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Tiresias: The Ancient Mediterranean Religions Source Database



10243
Seneca The Younger, Letters, 18-22


mundus puellae serta Gnosiacae geritIt is the month of December, and yet the city is at this very moment in a sweat. Licence is given to the general merrymaking. Everything resounds with mighty preparations, – as if the Saturnalia differed at all from the usual business day! So true it is that the difference is nil, that I regard as correct the remark of the man who said: "Once December was a month; now it is a year."[1] ,If I had you with me, I should be glad to consult you and find out what you think should be done, – whether we ought to make no change in our daily routine, or whether, in order not to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public, we should dine in gayer fashion and doff the toga.[2] As it is now, we Romans have changed our dress for the sake of pleasure and holiday-making, though in former times that was only customary when the State was disturbed and had fallen on evil days. ,I am sure that, if I know you aright, playing the part of an umpire you would have wished that we should be neither like the liberty-capped[3] throng in all ways, nor in all ways unlike them; unless, perhaps, this is just the season when we ought to lay down the law to the soul, and bid it be alone in refraining from pleasures just when the whole mob has let itself go in pleasures; for this is the surest proof which a man can get of his own constancy, if he neither seeks the things which are seductive and allure him to luxury, nor is led into them. ,It shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does, but in a different way, – thus neither making oneself conspicuous nor becoming one of the crowd. For one may keep holiday without extravagance. ,I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: "Is this the condition that I feared?" ,It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manœuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men[4] have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed. ,You need not suppose that I mean meals like Timon's, or "paupers' huts,"[5] or any other device which luxurious millionaires use to beguile the tedium of their lives. Let the pallet be a real one, and the coarse cloak; let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man's peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs. ,There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item, – that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practise our strokes on the "dummy";[6] let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden. ,Even Epicurus, the teacher of pleasure, used to observe stated intervals, during which he satisfied his hunger in niggardly fashion; he wished to see whether he thereby fell short of full and complete happiness, and, if so, by what amount he fell short, and whether this amount was worth purchasing at the price of great effort. At any rate, he makes such a statement in the well known letter written to Polyaenus in the archonship of Charinus.[7] Indeed, he boasts that he himself lived on less than a penny, but that Metrodorus, whose progress was not yet so great, needed a whole penny. ,Do you think that there can be fulness on such fare? Yes, and there is pleasure also, – not that shifty and fleeting pleasure which needs a fillip now and then, but a pleasure that is steadfast and sure. For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one's needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away. ,Even prison fare is more generous; and those who have been set apart for capital punishment are not so meanly fed by the man who is to execute them. Therefore, what a noble soul must one have, to descend of one's own free will to a diet which even those who have been sentenced to death have not to fear! This is indeed forestalling the spear-thrusts of Fortune. ,So begin, my dear Lucilius, to follow the custom of these men, and set apart certain days on which you shall withdraw from your business and make yourself at home with the scantiest fare. Establish business relations with poverty. Dare, O my friend, to scorn the sight of wealth, And mould thyself to kinship with thy God.[8] ,For he alone is in kinship with God who has scorned wealth. Of course I do not forbid you to possess it, but I would have you reach the point at which you possess it dauntlessly; this can be accomplished only by persuading yourself that you can live happily without it as well as with it, and by regarding riches always as likely to elude you. ,But now I must begin to fold up my letter. "Settle your debts first," you cry. Here is a draft on Epicurus; he will pay down the sum: "Ungoverned anger begets madness."[9] You cannot help knowing the truth of these words, since you have had not only slaves, but also enemies. ,But indeed this emotion blazes out against all sorts of persons; it springs from love as much as from hate, and shows itself not less in serious matters than in jest and sport. And it makes no difference how important the provocation may be, but into what kind of soul it penetrates. Similarly with fire; it does not matter how great is the flame, but what it falls upon. For solid timbers have repelled a very great fire; conversely, dry and easily inflammable stuff nourishes the slightest spark into a conflagration. So it is with anger, my dear Lucilius; the outcome of a mighty anger is madness, and hence anger should be avoided, not merely that we may escape excess, but that we may have a healthy mind. Farewell.


sed vetera sero querimur I leap for joy whenever I receive letters from you. For they fill me with hope; they are now not mere assurances concerning you, but guarantees. And I beg and pray you to proceed in this course; for what better request could I make of a friend than one which is to be made for his own sake? If possible, withdraw yourself from all the business of which you speak; and if you cannot do this, tear yourself away. We have dissipated enough of our time already; let us in old age begin to pack up our baggage. ,Surely there is nothing in this that men can begrudge us. We have spent our lives on the high seas; let us die in harbour. Not that I would advise you to try to win fame by your retirement; one's retirement should neither be paraded nor concealed. Not concealed, I say, for I shall not go so far in urging you as to expect you to condemn all men as mad and then seek out for yourself a hiding-place and oblivion; rather make this your business, that your retirement be not conspicuous, though it should be obvious. ,In the second place, while those whose choice is unhampered from the start will deliberate on that other question, whether they wish to pass their lives in obscurity, in your case there is not a free choice. Your ability and energy have thrust you into the work of the world; so have the charm of your writings and the friendships you have made with famous and notable men. Renown has already taken you by storm. You may sink yourself into the depths of obscurity and utterly hide yourself; yet your earlier acts will reveal you. ,You cannot keep lurking in the dark; much of the old gleam will follow you wherever you fly. Peace you can claim for yourself without being disliked by anyone, without any sense of loss, and without any pangs of spirit. For what will you leave behind you that you can imagine yourself reluctant to leave? Your clients? But none of these men courts you for yourself; they merely court something from you. People used to hunt friends, but now they hunt pelf; if a lonely old man changes his will, the morning-caller transfers himself to another door. Great things cannot be bought for small sums; so reckon up whether it is preferable to leave your own true self, or merely some of your belongings. ,Would that you had had the privilege of growing old amid the limited circumstances of your origin, and that fortune had not raised you to such heights! You were removed far from the sight of wholesome living by your swift rise to prosperity, by your province, by your position as procurator,[1] and by all that such things promise; you will next acquire more important duties and after them still more. And what will be the result? ,Why wait until there is nothing left for you to crave? That time will never come. We hold that there is a succession of causes, from which fate is woven; similarly, you may be sure, there is a succession in our desires; for one begins where its predecessor ends. You have been thrust into an existence which will never of itself put an end to your wretchedness and your slavery. Withdraw your chafed neck from the yoke; it is better that it should be cut off once for all, than galled for ever. ,If you retreat to privacy, everything will be on a smaller scale, but you will be satisfied abundantly; in your present condition, however, there is no satisfaction in the plenty which is heaped upon you on all sides. Would you rather be poor and sated, or rich and hungry? Prosperity is not only greedy, but it also lies exposed to the greed of others. And as long as nothing satisfies you, you yourself cannot satisfy others. ,But, you say, "how can I take my leave?" Any way you please. Reflect how many hazards you have ventured for the sake of money, and how much toil you have undertaken for a title! You must dare something to gain leisure, also, – or else grow old amid the worries of procuratorships[2] abroad and subsequently of civil duties at home, living in turmoil and in ever fresh floods of responsibilities, which no man has ever succeeded in avoiding by unobtrusiveness or by seclusion of life. For what bearing on the case has your personal desire for a secluded life? Your position in the world desires the opposite! What if, even now, you allow that position to grow greater? But all that is added to your successes will be added to your fears. ,At this point I should like to quote a saying of Maecenas, who spoke the truth when he stood on the very summit:[3] "There's thunder even on the loftiest peaks." If you ask me in what book these words are found, they occur in the volume entitled Prometheus.[4] He simply meant to say that these lofty peaks have their tops surrounded with thunder-storms. But is any power worth so high a price that a man like you would ever, in order to obtain it, adopt a style so debauched as that?[5] Maecenas was indeed a man of parts, who would have left a great pattern for Roman oratory to follow, had his good fortune not made him effeminate, – nay, had it not emasculated him! An end like his awaits you also, unless you forthwith shorten sail and, – as Maecenas was not willing to do until it was too late, – hug the shore! ,This saying of Maecenas's might have squared my account with you; but I feel sure, knowing you, that you will get out an injunction against me, and that you will be unwilling to accept payment of my debt in such crude and debased currency. However that may be, I shall draw on the account of Epicurus.[6] He says: "You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink. For a dinner of meats without the company of a friend is like the life of a lion or a wolf." ,This privilege will not be yours unless you withdraw from the world; otherwise, you will have as guests only those whom your slave-secretary[7] sorts out from the throng of callers. It is, however, a mistake to select your friend in the reception-hall or to test him at the dinner-table. The most serious misfortune for a busy man who is overwhelmed by his possessions is, that he believes men to be his friends when he himself is not a friend to them, and that he deems his favours to be effective in winning friends, although, in the case of certain men, the more they owe, the more they hate. A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy. ,What, you say, "do not kindnesses establish friendships?" They do, if one has had the privilege of choosing those who are to receive them, and if they are placed judiciously, instead of being scattered broadcast. Therefore, while you are beginning to call your mind your own, meantime apply this maxim of the wise: consider that it is more important who receives a thing, than what it is he receives. Farewell.


nanI leap for joy whenever I receive letters from you. For they fill me with hope; they are now not mere assurances concerning you, but guarantees. And I beg and pray you to proceed in this course; for what better request could I make of a friend than one which is to be made for his own sake? If possible, withdraw yourself from all the business of which you speak; and if you cannot do this, tear yourself away. We have dissipated enough of our time already; let us in old age begin to pack up our baggage. ,Surely there is nothing in this that men can begrudge us. We have spent our lives on the high seas; let us die in harbour. Not that I would advise you to try to win fame by your retirement; one's retirement should neither be paraded nor concealed. Not concealed, I say, for I shall not go so far in urging you as to expect you to condemn all men as mad and then seek out for yourself a hiding-place and oblivion; rather make this your business, that your retirement be not conspicuous, though it should be obvious. ,In the second place, while those whose choice is unhampered from the start will deliberate on that other question, whether they wish to pass their lives in obscurity, in your case there is not a free choice. Your ability and energy have thrust you into the work of the world; so have the charm of your writings and the friendships you have made with famous and notable men. Renown has already taken you by storm. You may sink yourself into the depths of obscurity and utterly hide yourself; yet your earlier acts will reveal you. ,You cannot keep lurking in the dark; much of the old gleam will follow you wherever you fly. Peace you can claim for yourself without being disliked by anyone, without any sense of loss, and without any pangs of spirit. For what will you leave behind you that you can imagine yourself reluctant to leave? Your clients? But none of these men courts you for yourself; they merely court something from you. People used to hunt friends, but now they hunt pelf; if a lonely old man changes his will, the morning-caller transfers himself to another door. Great things cannot be bought for small sums; so reckon up whether it is preferable to leave your own true self, or merely some of your belongings. ,Would that you had had the privilege of growing old amid the limited circumstances of your origin, and that fortune had not raised you to such heights! You were removed far from the sight of wholesome living by your swift rise to prosperity, by your province, by your position as procurator,[1] and by all that such things promise; you will next acquire more important duties and after them still more. And what will be the result? ,Why wait until there is nothing left for you to crave? That time will never come. We hold that there is a succession of causes, from which fate is woven; similarly, you may be sure, there is a succession in our desires; for one begins where its predecessor ends. You have been thrust into an existence which will never of itself put an end to your wretchedness and your slavery. Withdraw your chafed neck from the yoke; it is better that it should be cut off once for all, than galled for ever. ,If you retreat to privacy, everything will be on a smaller scale, but you will be satisfied abundantly; in your present condition, however, there is no satisfaction in the plenty which is heaped upon you on all sides. Would you rather be poor and sated, or rich and hungry? Prosperity is not only greedy, but it also lies exposed to the greed of others. And as long as nothing satisfies you, you yourself cannot satisfy others. ,But, you say, "how can I take my leave?" Any way you please. Reflect how many hazards you have ventured for the sake of money, and how much toil you have undertaken for a title! You must dare something to gain leisure, also, – or else grow old amid the worries of procuratorships[2] abroad and subsequently of civil duties at home, living in turmoil and in ever fresh floods of responsibilities, which no man has ever succeeded in avoiding by unobtrusiveness or by seclusion of life. For what bearing on the case has your personal desire for a secluded life? Your position in the world desires the opposite! What if, even now, you allow that position to grow greater? But all that is added to your successes will be added to your fears. ,At this point I should like to quote a saying of Maecenas, who spoke the truth when he stood on the very summit:[3] "There's thunder even on the loftiest peaks." If you ask me in what book these words are found, they occur in the volume entitled Prometheus.[4] He simply meant to say that these lofty peaks have their tops surrounded with thunder-storms. But is any power worth so high a price that a man like you would ever, in order to obtain it, adopt a style so debauched as that?[5] Maecenas was indeed a man of parts, who would have left a great pattern for Roman oratory to follow, had his good fortune not made him effeminate, – nay, had it not emasculated him! An end like his awaits you also, unless you forthwith shorten sail and, – as Maecenas was not willing to do until it was too late, – hug the shore! ,This saying of Maecenas's might have squared my account with you; but I feel sure, knowing you, that you will get out an injunction against me, and that you will be unwilling to accept payment of my debt in such crude and debased currency. However that may be, I shall draw on the account of Epicurus.[6] He says: "You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink. For a dinner of meats without the company of a friend is like the life of a lion or a wolf." ,This privilege will not be yours unless you withdraw from the world; otherwise, you will have as guests only those whom your slave-secretary[7] sorts out from the throng of callers. It is, however, a mistake to select your friend in the reception-hall or to test him at the dinner-table. The most serious misfortune for a busy man who is overwhelmed by his possessions is, that he believes men to be his friends when he himself is not a friend to them, and that he deems his favours to be effective in winning friends, although, in the case of certain men, the more they owe, the more they hate. A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy. ,What, you say, "do not kindnesses establish friendships?" They do, if one has had the privilege of choosing those who are to receive them, and if they are placed judiciously, instead of being scattered broadcast. Therefore, while you are beginning to call your mind your own, meantime apply this maxim of the wise: consider that it is more important who receives a thing, than what it is he receives. Farewell.


Thebana tellus nuribus a! sparsa impiisIf you are in good health and if you think yourself worthy of becoming at last your own master, I am glad. For the credit will be mine, if I can drag you from the floods in which you are being buffeted without hope of emerging. This, however, my dear Lucilius, I ask and beg of you, on your part, that you let wisdom sink into your soul, and test your progress, not by mere speech or writings, but by stoutness of heart and decrease of desire. Prove your words by your deeds. ,Far different is the purpose of those who are speech-making and trying to win the approbation of a throng of hearers, far different that of those who allure the ears of young men and idlers by many-sided or fluent argumentation; philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak; it exacts of every man that he should live according to his own standards, that his life should not be out of harmony with his words, and that, further, his inner life should be of one hue and not out of harmony with all his activities. This, I say, is the highest duty and the highest proof of wisdom, – that deed and word should be in accord, that a man should be equal to himself under all conditions, and always the same. "But," you reply, "who can maintain this standard?" Very few, to be sure; but there are some. It is indeed a hard undertaking, and I do not say that the philosopher can always keep the same pace. But he can always travel the same path. ,Observe yourself, then, and see whether your dress and your house are inconsistent, whether you treat yourself lavishly and your family meanly, whether you eat frugal dinners and yet build luxurious houses. You should lay hold, once for all, upon a single norm to live by, and should regulate your whole life according to this norm. Some men restrict themselves at home, but strut with swelling port before the public; such discordance is a fault, and it indicates a wavering mind which cannot yet keep its balance. ,And I can tell you, further, whence arise this unsteadiness and disagreement of action and purpose; it is because no man resolves upon what he wishes, and, even if he has done so, he does not persist in it, but jumps the track; not only does he change, but he returns and slips back to the conduct which he has abandoned and abjured. ,Therefore, to omit the ancient definitions of wisdom and to include the whole manner of human life, I can be satisfied with the following: "What is wisdom? Always desiring the same things, and always refusing the same things."[1] You may be excused from adding the little proviso, – that what you wish, should be right; since no man can always be satisfied with the same thing, unless it is right. ,For this reason men do not know what they wish, except at the actual moment of wishing; no man ever decided once and for all to desire or to refuse. Judgment varies from day to day, and changes to the opposite, making many a man pass his life in a kind of game. Press on, therefore, as you have begun; perhaps you will be led to perfection, or to a point which you alone understand is still short of perfection. ,But what, you say, "will become of my crowded household without a household income?" If you stop supporting that crowd, it will support itself; or perhaps you will learn by the bounty of poverty what you cannot learn by your own bounty. Poverty will keep for you your true and tried friends; you will be rid of the men who were not seeking you for yourself, but for something which you have. Is it not true, however, that you should love poverty, if only for this single reason, – that it will show you those by whom you are loved? O when will that time come, when no one shall tell lies to compliment you! ,Accordingly, let your thoughts, your efforts, your desires, help to make you content with your own self and with the goods that spring from yourself; and commit all your other prayers to God's keeping! What happiness could come closer home to you? Bring yourself down to humble conditions, from which you cannot be ejected; and in order that you may do so with greater alacrity, the contribution contained in this letter shall refer to that subject; I shall bestow it upon you forthwith. ,Although you may look askance, Epicurus[2] will once again be glad to settle my indebtedness: "Believe me, your words will be more imposing if you sleep on a cot and wear rags. For in that case you will not be merely saying them; you will be demonstrating their truth." I, at any rate, listen in a different spirit to the utterances of our friend Demetrius, after I have seen him reclining without even a cloak to cover him, and, more than this, without rugs to lie upon. He is not only a teacher of the truth, but a witness to the truth. ,May not a man, however, despise wealth when it lies in his very pocket? Of course; he also is great-souled, who sees riches heaped up round him and, after wondering long and deeply because they have come into his possession, smiles, and hears rather than feels that they are his. It means much not to be spoiled by intimacy with riches; and he is truly great who is poor amidst riches. ,Yes, but I do not know, you say, "how the man you speak of will endure poverty, if he falls into it suddenly." Nor do I, Epicurus, know whether the poor man you speak of will despise riches, should he suddenly fall into them; accordingly, in the case of both, it is the mind that must be appraised, and we must investigate whether your man is pleased with his poverty, and whether my man is displeased with his riches. Otherwise, the cot-bed and the rags are slight proof of his good intentions, if it has not been made clear that the person concerned endures these trials not from necessity but from preference. ,It is the mark, however, of a noble spirit not to precipitate oneself into such things[3] on the ground that they are better, but to practise for them on the ground that they are thus easy to endure. And they are easy to endure, Lucilius; when, however, you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant; for they contain a sense of freedom from care, – and without this nothing is pleasant. ,I hold it essential, therefore, to do as I have told you in a letter that great men have often done: to reserve a few days in which we may prepare ourselves for real poverty by means of fancied poverty. There is all the more reason for doing this, because we have been steeped in luxury and regard all duties as hard and onerous. Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us. No man is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us![4] Farewell.


quotiens novercam fecit! escendat licetDo you conclude that you are having difficulties with those men about whom you wrote to me? Your greatest difficulty is with yourself; for you are your own stumbling-block. You do not know what you want. You are better at approving the right course than at following it out. You see where the true happiness lies, but you have not the courage to attain it. Let me tell you what it is that hinders you, inasmuch as you do not of yourself discern it. You think that this condition, which you are to abandon, is one of importance, and after resolving upon that ideal state of calm into which you hope to pass, you are held back by the lustre of your present life, from which it is your intention to depart, just as if you were about to fall into a state of filth and darkness. ,This is a mistake, Lucilius; to go from your present life into the other is a promotion. There is the same difference between these two lives as there is between mere brightness and real light; the latter has a definite source within itself, the other borrows its radiance; the one is called forth by an illumination coming from the outside, and anyone who stands between the source and the object immediately turns the latter into a dense shadow; but the other has a glow that comes from within. It is your own studies that will make you shine and will render you eminent. Allow me to mention the case of Epicurus. ,He was writing[1] to Idomeneus and trying to recall him from a showy existence to sure and steadfast renown. Idomeneus was at that time a minister of state who exercised a rigorous authority and had important affairs in hand. "If," said Epicurus, "you are attracted by fame, my letters will make you more renowned than all the things which you cherish and which make you cherished." ,Did Epicurus speak falsely? Who would have known of Idomeneus, had not the philosopher thus engraved his name in those letters of his? All the grandees and satraps, even the king himself, who was petitioned for the title which Idomeneus sought, are sunk in deep oblivion. Cicero's letters keep the name of Atticus from perishing. It would have profited Atticus nothing to have an Agrippa for a son-in-law, a Tiberius for the husband of his grand-daughter, and a Drusus Caesar for a great-grandson; amid these mighty names his name would never be spoken, had not Cicero bound him to himself.[2],The deep flood of time will roll over us; some few great men will raise their heads above it, and, though destined at the last to depart into the same realms of silence, will battle against oblivion and maintain their ground for long. That which Epicurus could promise his friend, this I promise you, Lucilius. I shall find favour among later generations; I can take with me names that will endure as long as mine. Our poet Vergil promised an eternal name to two heroes, and is keeping his promise:[3] Blest heroes twain! If power my song possess, The record of your names shall never be Erased from out the book of Time, while yet Aeneas' tribe shall keep the Capitol, That rock immovable, and Roman sire Shall empire hold. ,Whenever men have been thrust forward by fortune, whenever they have become part and parcel of another's influence, they have found abundant favour, their houses have been thronged, only so long as they themselves have kept their position; when they themselves have left it, they have slipped at once from the memory of men. But in the case of innate ability, the respect in which it is held increases, and not only does honour accrue to the man himself, but whatever has attached itself to his memory is passed on from one to another.[4] ,In order that Idomeneus may not be introduced free of charge into my letter, he shall make up the indebtedness from his own account. It was to him that Epicurus addressed the well-known saying[5] urging him to make Pythocles rich, but not rich in the vulgar and equivocal way. "If you wish," said he, "to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires." ,This idea is too clear to need explanation, and too clever to need reinforcement. There is, however, one point on which I would warn you, – not to consider that this statement applies only to riches; its value will be the same, no matter how you apply it. "If you wish to make Pythocles honourable, do not add to his honours, but subtract from his desires"; "if you wish Pythocles to have pleasure for ever, do not add to his pleasures, but subtract from his desires"; "if you wish to make Pythocles an old man, filling his life to the full, do not add to his years, but subtract from his desires." ,There is no reason why you should hold that these words belong to Epicurus alone; they are public property. I think we ought to do in philosophy as they are wont to do in the Senate: when someone has made a motion, of which I approve to a certain extent, I ask him to make his motion in two parts, and I vote for the part which I approve. So I am all the more glad to repeat the distinguished words of Epicurus, in order that I may prove to those who have recourse to him through a bad motive, thinking that they will have in him a screen for their own vices, that they must live honourably, no matter what school they follow. ,Go to his Garden and read the motto carved there: "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure." The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: "Have you not been well entertained?" "This garden," he says, "does not whet your appetite; it quenches it. Nor does it make you more thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst by a natural cure, – a cure that demands no fee. This is the 'pleasure' in which I have grown old." ,In speaking with you, however, I refer to those desires which refuse alleviation, which must be bribed to cease. For in regard to the exceptional desires, which may be postponed, which may be chastened and checked, I have this one thought to share with you: a pleasure of that sort is according to our nature, but it is not according to our needs; one owes nothing to it; whatever is expended upon it is a free gift. The belly will not listen to advice; it makes demands, it importunes. And yet it is not a troublesome creditor; you can send it away at small cost, provided only that you give it what you owe, not merely all you are able to give. Farewell.


meumque victrix teneat Alcmene locumYou understand by this time that you must withdraw yourself from those showy and depraved pursuits; but you still wish to know how this may be accomplished. There are certain things which can be pointed out only by someone who is present. The physician cannot prescribe by letter the proper time for eating or bathing; he must feel the pulse. There is an old adage about gladiators, – that they plan their fight in the ring; as they intently watch, something in the adversary's glance, some movement of his hand, even some slight bending of his body, gives a warning. ,We can formulate general rules and commit them to writing, as to what is usually done, or ought to be done; such advice may be given, not only to our absent friends, but also to succeeding generations. In regard, however, to that second[1] question, – when or how your plan is to be carried out, – no one will advise at long range; we must take counsel in the presence of the actual situation. ,You must be not only present in the body, but watchful in mind, if you would avail yourself of the fleeting opportunity. Accordingly, look about you for the opportunity; if you see it, grasp it, and with all your energy and with all your strength devote yourself to this task, – to rid yourself of those business duties. Now listen carefully to the opinion which I shall offer; it is my opinion that you should withdraw either from that kind of existence, or else from existence altogether. But I likewise maintain that you should take a gentle path, that you may loosen rather than cut the knot which you have bungled so badly in tying, – provided that if there shall be no other way of loosening it, you may actually cut it. No man is so faint-hearted that he would rather hang in suspense for ever than drop once for all. ,Meanwhile, – and this is of first importance, – do not hamper yourself; be content with the business into which you have lowered yourself, or, as you prefer to have people think, have tumbled. There is no reason why you should be struggling on to something further; if you do, you will lose all grounds of excuse, and men will see that it was not a tumble. The usual explanation which men offer is wrong: "I was compelled to do it. Suppose it was against my will; I had to do it." But no one is compelled to pursue prosperity at top speed; it means something to call a halt, – even if one does not offer resistance, – instead of pressing eagerly after favouring fortune. ,Shall you then be put out with me, if I not only come to advise you, but also call in others to advise you, – wiser heads than my own, men before whom I am wont to lay any problem upon which I am pondering? Read the letter of Epicurus[2] which bears on this matter; it is addressed to Idomeneus. The writer asks him to hasten as fast as he can, and beat a retreat before some stronger influence comes between and takes from him the liberty to withdraw. ,But he also adds that one should attempt nothing except at the time when it can be attempted suitably and seasonably. Then, when the long-sought occasion comes, let him be up and doing. Epicurus forbids[3] us to doze when we are meditating escape; he bids us hope for a safe release from even the hardest trials, provided that we are not in too great a hurry before the time, nor too dilatory when the time arrives. ,Now, I suppose, you are looking for a Stoic motto also. There is really no reason why anyone should slander that school to you on the ground of its rashness; as a matter of fact, its caution is greater than its courage. You are perhaps expecting the sect to utter such words as these: "It is base to flinch under a burden. Wrestle with the duties which you have once undertaken. No man is brave and earnest if he avoids danger, if his spirit does not grow with the very difficulty of his task." ,Words like these will indeed be spoken to you, if only your perseverance shall have an object that is worth while, if only you will not have to do or to suffer anything unworthy of a good man; besides, a good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy. Neither will he, as you imagine, become so involved in ambitious schemes that he will have continually to endure their ebb and flow. Nay, when he sees the dangers, uncertainties, and hazards in which he was formerly tossed about, he will withdraw, – not turning his back to the foe, but falling back little by little to a safe position. ,From business, however, my dear Lucilius, it is easy to escape, if only you will despise the rewards of business. We are held back and kept from escaping by thoughts like these: "What then? Shall I leave behind me these great prospects? Shall I depart at the very time of harvest? Shall I have no slaves at my side? no retinue for my litter? no crowd in my reception-room?" Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance; they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves. ,Men complain about their ambitions as they complain about their mistresses; in other words, if you penetrate their real feelings, you will find, not hatred, but bickering. Search the minds of those who cry down what they have desired, who talk about escaping from things which they are unable to do without; you will comprehend that they are lingering of their own free will in a situation which they declare they find it hard and wretched to endure. ,It is so, my dear Lucilius; there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery. If, however, you intend to be rid of this slavery; if freedom is genuinely pleasing in your eyes; and if you seek counsel for this one purpose, – that you may have the good fortune to accomplish this purpose without perpetual annoyance, – how can the whole company of Stoic thinkers fail to approve your course? Zeno, Chrysippus, and all their kind will give you advice that is temperate, honourable, and suitable. ,But if you keep turning round and looking about, in order to see how much you may carry away with you, and how much money you may keep to equip yourself for the life of leisure, you will never find a way out. No man can swim ashore and take his baggage with him. Rise to a higher life, with the favour of the gods; but let it not be favour of such a kind as the gods give to men when with kind and genial faces they bestow magnificent ills, justified in so doing by the one fact that the things which irritate and torture have been bestowed in answer to prayer. ,I was just putting the seal upon this letter; but it must be broken again, in order that it may go to you with its customary contribution, bearing with it some noble word. And lo, here is one that occurs to my mind; I do not know whether its truth or its nobility of utterance is the greater. "Spoken by whom?" you ask. By Epicurus;[4] for I am still appropriating other men's belongings. ,The words are: "Everyone goes out of life just as if he had but lately entered it." Take anyone off his guard, – young, old, or middle-aged; you will find that all are equally afraid of death, and equally ignorant of life. No one has anything finished, because we have kept putting off into the future all our undertakings.[5] No thought in the quotation given above pleases me more than that it taunts old men with being infants. ,No one, he says, "leaves this world in a different manner from one who has just been born." That is not true; for we are worse when we die than when we were born; but it is our fault, and not that of Nature. Nature should scold us, saying: "What does this mean? I brought you into the world without desires or fears, free from superstition, treachery and the other curses. Go forth as you were when you entered!" ,A man has caught the message of wisdom, if he can die as free from care as he was at birth; but as it is, we are all a-flutter at the approach of the dreaded end. Our courage fails us, our cheeks blanch; our tears fall, though they are unavailing. But what is baser than to fret at the very threshold of peace? ,The reason, however, is, that we are stripped of all our goods, we have jettisoned our cargo of life and are in distress; for no part of it has been packed in the hold; it has all been heaved overboard and has drifted away. Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long. Farewell.


Intertexts (texts cited often on the same page as the searched text):

10 results
1. Plato, Symposium, None (5th cent. BCE - 4th cent. BCE)

2. Horace, Sermones, 2.7 (1st cent. BCE - 1st cent. BCE)

2.7. and, in the second place, he accuses those Jews that are inhabitants of Alexandria; as, in the third place, he mixes with these things such accusations as concern the sacred purifications, with the other legal rites used in the temple. /p 2.7. These Egyptians therefore were the authors of these troubles, who not having the constancy of Macedonians, nor the prudence of Grecians, indulged all of them the evil manners of the Egyptians, and continued their ancient hatred against us;
3. Martial, Epigrams, 14.1.1, 14.142 (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

4. Martial, Epigrams, 14.1.1, 14.142 (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

5. Plutarch, On Isis And Osiris, None (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

369b. or anything good where God is the Author of nothing; for the concord of the universe, like that of a lyre or bow, according to Heracleitus, is resilient if disturbed; and according to Euripides, The good and bad cannot be kept apart, But there is some commingling, which is well. Wherefore this very ancient opinion comes down from writers on religion and from lawgivers to poets and philosophers; it can be traced to no source, but it carried a strong and almost indelible conviction, and is in circulation in many places among barbarians and Greeks alike, not only in story and tradition but also in rites and sacrifices, to the effect that the Universe is not of itself suspended aloft
6. Seneca The Younger, On Anger, 1.21.1 (1st cent. CE - 1st cent. CE)

7. Seneca The Younger, De Vita Beata (Dialogorum Liber Vii), 11.2, 12.4 (1st cent. CE - 1st cent. CE)

8. Seneca The Younger, Letters, 7.1, 7.3, 18.4-18.13, 120.19, 122.4 (1st cent. CE - 1st cent. CE)

9. Suetonius, Nero, 51 (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

10. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of The Philosophers, 8.19 (3rd cent. CE - 3rd cent. CE)

8.19. Above all, he forbade as food red mullet and blacktail, and he enjoined abstinence from the hearts of animals and from beans, and sometimes, according to Aristotle, even from paunch and gurnard. Some say that he contented himself with just some honey or a honeycomb or bread, never touching wine in the daytime, and with greens boiled or raw for dainties, and fish but rarely. His robe was white and spotless, his quilts of white wool, for linen had not yet reached those parts.


Subjects of this text:

subject book bibliographic info
anger Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
apicius, gaius Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
architecture Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
avarice Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
avaritia Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
banquet Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
banquets Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153
caligula, c. iulius caesar augustus germanicus Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
cato, m. porcius (the censor, the elder) Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 153
christianism Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
cicero Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
clothing Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 150, 151, 152
commagene, culture, history, annexation by rome Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
conversion/converts Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
culture Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
definition Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
diastrophe Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 153
emperor Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
fate Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
freedom Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
greediness Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
heaven Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
human race, mankind Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
ingenium Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
isis Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
jesus Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
jews Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
lucilius iunior Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 150, 151, 152
lust vii Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
luxury Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
material, objects Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
moderation Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149
moral Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
mystery cults Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
nasidienus rufus Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
nature Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 152, 153
nero claudius caesar augustus germanicus Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 152
night Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 153
nomentanus, cassius Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
norm Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
osiris Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
parallels, n Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
parenetic genre of letters Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
perfumes Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
personification vii Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
perversion Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 150, 151, 152, 153
philosophical schools Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
philosophy Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155; Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
pleasure Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131; Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 150, 151, 152, 153
poverty Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
poverty vii Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 152, 153
providence Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
rites Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
romans, rome, roman empire Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
rome Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
samosata Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
saturnalia Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 150, 151, 152, 153
seneca Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94; Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
separation Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
sexuality' Bricault and Bonnet, Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire (2013) 267
sobrietas Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 150, 151, 152, 153
socrates Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 151, 152
soul Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
stoicism, stoa Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
stoicism Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 150, 151, 152, 153
superstition Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
symbol Binder, Tertullian, on Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways Between Christians and Jews (2012) 94
torture Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 153
truth Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
verres, gaius Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121
vespasian Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
vice Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
virtue Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155; Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153
vomit Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 149, 150, 151, 152
warm Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 150, 151, 152
weakening Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 153
wealth Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
wine Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 121, 150, 151, 152
wisdom Brenk and Lanzillotta, Plutarch on Literature, Graeco-Roman Religion, Jews and Christians (2023) 155
wisdom literature Merz and Tieleman, Ambrosiaster's Political Theology (2012) 131
wise man Romana Berno, Roman Luxuria: A Literary and Cultural History (2023) 151