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Excerpts from Letters from a Stoic - Seneca

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 10: “Neither he nor Burrus appears to have held any standing legal or constitutional office that could be said to give them the authority they wielded during these years. Seneca, ‘the real master of the world’, seems simply to have been the moving force behind the throne. It is probably safe to say that Nero (unlike Aristotle’s celebrated pupil at a similar age, Alexander the Great) was still under the influence of a teacher undoubted personal charm, and was quite content to leave to him the direction of affairs in which he had little real interest. Once the young emperor began to listen to other advisers and increasingly to indulge his more violent and vindictive impulses this happy situation was doomed.” (From the self: Sun in Libra, when the ruler begins to counsel more than necessary, it begins to debilitate, the Self is not self-governed, rather influenced by external forces that misconstrue the reality).

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 11: “The reply, if any, which Seneca gave to his attackers’ criticisms of his wealth, was probably that contained in an essay On the Happy Life sent to his brother Gallio. What counts, he says, is one’s attitude to wealth, which is the wise man’s servant and the fool’s master; he, like any good stoic, could lose all he had at any moment without being a bit less happy. This is the core long reply to the charge, which he states with complete frankness, that ‘philosophers do not practise what they preach’. His everyday life did not lend countenance to such attacks (we have at least his own accounts of his plain diet and lifelong teetotalism, his hard bed, cold baths and daily runs); on this occasion he had came to no harm from his enemies.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 14: “Stoicism, for centuries the most influential philosophy in the Graeco-Roman world, had a long history before Seneca. Founded by Zeno (born of Phoenician descent in Cyprus c. 336/5 B.C.) who taught or lectured in a well-known stoa (a colonnade or porch) – hence the name – in Athens, it had been developed and modified by a succession of thinkers whose opinions on various logical, ethical or cosmological questions showed some fair divergences.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 15: “In this way we shall arrive at the true end of man, happiness, through having attained one and only good thing in life, the ideal or goal called arete in Greek and in Latin virtus – for which the English word ‘virtue’ is so unsatisfactory a translation. This, the summum bonus or ‘supreme ideal’, is usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing). It enables a man to be ‘self-sufficient’, immune to suffering, superior to the wounds and upsets of life (often personalized as Fortuna, the goddess of fortune). Even a slave can thus armed can be called ‘free’, or indeed titled ‘a king’ since even a king cannot touch him.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 16: “The duties it inculcated – courage and endurance, self-control and self-reliance, upright conduct and just dealing, simple and unluxurious habits, rationality, obedience to the state – were self-evident to many Romans, corresponding quite closely to the traditional idea of virtus.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 17: “The target it set seemed too high for ordinary men. It stifled and repressed to ordinary human emotions in striving after apatheia, immunity to feeling; Cato, the great Stoic saint, is reported to have expressed regret at having kissed his wife in a moment of danger. It held that in certain circumstances a man’s self-respect might invite, as an act of supreme nobility, his suicide. In pursuing the ideal of autarkeia, self-sufficiency, it seemed to make the perfect man a person detached and aloof from his fellows, superior to the world he lived in.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 22: “Going with the overriding aim of pithiness or epigrammatic brevity (contrasting so greatly with the style of Cicero a century before) was an indulgence in colloquialisms. Seneca’s use of popular turns of phrase and everyday expressions (a practice rare in Roman authors not writing for the comic stage or on technical subjects) and deliberate cultivation of easy, conversational manner are somehow reconciled with elements of style, even in the Letter, which to us seem highly wrought and polished. The exploitations of such figures as antithesis, alliteration, homeoteleuta and all manner of other plays upon words, paradox and oxymoron, apposition and asyndeton, the use of cases and prepositions in uncommon connotations, all contribute to the twin aims of brevity and sparkle.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 29: From Seneca’s Morals by Way of Abstract published by Sir Roger L’Estrange in 1673: “Books, and Dishes have this common fate; there was never any One, of either of them, that pleas’d all palates. And, in truth, it is a thing as little to be wish’d for, as expected; for, an universal applause is at least two thirds of a scandal. So that though I deliver up these papers to the press, I invite no man to reading of them: And, whosoever Reads, and Repents; it is his Own Fault. To conclude, as I made this composition principally for my self, so it agrees exceedingly well with my constitution; and yet, if any man has a mind to take part ith me, he has free leave, and welcome. But, let him carry this consideration along with him, that he’s a very unmannerly guest, that presses upon another bodies table, and then quarrels with his dinner.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter II, and pg. 33: “Nothing to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter II, and pg. 34: While quoting Epicurus, A Cheerful Poverty, he says, is an honourable state. But if it is cheerful it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more. What difference does it make how much there is laid away in a man’s safe or in his barns, how many head of stock he grazes or how much capital he puts out at interest, if he is always after what is another’s and only counts what he has yet to get, never what he has already. You ask what is proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter III, and pg. 36: “And the state of mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but a spineless inertia. This prompts me to memorize something which I came across in Pomponius. ‘Some men have shrunk so far into dark corners that objects in bright daylight seem quite blurred to them.’ A balanced combination of the two attitudes is what we want; the active man should be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action. Ask nature: she will tell you that she made both day and light.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter V, and pg. 37: “Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they may have to imitate us in everything.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter V, and pg. 37: “The standard which I accept is this: one’s life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular morality. People should admire our way of life but they should at the same time find it understandable. ‘Does that mean we are to act just like other people? Is there to be no distinction between us and them?’ Most certainly there is. Any close observer should be aware that we are different from the mob. Anyone entering our house should admire us rather than our furnishings. It is a great man that can treat his earthenware as if it was silver, and a man who treats his silver as if it was earthenware is no less great. Finding wealth an intolerable burden is the mark of an unstable mind.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic , Letter V, and pg 38: While discussing the Stoic writer Hecato. “ Limiting one’s desires actually helps to cure one of fear. ‘Cease to hope,’ he says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’ ‘But how’, you will ask, ‘can things as diverse as these be linked?’ Well, the fact is, Lucilius, that they are bound up with one another, unconnected as they may seem. Widely different though they are, the two of them march in unison like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VI, and pg 40: “Meanwhile, since I owe you the daily allowance, I’ll tell you what took my fancy in the writings of Hecato today. ‘What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.’ That is progress indeed. Such a person will never be alone, and may be sure he is a friend of all.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VII, and pg. 42: “Come now, I say, surely you people realize – if your realize nothing else – that bad examples have a way of recoiling on those who set them? Give thanks to the immortal gods that the men to whom you are giving a lesson in cruelty are not in a position to profit from it.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VII, and pg. 43: “What a mind is impressionable and has none too firm a hold on what is right, it must be rescued from the crowd: it is so easy for it to go over to the majority. A Socrates, a Cato or a Laelius might have been shaken in his principles by a multitude of people different from himself: such is the measure of the inability of any of us, even as we perfect our personality’s adjustment, to withstand the onset of vices when they come with such a mighty following. A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm – an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbour provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature – what then do you imagine the effect on a person’s character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you can capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VII, and pg. 44: ‘To me,’ says Democritus, ‘ a single man is a crowd, and a crowd is a single man.’ Equally good is the answer given by the person, whoever it was (his identity is uncertain), who when asked what was the object of all the trouble he took over a piece of craftsmanship when it would never reach more than a very few people, replied: ‘ A few is enough for me; so is one; and so is none.’ The third nice expression used by Epicurus in a letter to one of his colleagues. ‘I am writing this,’ he says, ‘not for the eyes of the many, but for yours alone: for each of us is audience enough for the other.’

From the self: We often see the poor worship the Gods and the rich worship themselves. Rich or poor in virtues, we are speaking of inner-wealth and not the outer manifestations of it.

On one hand we have the worshippers of Gods of fortune and fate, and one the other we have the worshippers of faith and freewill. The poor, inherently indolent sees the rich man’s riches as a stroke of luck(shami). The rich, inherently virtuous sees the poor man’s poverty as a mark of their ignorance.

For there are only two kinds of people in the world, the virtuous and the ignorant, both of them are acting out their own roles with moments of effortous free will or circumstantial fate.

When the forces of nature are greater than the forces of self, man succumbs to faith in fate. The virtuous then fights and formulates ways and manners to fend off the unfortunate circumstances.

When the forces of the self are greater than the forces of nature, man succumbs to faith in freewill. The virtuous then becomes grateful and enjoys the fortunate circumstances with grace.

It is the indolent ignorant puerile populace, the truly unfortunate one’s that require help. It is the duty of man which sees the bigger picture to help the ignorant.

Virtues of the wise are of no use to wielder if they are not utilised to weld the broken hearts and minds of the unwise, for there shall be a moment in Time when the favour shall be returned. Saturn’s determination, discipline, and desire is a never ending endeavour. The serpent devouring its own tail to seek an end to whatever its desires mean.

Jupiter’s jubilance, juvenescence, and joys is as poisonous. Hope is rooted in fear.

Fear of tomorrow seeks to sow beneficial seeds through self-effort, and hope seeks to reap the fruits from the efforts of yesterday. Both are then rooted in desire. Desire is rooted in fear and hope.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VIII, and pg. 45: “Cling, therefore, to this sound and wholesome plan of life: indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health. It needs to be treated somewhat strictly to prevent it from being disobedient to the spirit. Your food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out the cold, your house be protection against inclement weather. It makes no difference whether it is built of turf or of variegated marble imported from another country: what you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold does. Spurn everything that is added on by way of decoration and display by unnecessary labour. Reflect that nothing merits admiration except the spirit, the impressiveness of which prevents it from being impressed by anything.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VIII, and pg. 46: “I’m still turning over the pages of Epicurus, and the following saying, one I read today, comes from him: ‘To win true freedom you must be a slave to philosophy.’ A person who surrenders and subjects himself to her doesn’t have his application deferred from day to day; he’s emancipated on the spot, the very service of philosophy being freedom.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter VIII, and pg. 47: “I’ll quote one verse of his which belongs to philosophy, and the same facet of philosophy that was occupied with just now, a verse in which he proclaims that gifts which chance brings our way are not to be regarded as possessions:

If you pray a thing may

And it does come your way,

Tis’ a long way from being your own

(I recall your expressing the same idea a good deal more happily and succinctly):

What fortune has made yours is not your own,

And I can’t pass over that even happier expression of yours:

The boon that could be given can be wirhdrawn.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter IX, and pg. 48: “But while he does not hanker after what he has lost, he does prefer not to lose them. And this is what we mean when we say the wise man is self-content; he is so in the sense that he is able to do without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I speak of his being ‘able’ to do this, what I am saying in fact amounts to this: he bears the loss of a friend with equanimity.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter IX, and pg. 48: ‘I shall show you,’ said Hecato, ‘a love philtre compounded without drug or herb or witch’s spell. It is this: if you wish to be loved, love.’

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter IX, and pg. 49: “The philosopher Attalus used to say that it was more of a pleasure to make a friend than to have one, ‘ in the same way as an artist derives more pleasure from painting than from having completed a picture.’ When his whole attention is absorbed in concentration on the work he is engaged on, a tremendous sense of satisfaction is created in him by his very absorption. There is never quite the same gratification after he has lifted his hand from the finished work. From then on what he is enjoying is the art’s end product, whereas it was the art itself that he enjoyed while he was actually painting. So with our children, their growing up brings wider fruits but their infancy was sweeter.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter IX, and pg. 51: “’The wise man is content with himself.’ A lot of people, Lucilius, put quite the wrong interpretation on this statement. They remove the wise man from all contact with the world outside, shutting him up inside his own skin. We must be quite clear about the meaning of this sentence and just how much it claims to say. It applied to him so far as happiness in life is concerned: for this all he needs is a rational and elevated spirit that treats fortune with disdain; for the actual business of living needs a great number of things. I should like to draw your attention to a similar distinction made by Chrysippus. The wise man, he said, lacked nothing but needed a great number of things that are required for the purposes of day-to-day life; but he lacks nothing, for lacking something implies that it is a necessity and nothing, to the wise man, is a necessity.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter IX, and pg. 53: ‘What about so-and-so,’ you may ask, ‘who became rich in such a despicable manner , or such-and-such a person who gives orders to a great many people but is at the mercy of a great many more? Supposing they say they are happy, will their own opinions to this effect make them happy?’ It does not make any difference what a man says; what matters is how he feels, and not how he feels on one particular day but how he feels at all times. But you have no need to fear that so valuable a thing may fall into unworthy hands. Only the wise man is content with what is his. All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XI, and pg. 54: “Nature just weilds her power and uses the particular weakness to make even the strongest conscious of her.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XI, and pg. 55: “No amount of wisdom, as I said before, ever banishes these things; otherwise – if she eradicated every weakness – wisdom would have dominion over the world of nature.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XI, and pg. 56: ‘We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.’ This, my dear Lucilius, is Epicurus’ advice, and in giving it he has given us a guardian and a moral tutor – and not without reason, either: misdeeds are greatly diminished if a witness is always standing near intending doers. The personality should be provided with someone that it can revere, someone whose influence can make even its private, inner life more pure.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XI, and pg. 56: “Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy, too, is the person who can revere another as to adjust and shape his own personality in the light of recollections, even, of that other. A person able to revere another thus will soon deserve to be revered himself….There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XII, and pg. 58: “The charms of youth are at their greatest at the time of their passing. It is the final glass which pleases the inveterate drinker, the one that sets the crowning touch on his intoxication and sends him off into oblivion. Every pleasure defers till its last its greatest delights. The time of life which offers the greatest delight is the age that sees the downward movement – not the steep decline – already begun; and in my opinion even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own – or else the very fact of not experiencing the want of any pleasures takes their place. How nice it is to have outworn one’s desires and left them behind!”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XII, and pg. 58: ‘It’s not very pleasant, though,’ you may say, ‘to have death right before one’s eyes.’ To this I would say, firstly, that death ought to be right there before the eyes of a young man just as much as an old one – the order in which we each receive our summons is not determined by our precedence in the register – and, secondly, that no one is so very old that it would be quite unnatural for him to hope for one more day…”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XV, and pg. 61: “Cultivate an asset which the passing of time itself improves”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XV, and pg. 61: “Once let into your house the sort of person that hunger teaches unheard-of occupations and you’ll have someone regulating the way you walk and watching the way you use your jaws as you eat, and in fact going just as far as your patience and credulity lead his audacity on.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XV, and pg. 62: ‘The life of folly is empty of gratitude, full of anxiety: it is focused wholly on the future.’ (Quoting Epicurus)

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XV, and pg. 62: ‘Set yourself a limit which you couldn’t even exceed if you wanted to, and say goodbye at last to those deceptive prizes more precious to those who hope for them than to those who have won them. If there were anything substantial in them they would sooner or later bring a sense of fullness; as it is they simply aggravate the thirst of those who swallow them.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVI, and pg. 63: “You have to persevere and fortify your pertinacity until the will to good becomes a disposition to good.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVI, and pg. 64: “It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in the perilous seas. Without it one can lead life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVI, and pg. 65: (Quoting Epicurus) “If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVI, and pg. 65: “Natural desires are limited; those which spring from false opinions have nowhere to stop, for falsity has no termination. When a person is following a track, there is an eventual end to it somewhere, but with wandering at large there is no limit. So give up pointless, empty journeys, and whenever you want to know whether the desire aroused in you by something you are pursuing is natural or quite unseeing, ask yourself whether it is capable of coming to rest at any point; if after going a long way there is always something remaining farther away, be sure it is not something natural.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVIII, and pg. 66: “But perhaps this is the very season when we should be keeping the soul under strict control, making it unique in abstaining from pleasure just when the crowd are all pleasure bent. If the soul succeeds in avoiding either heading or being carried away in the direction of the temptations that lead people into extravagant living is no surer proof of its strength of purpose can be vouchsafed it. Remaining dry and sober takes a good deal more strength of will when everyone about one is puking drunk; it takes a more developed sense of fitness.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVIII, and pg. 67: “On the other hand, not to make oneself a person apart, to be neither indistinguishable from those about one nor conspicuous by one’s difference, to do the same things but not in quite the same manner. For a holiday can be celebrated without extravagant festivity.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVIII, and pg. 67: “It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs. In the midst of peace the soldier carries out manoeuvres, throws up earthworks against a non-existent enemy and tires himself out with unnecessary toil in order to be equal to it when it is necessary.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVIII, and pg. 69: “The outcome of violent anger is a mental raving, and therefore anger is to be avoided not for the sake of moderation but for the sake of sanity.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVI, and pg. 72: “A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is above, or at any rate beyond the reach of, all political powers. What are prisons, warders, bars to him? He has an open door. There is but one chain holding us in fetters, and that is our love of life. There is no need to be lessened somewhat so that, in the event of circumstances ever demanding this, nothing may stand in the way of our being prepared to do at once what we must do at some time or the other.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVII, and pg. 72: ‘So you’re giving me advice, are you?’ you say. ‘Have you already given yourself advice, then? Have you already put yourself straight? Is that how you come to have time for reforming other people?’ No, I’m not so shameless as to set about treating people when I’m sick myself. I’m talking to you as if I were lying in the same hospital ward, about the illness we’re both suffering from, and passing on some remedies. So listen to me as if I were speaking to myself. I’m allowing you access to my inmost self, calling you in to advise me as I have things out with myself. I proclaim my own self: ‘Count your years and you’ll be ashamed to be wanting and working for exactly the same things as you wanted when you were a boy. Of this one thing make sure against your dying day – that your faults die before you do. Have done with those unsettled pleasures, which cost one dear – they do one harm after they’re past and gone, not merely when they’re in prospect. Even when they’re over, pleasures of a depraved nature are apt to carry feelings of dissatisfaction, in the same way as a criminal’s anxiety doesn’t end with the commission of the crime, even if it’s undetected at the time. Such pleasures are insubstantial, and unreliable; even if they don’t do one any harm, they’re fleeting in character. Look around for some enduring good instead. And nothing answers this description except what the spirit discovers for itself within itself. A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness. Even if some obstacle to this comes on the scene, its appearance is only to be compared to that of clouds which drift in front of the sun without ever defeating its light.’

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVII, and pg. 75: (Quoting Epicurus) ‘Poverty brought into accord with the law of nature is wealth.’

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVIII, and pg. 75: (Quoting Socrates) ‘How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away’ How can novelty of surroundings abroad and becoming acquainted with foreign scenes or cities be of any help? All that dashing about turns out to be quite futile. And if you want to know why all this running away cannot help you, the answer is simply this: you are running away in your own company. You have to lay aside the load on your spirit. Until you do that, nowhere will satisfy you. Imagine your present state as being like that of the prophetess whom our Virgil represents in a roused and excited state, largely taken over by a spirit not her own:

The Sibyl raves about as one possessed,

In hopes she may dislodge the mighty god

Within her bosom.

-Aeneid, VI:78-9

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVIII, and pg. 77: (Quoting Epicurus) ‘A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation.’ This remark of Epicurus’ is to me a very good one. For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform. Some people boast about their failings: can you imagine someone who counts his faults as merits ever giving thought to their cure? So – to the best of your ability – demonstrate your own guilt, conduct inquiries of your own into all the evidence against yourself. Play the part first of prosecutor, then of judge and finally of pleader in the mitigation. Be harsh with yourself at times.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXXIII, and pg. 78: “One tree by itself never calls for admiration when the whole forest rises to the same height.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXXIII, and pg. 80: “To remember is to safeguard something entrusted by your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XL, and pg. 84: “Language, moreover, which devotes its attention to truth, ought to be plain and unadorned. This popular style has nothing to do with truth. Its object is to sway a mass audience, to carry away unpractised ears by the force of its onslaught. It never submits itself to detailed discussion, is just wafted away. Besides, how can a thing possibly govern others when it cannot be governed itself? And apart from all this surely language which is directed to the healing of men’s minds needs to penetrate into one? Medicines do no good unless they stop some length of time in one. There is, moreover, a great deal of futility and emptiness about his style of speaking, which has more noise about it than effectiveness. There are my terrors to be quieted, incitements to be quelled, illusions to be dispelled, extravagance to be checked, greed to be reprimanded: which of these things can be done in a hurry? What doctor can heal patients merely in passing? One might add, too, that there is not even any pleasure to be found in such a noisy promiscuous torrent of words. Just as with a lot of things that one would never believe possible one finds it quite enough to have seen them once proved possible, so these performer with words, to have heard them once is more than enough. What is there in them, after all, that anyone could want to learn or imitate? What view is one likely to take of the state of a person’s mind when his speech is wild and incoherent and knows no restraint?”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLI, and pg. 87: “If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. Any cave in which the rocks have been eroded deep into the mountain resting on it, its hollowing out into a cavern of impressive extent not produced by the labours of men but the result of processes of nature, will strike into your soul some kind of inkling of the divine. We venerate the sources of important streams; places where a mighty river bursts suddenly from hiding are provided with altars; hot springs are objects of worship; the darkness or unfathomable depth of pools has made their waters sacred. And if you come across a man who is never alarmed by dangers, never affected by cravings, happy in adversity, calm in the midst of storm, viewing mankind from a higher level and the gods from their own, is it not likely that a feeling will find its way into you of veneration from him? Is it not likely that you will say to yourself, ‘Here is a thing which is too great, too sublime for anyone to regard it as being in the same sort of category as that puny body inhabits.’ Into that body there has descended a divine power. The soul that is elevated and well regulated, that passes through any experience as if it counted for comparatively little, that smiles at all things we fear or pray for, is impelled by a force that comes from heaven. A thing of that soul’s height cannot stand without the prop of a deity. Hence the greater part of it is situated where it descends from; in the same way as the sun’s rays touch the earth but are really situated at the point from which they emanate, a soul possessed of greatness and holiness, which has been sent down into this world in order that we may gain a nearer knowledge of the divine, associates with us, ceratinly, but, never loses contact with its source. On that source it depends; that is the direction in which its eyes turn, and the direction it strives to climb in; that manner in which it takes part in our affairs is that of a superior being.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLI, and pg. 88: “No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own. We praise a vine if it loads its branches with fruit and bends its very props to the ground with the weight it carries: would any one prefer the famous vine that had gold grapes and leaves hanging on it? Fruitfulness is the vine’s peculiar virtue. So, too, in a man praise is due only to what is his very onw. Suppose he has a beautiful home and a handsome collection of servants, a lot of land under cultivation and a lot of money out at interest; not one of these things can be said to be in him – they are just things around him. Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly a man’s.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLI, and pg. 88: “You ask what that is? It is his spirit, and the perfection of his reason in that spirit. For a man is a rational animal. Man’s ideal state is realised when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he was born. And what is it that reason demands of him? Something very easy – that he live in accordance with his own nature. Yet this is turned into something difficult by the madness that is universal among men; we push one another into vices. And how can people be called back to spiritual well-being when no one is trying to hold them back and the crowd is urging them on?”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLVII, and pg. 94: “A man who examines the saddle and bridle and not the animal itself when he is out to buy a horse is a fool; similarly, only an absolute fool values a man according to his clothes, or according to his social position, which after all is only something that we wear like clothing.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLI, and pg. 95: “He’s a slave. But he may have the spirit of a free man. ‘He’s a slave.’ But is that really to count against him? Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman’, a millionaire who is a slave of a little girl in domestic service. I could show you some highly aristocratic young men who are utter slaves to stage artistes. And there’s no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed. So you needn’t allow yourself to be deterred by the snobbish people I’ve been talking about from showing good humour towards your slaves instead of adopting an attitude of arrogant superiority towards them. Have them respect you rather than fear you.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLVIII, and pg. 98: “Shall I tell you what philosophy holds out to humanity? Counsel. One person is facing death, another is vexed by poverty, while another is tormented by wealth – whether his own or someone else’s; one man is appalled by his misfortunes while another longs to get away from his own property; one man is suffering at the hands of men, another at the hands of the gods. What’s the point of concocting whimsies for me of the sort I’ve just been mentioning? This isn’t the place for fun – you’re called in to help the unhappy. You’re pledged to bring succour to the shipwrecked, to those in captivity, to the sick, the needy and men who are just placing their heads beneath the executioner’s uplifted axe.

Where are you off to? What are you about? The person you’re engaging in word-play with is in fear – got to his aid….

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter XLVIII, and pg. 99: “Keep clear, then, my dear Lucilius, as far as you can, of the sort of quibbles and qualifications I’ve been mentioning in philosophers. Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness. Even if you had a large part of your life remaining before you, you would have to organise it very economically to have enough for all things that are necessary; as things are, isn’t it the height of folly to learn inessential things when time’s so desperately short!

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LIII, and pg. 102: “Philosophy wields an authority of her own; she doesn’t just accept time, she grants one it. She’s not something one takes up in odd moments. She’s an active, full-time mistress, ever present and demanding. When some state or other offered Alexander a part of its territory and half of all its property to told them that ‘he hadn’t come to Asia with the intention of accepting whatever they cared to give him, but of letting them keep whatever he chose to leave them.’ Philosophy, likewise, tells all other occupations: ‘It’s not my intention to accept whatever time is left over from you; you shall have, instead, what I reject.’

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LIII, and pg. 103: “Give your whole mind to her. (to philosophy). Sit at her side and pay her constant court, and an enormous gap will widen between yourself and other men. You’ll end up far in advance of all mankind, and not far behind the gods themselves. Would you like to know what the actual difference between yourself and the gods will be? They will exist for longer. And yet to me what an indisputable mark it is of a great artist to have captured everything in a tiny compass; a wise man has as much scope before him as a god with all eternity in front of him. There is one thing, too, in which the wise man actually surpasses any god: a god has nature to thank for his immunity from fear, while the wise man can thank his own efforts for this. Look at that for an achievement, to have all the frailty of a human being and all the freedom from care of god. Philosophy’s power to blunt all the blows of circumstance is beyond belief. Never a missile lodges in her; she has strong, impenetrable defences; some blows she breaks the force of, parrying them with the slack of her gown as if they were trivial, others she flings off and hurls back at the sender.”

From the self: The idea of Jupiter being philosophy and a person’s Guru averting the karmic troubles that arise from time to time to protect his disciples spiritual practices is reflected deeply in point 62.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LIV, and pg. 105: “The man, though, whom you should admire and imitate, is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die. For where’s the virtue in going out when you’re really being thrown out? And yet there is this virtue about my case: I’m in the process of being thrown out, certainly, but the manner of it is as if I were going out. And the reason why it never happens to a wise man is that being thrown out signifies expulsions from a place one is reluctant to depart from, and there is nothing the wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity is going to force him.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LV, and pg. 107: “But philosophy, my dear Lucilius, is such a holy thing and inspires so much respect, that even something that resembles it has a specious appeal. Let a man retire and the common crowd will think of him as leading a life apart, free from all cares, self-contented, living for himself, when in fact not one of these blessings can be won by anyone other than the philosopher. He alone knows how to live for himself: he is the one, in fact, who knows the fundamental thing, how to live. The person who has run away from the world and his fellow-men, whose exile is due to the unsuccessful outcome of his own desires, who is unable to endure the sight of others more fortunate, who has taken to some place of hiding in his alarm like a timid, inert animal, he is not ‘living for himself’, but for his belly and his sleep and his passions – in utter degradation, in other words. The fact that a person is living for nobody does not automatically mean that he is living for himself. Still, a persevering steadfastness of purpose counts for a lot, so that even inertia if stubbornly maintained may carry a certain weight.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LV, and pg. 108: “The place one’s in, though, doesn’t make any contribution to peace of mind: it’s spirit that makes everything agreeable to oneself.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LV, and pg. 108: “There’s nothing to stop you enjoying the company of absent friends, as often as you like, too, and for as long as you like. This pleasure in their company – and there’s no greater pleasure – is one we enjoy the more when we’re absent from one another. For having friends present makes us spoilt; as a result of our talking and walking and sitting together every now and then, on being separated we haven’t a thought for those we’ve been seeing. One good reason, too, that we should embrace the absence patiently is the fact that every one of us is absent to a great extent from his friends even when they are around.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LVI, and pg. 110: “For I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it. There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other. For what is the good of having silence throughout the neighbourhood if one’s emotions are in turmoil?”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LVI, and pg. 111: “We commonly give the impression that the reasons for our having gone into political retirement are our disgust with public life and our dissatisfaction with some uncongenial and unrewarding post. Yet every now and then ambition rears its head again in the retreat into which we were really driven by our apprehensions and our waning interest; for our ambition did not cease because it had been rooted out, but merely because it had tired – or become piqued, perhaps at its lack of success. I would say the same about extravagant living, which appears on occasion to have left one and then, when one has declared for the simple life, places temptation in the way. In the middle of one’s programme of frugality it sets out after pleasures which one had discarded but not condemned, its pursuit of them indeed being all the more ardent the less one is aware of it. For when they are in the open vices invariably take a more moderate form; diseases too are on the way towards being cured when once they have broken out, instead of being latent, and made their presence felt. So it is with the love of money, the love of power and the other maladies that affect the minds of men – you may be sure that it is when they abate and give every appearance of being cured that they are at their most dangerous. We give the impression of being in retirement, and are nothing of the kind. For if we are genuine in this, if we have sounded the retreat and really turned away from the surface show, then, as I was saying a little while ago, nothing will distract us. Men and birds together in full chorus will never break into our thinking when that thinking is good and has at last come to be of a sure and steady character.”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXIII, and pg. 114: “Let us see to it that the recollection of those we have lost becomes a pleasure to us. Nobody really cares to cast his mind back to something which he is never going to think of without pain. Inevitable as it is that the names of persons who were dear to us and are now lost should cause us a gnawing sort of pain when we think of then, that pain is not without a pleasure of its own. As my teacher Attalus used to say, ‘In the pleasure we find in the memory of departed friends there is a aresemblance to the way in which certain bitter fruits are agreeable or the very acidity of an exceedingly old wine has its attraction. But after a certain interval all that pained us is obliterated and the enjoyment comes to us unalloyed.’ If we are to believe him, ‘Thinking of friends who are alive and well is like feasting on cakes and honey. Recalling those who are gone is pleasant but not without a touch of sourness. Who would deny, though, that even acid things like this with harshness in their taste do stimulate the palate?’ Personally I do not agree with him there. Thinking of departed friends is to me something sweet and mellow. For when I had them with me it was with the feeling that I was going to lose them, and now that I have lost them I keep the feeling that I have them with me still.”


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