either through ancient possession—as when people came into empty territory long ago—or through conquest—as when people possess it in war—or through law, contract, purchase, or lot. This is why the land of Arpinas are said to be of the Arpinates and the Tusculan lands of the Tusculans. The assignment of private property is much the same. For this reason, because what had been communal property by nature because the possession of an individual, each person should take hold of what has come to him—but, if he desire anything else beyond this, he will transgress the law of human society.

But since, as Plato has famously written, we are not born only for ourselves, but our country takes a part and our friends take a part, and since, as the Stoics maintain, everything which develops from the earth has been created for human use, and we human beings are born to be of use to other human beings, that we may in some way be able to help one another, we ought to make nature our leader in this, to produce common good by an exchange of favors, by giving and receiving….”

Sunt autem privata nulla natura, sed aut vetere occupatione, ut qui quondam in vacua venerunt, aut victoria, ut qui bello potiti sunt, aut lege, pactione, condicione, sorte; ex quo fit, ut ager Arpinas Arpinatium dicatur, Tusculanus Tusculanorum; similisque est privatarum possessionum discriptio. Ex quo, quia suum cuiusque fit eorum, quae natura fuerant communia, quod cuique obtigit, id quisque teneat; e quo si quis sibi appetet, violabit ius humanae societatis.

Sed quoniam, ut praeclare scriptum est a Platone, non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici, atque, ut placet Stoicis, quae in terris gignantur, ad usum hominum omnia creari, homines autem hominum causa esse generatos, ut ipsi inter se aliis alii prodesse possent, in hoc naturam debemus ducem sequi, communes utilitates in medium afferre mutatione officiorum, dando accipiendo,

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From the Fitzwilliam Museum