Moral Political Essays Seneca

1. Life and Works

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 1 BCE – CE 65) was born in Corduba (Spain) and educated—in rhetoric and philosophy—in Rome. Seneca had a highly successful, and quite dramatic, political career. Even a brief (and by necessity incomplete) list of events in his life indicates that Seneca had ample occasion for reflection on violent emotions, the dangers of ambition, and the ways in which the life of politics differs from the life of philosophy—among the topics pursued in his writings. He was accused of adultery with the Emperor Caligula's sister and therefore exiled to Corsica in 41; having been Nero's “tutor” in his adolescent years, he was among Nero's advisors after his accession in 54; Seneca continued to be an advisor in times that became increasingly difficult for anyone in the close proximity of Nero, in spite of requests from his side to be granted permission to retire; he was charged with complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to murder Nero, and compelled to commit suicide in 65 (on Seneca's life, see Griffin 1992; Maurach 2000; Veyne 2003; Wilson 2014; Romm 2014; on his perspective on Nero, see Braund 2009).

Seneca's philosophical writings have often been interpreted with an eye to his biography: how could his discussions of the healing powers of philosophy not reflect his own life? However, as personal as Seneca's style often is, his writings are not autobiographical (Edwards 1997). Seneca creates a literary persona for himself. He discusses the questions that occupy him in a way that invites his readers to think about issues in their own life, rather than in Seneca's life.

The writings that we shall primarily be concerned with are: the Moral Letters to Lucilius (Ad Lucilium epistulae morales), the Moral Essays (‘dialogi’ or dialogues is the somewhat misleading title given in our principal manuscript, the Codex Ambrosianus, to the twelve books making up ten of these works, including three “consolatory” writings; among the Essays are two further works that came down to us in other manuscripts), and the Natural Questions (Naturales quaestiones) (on the full range of Seneca's writings, see Volk and Williams 2006, “Introduction,” and Ker 2006).

A brief note is in order here on the relative chronology of Seneca's works, which is hard to establish given that we know so little about Seneca's life apart from his imperial service, as noted above, and its consequences. The Consolation to Marcia is probably the earliest surviving piece of Seneca's work. Similarly, the Consolation to His Mother Helvia and the Consolation to Polybius are considered early (perhaps dating to 43 or 44), the former actually being composed on the occasion of Seneca's banishment to Corsica. All other surviving works seem to be written later, mostly after Seneca's return to Rome in 49 from his Corsican exile. Among the Moral Essays, the only one we can date with some certainty is On Mercy, an essay in which Seneca directly addresses Nero in the early days of his reign (55 or 56). The Moral Letters to Lucilius as well as the Natural Questions are the product of the last years of Seneca's life, the brief period (62–65) that Seneca spent in retirement before following Nero's order to commit suicide (on the dating of Seneca's writings see the introductions in Cooper/Procopé 1995, and Griffin 1992).

In the Imperial Period, Stoicism had significant influence on Roman literature, and Seneca's tragedies are of particular interest here. In Seneca's case, we do not see a poet appropriating or integrating Stoic ideas, but actually a Stoic philosopher writing poetry himself. The precise way in which Seneca's Stoicism is relevant to his tragedies is controversial. Traditionally scholars debated whether and why a philosopher like Seneca would write poetry at all—to some this seemed so unlikely that prior to Erasmus it was thought that there were two ‘Senecas,’ the philosopher and the tragedian (cf. Fantham 1982, 15). Today it is widely assumed that some of the themes in Seneca's tragedies are at least related to his philosophical views. Seneca's interest in ethics and psychology—first and foremost perhaps the destructive effects of excessive emotion—seems to figure in his plays, and perhaps his natural philosophy plays an equally important role (cf. Fantham 1982, 15–19; Fischer 2014; Gill 2003, 56–58; Rosenmeyer 1989; Schiesaro 2003; Volk 2006; on the range of Seneca's writings, see Volk and Williams 2006). In this article, we do not consider his tragedies, but only his prose writings. Some recent work on Seneca suggests that one should see his prose writings and his tragedies as complementary sides of his thought (Wray 2009). The tragedies are arguably darker than the prose writings, and topics on which Seneca seems to have a consoling philosophical view are explored in rather less consoling ways. For example, death is seen as a liberation in Seneca's philosophical writings. But in the tragedies, death can appear as a transition to even greater sufferings, or, equally bad, the dead seem to demand ever new deaths, to provide them with fresh companions in the underworld (Busch 2009).

2. Seneca's Stoicism

2.1 Philosophy as a Practice

Readers who approach Seneca as students of ancient philosophy—having acquired a certain idea of what philosophy is by studying Plato, Aristotle, or Chrysippus—often feel at a loss. To them, Seneca's writings can appear lengthy and merely admonitory. Partly, this reaction may reflect prejudices of our training. The remnants of a Hegelian (and Nietzschean, and Heideggerean) narrative for philosophy are deeply ingrained in influential works of scholarship. On this account, the history of ancient philosophy is a history of decline, the Roman thinkers are mediocre imitators of their Greeks predecessors, and so on (Long 2006). Such prejudices are hard to shake off; for many centuries watered-down versions of them have shaped the way students learnt Latin and Greek. In recent years, however, many scholars have come to adopt a different view. They find in Seneca a subtle author who speaks very directly to modern concerns of shaping ourselves and our lives.

Seneca does not write as a philosopher who creates or expounds a philosophical theory from the ground up. Rather, he writes within the track of an existing system that he is largely in agreement with. A reconstruction of Seneca's philosophy, if it aimed at some kind of completeness, would have to be many-layered. At several points, it would have to include accounts of earlier Stoic philosophy, and discuss which aspects of these earlier theories become more or less prominent in Seneca's thought. At times Seneca's own contribution consists in developing further a Stoic theory and adding detail to it. At other times, Seneca dismisses certain technicalities and emphasizes the therapeutic, practical side of philosophy.

Seneca thinks of himself as the adherent of a philosophical system—Stoicism—and speaks in the first person plural (‘we’) in order to refer to the Stoics. Rather than call Seneca an orthodox Stoic, however, we might want to say that he writes within the Stoic system. Seneca emphasizes his independence as a thinker. He holds Stoic views, but he does not see himself as anyone's disciple or chronicler. In On the Private Life, he says: “Surely you can only want me to be like my leaders? Well then, I shall not go where they send me but where they lead” (1.5, tr. Cooper and Procopé). Seneca sees himself as a philosopher like the older Stoics. He feels free, however, to disagree with earlier Stoics, and is not concerned with keeping Stoicism ‘pure’ from non-Stoic ideas. Seneca integrates ideas from other philosophies if these seem helpful to him. As he explains, he likes to think of philosophical views as if they were motions made in a meeting. One often asks the proponent of the motion to split it up in two motions, so that one can agree with one half, and vote against the other (Letter 21.9). For example, Seneca thinks that there is something salutary in Platonic metaphysics (Boys-Stones 2013; Donini 1979, 179-199; Reydams-Schils 2010; Sedley 2005; Setaioli 1988). While he dismisses the theory of Forms, he still holds that studying it can make us better. It acquaints us with the thought that the things which stimulate and enflame the senses are not among the things that really are (Letter 58.18 and 26). Seneca also adopts metaphors or images that are associated with other philosophical schools, such as Platonically inspired images of the body as prison of the soul (e.g., NQ I.4 and 11). But invoking such images need not commit Seneca to holding the theories in which they originate.

Another side of Seneca's independence has been emphasized by Inwood (2005 [1], 18–22): Seneca, educated by Roman philosophers, is genuinely thinking in Latin. In order to see the force of this point, let us compare Seneca to Cicero. Cicero conscientiously tells his readers which Greek term he translates by which Latin term. It is thus possible to read Cicero's Latin philosophy with the Greek terminology in mind; at least for the most part, we can think about his arguments in the terms of the Greek debates. Seneca is, at many points, not interested in mapping his terminology directly onto the Greek philosophical vocabulary. Rather, he thinks in his own language (see Long 2003, who situates Seneca vis-à-vis other Roman philosophers), and he expects to be read by people who do their philosophizing in Latin, as well.

Like other late Stoics, Seneca is first and foremost interested in ethics. Although he is well versed in the technical details of Stoic logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, and ontology, he does not devote any significant time to these fields (Barnes 1997, 12-23; Cooper 2004). However, we should not let the old prejudices about Roman versus Greek thought influence our interpretation of Seneca's interest in practical questions. As Veyne puts it, “Seneca practiced neither a debased nor a vulgarized philosophy aimed at the supposed ‘practical spirit’ of the Romans” (2003, ix). Rather, it is Seneca's very conception of philosophy as a salutary practice that makes the ethical dimension of his thought so prominent (on philosophy as therapy, see Nussbaum 1994; Setaioli 2014).

Seneca's writings usually have an addressee—someone who is plagued by a ‘sickness of the soul’ (On Peace of Mind begins with a full diagnosis of the addressee's state of mind—first by the patient, and then by the insightful therapist Seneca). Seneca steps back from a format in which a philosopher justifies a theory in a step-by-step argument (Long 2003, 204; on the question of why Seneca chooses to write letters, see Inwood 2007, xiv-xv). Discussion proceeds from a (perhaps merely presumed) situation in the addressee's life, meandering back and forth between more general and more specific considerations, arguments, side-issues, and sometimes consolation. This engaging style views the reader as a participant in philosophical thought (Roller 2015; Schafer 2011). Seneca thinks that in order to benefit from philosophy, one cannot passively adopt insights. One must appropriate them as an active reader, thinking through the issues for oneself, so as then to genuinely assent to them (Letter 84.5–10; Wildberger 2006).

It has often been noted that later Stoics, including Seneca, seem to lose interest in the ideal agent—the sage or wise person—who figures so prominently in early Stoic ethics. Rather than assume that the later Stoics are disillusioned or more realistic, we should note that Seneca's focus on the progressor (proficiens)—the person who is seriously trying their best to move forward in their way of life toward that ideal—is part and parcel of his own, specific way of doing philosophy. The early Stoics' sage may, first and foremost, be a tool for developing theories. The early Stoics spell out what knowledge or wisdom is by explaining what a knowledgeable or wise person would do (how she assents, how she acts, etc.). But Seneca's philosophy is a practice of training ourselves to appreciate to the fullest the truths of Stoicism. In this practice, accounts of, for example, the wise person's assent, can only play a limited role. We need precisely what Seneca offers: someone who takes us through the various situations in life in which we tend to lose sight of our own insights, and fall victim to the allurements of money and fame, or to the violence of emotions evoked by the adversities of life. We need to learn how to overcome our own residual tendencies, despite our better intentions, to suffer such failures.

Three of Seneca's writings bear the title ‘consolatio’—consolation. They, too, are letters, and, as Williams argues, Seneca in them transforms the genre of philosophical consolation into his own mode of therapy (2006). In the ad Heluiam (To His Mother Helvia), Seneca consoles his mother for his absence and exile. Seneca uses his exile as a metaphor, and ultimately addresses what he takes to be a many-faceted condition in human life: any kind of alienation from one's immediate community, any enforced detachment from it, raises the issues that political exile raises. As this example shows, his consolations are thus rather independent of his particular situation, and of the particular addressee. Still, we might want to note that at times, in consoling his mother for his exile, or, in ad Marciam (To Marcia), a woman for the loss of her child, Seneca discusses virtue with a view to gender. In her life up to now, he tells his mother, she has moved beyond the ordinary faults of women; her virtue was her only ornament. In accordance with this, she should now try not to fall into grief in the way women tend to—excessively. By holding on to virtue, it seems, his mother can transcend typical, yet merely contingent features of female life. (On Seneca's depiction of female virtue, cf. ad Heluiam 14–18 and ad Marciam 1 and 16; Harich 1993; Wilcox 2006).

2.2 The World of Philosophy: Seneca's Cosmopolitanism

Seneca tells us that there is a much-debated choice between three kinds of life—the life of theory, the life of politics (or practice), and the life of pleasure. This is not a Stoic distinction. Rather, it is (by Seneca's time) a conventional division, going back, on the one hand, to Aristotle's discussion of the life of theoria (‘contemplation’) as compared to the life of politics, and on the other hand to Plato's and Aristotle's engagement with prominent views about the good (the good is pleasure, the good is honor, the good is wisdom). Seneca is not committed to the view that the life of theory is a different life from the life of practice. But the Aristotelian way of framing the question helps him describe choices which he and some of his addressees face in life: whether to retire from an active role in politics, or to single-mindedly pursue one's political career (for a discussion of traditional interpretations, which aim to explain Seneca's views on retirement in the context of his biography, see Williams 2003).

In On the Private Life and in On Peace of Mind, Seneca addresses this very question of how to choose between the active life of politics, and a life devoted to philosophy. The choice is, for Seneca, partly about the right kind of balance. How much do we need to retreat in order to be at peace with ourselves? Philosophy has two functions. We need philosophical insight on which to base our actions. But we also need to devote time specifically to reflecting on such truths as that only virtue is good, and thus restore our peace of mind (cf. On Peace of Mind 2.4 for a description of tranquility).

Both philosophy and politics are spheres in which we can benefit others (On Peace of Mind 3.1–3). The contrast between the life of theory and the life of politics helps Seneca spell out his version of Stoic cosmopolitanism. We should not think of the choice between philosophy and politics as a choice between theory and practice. Rather, philosophy and politics represent two worlds that we simultaneously belong to. The world of politics is our local world; the world of philosophy is the whole world. By pursuing an active career in politics, we aim to do good to the people in our vicinity. By retreating into philosophy we choose to live, for a while, predominantly in the world at large. By studying, teaching, and writing philosophy, Seneca thinks, we help others who are not necessarily spatially close to us. Philosophical study is beneficial (or ‘of benefit’), it is of use to others, in the world-wide community to which we all belong (On the Private Life 3.4–4.2).

While Seneca takes it for granted that cosmopolitanism is concerned with the idea that it is good to benefit others, he does not seem to think that cosmopolitanism burdens us with the unfeasible task of helping everyone. Rather, cosmopolitanism liberates us. As things may play out in our individual lives, we may be in a better position to benefit others as philosophers than as Roman senators; and since both are good things to do, we can in fact be content with our lives either way. Cosmopolitanism creates a beneficial form of life that a narrower political picture may not accommodate: not only those who happen to be appreciated in their own states can benefit others (cf. Letter 68.2; cf. Williams 2003, 10–11 and 19–24). In On the Private Life 3.5, Seneca says: “What is required, you see, of any man is that he should be of use to other men—if possible, to many; failing that, to a few; failing that, to those nearest him; failing that, to himself.”

In Stoic philosophy, cosmopolitanism includes a view of the nature of human beings: human beings are, by virtue of the kind of beings they are, connected. The Stoics see human beings as parts of a whole, namely as parts of the cosmos (Vogt 2008, chapter 2). Seneca fully embraces this idea. In On Benefits, a treatise concerned with beneficere as a social practice, but also, more literally, with beneficere understood as ‘doing good,’ Seneca asks in which ways God benefits human beings. His answer aims to explain why, though we do not have the natural weapons other animals have and are in many ways weaker than they are, human beings have the kind of standing in the world he takes them to have, the standing of “masters.” “God has granted two things that make this vulnerable creature the strongest of all: reason and fellowship. […] Fellowship has given him power over all animals […] Remove fellowship and you will destroy the unity of mankind on which our life depends.” (tr. Griffin/Inwood 2011, 4.18.2–3). Seneca's focus on fellowship is in line with earlier Stoic thought about affiliation (oikeiôsis) between human beings, as well as with the Stoic view that the cosmos is a large animal with us as some of its parts.

3. Philosophical Psychology

3.1 The Stoic Account of the Soul

The two most prominent features of the Stoic account of the soul are these: first, the soul is corporeal; second, the adult human soul is rational (in the sense that all its operations involve the use of reason) and one (psychological monism). Although Seneca appreciates Platonic imagery that presents the soul as ‘loftier’ than bodily things, he is fully committed to the Stoic view that the soul is a body. Discussion of this issue is, to his mind, somewhat academic, and thus not as salutary as the elevating themes about virtue that he often prefers. But Letter 106 explains why we must think of the soul as a body. Only bodies act on anything, cause effects; therefore, the soul must be a body (cf. Letter 117 on the good being a body).

Traditionally, Stoic philosophy is considered to have three phases: early (Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, et al.), middle (Panaetius, Posidonius, et al.), and late (Seneca, Epictetus, et al.). This periodization importantly hangs on a possible development in the philosophical psychology of the Stoics—the question of whether Panaetius and Posidonius move away from so-called psychological monism. According to psychological monism, there is no non-rational part or power of the soul. Rather, the soul is one insofar as its commanding faculty is one, and rational. According to psychological monism, motivational conflict and irrational action do not result from a ‘struggle’ between the rational and the non-rational aspects of the soul; what we call irrational must be understood as (bad) states of the rational soul. Psychological monism is thus a counterposition to Plato's and Aristotle's account of the soul, and has major implications for the theory of action, ethics, and the theory of emotion. It is a difficult question whether middle Stoicism departs from psychological monism. The view that it did was for a long time widely accepted. However, this traditional picture has recently been contested in influential studies (Cooper 1999; Tieleman 2003). Perhaps early and middle Stoicism are more in agreement than it was previously thought. Accordingly, some recent studies of Seneca proceed on the assumption that we need not attempt to figure out whether Roman Stoicism agrees with monistic early or with pluralistic middle Stoicism (Inwood 2005).

But Seneca may agree with psychological monism insofar as he does not distinguish between rational and non-rational powers of the soul (as in fact, arguably neither did the middle Stoics) and still modify a related aspect of the early Stoic account of the soul. Psychological monism implies that there is no distinction between practical and theoretical reason. Knowledge bears directly on action. Indeed, all philosophical knowledge is needed for good decision-making. There is thus, according to Stoic “orthodoxy,” no real distinction between theorizing and aiming to lead a good life (I. Hadot 1969, 101). Seneca brings to bear this aspect of Stoic thought in his own way. For him, studying the arguments for a particular claim will not bring us peace of mind. At the outset of Letter 85, Seneca goes so far as to swear that he does not take pleasure in producing proofs for a piece of doctrine that looms large in his Letters: that virtue alone brings happiness (85.1). His addressee, Lucilius, is presented as urging him to put forward all arguments and objections that are relevant to this issue, and in response, Seneca discusses some of them in Letter 85. But ultimately—and this is evident throughout his writings—this is not enough. Rather, it is important to think through the implications of the Stoic thesis in a variety of practical contexts, so as then to be able to live by it, for example, when one is or is not elected to office, has more or less money than others, and so on (Griffin 2007). One needs to think one's way through these issues repeatedly—and ultimately, thinking about them in the right way must become a way of life.

But is not this conception of philosophy as a practice in tension with the Stoic conception of reason? Strictly interpreted, this conception might imply that whatever is once understood has become a piece of knowledge, and thus guides our action (see I. Hadot 1969, 106). Seneca, however, assumes that it is one thing to know something, and another to “feel” its truth and relevance to one's own life. Here is one of his examples: he knows that it does not matter whether he travels in a fashionable or in a humble carriage, but he blushes if people see him in a humble one (Letter 87.4). Why should this be so? Why does Seneca suggest, in Platonic fashion, that one's desires for fame and money are going to raise their heads if they are not constantly kept down? Second, why should not the complete system of philosophical knowledge, including the study of rigorous dialectical argument, be relevant to leading one's life well? In these respects, Seneca seems to weaken the earlier Stoic identification of virtue and knowledge—or perhaps, depending on the view we take, he remedies some of the starkness of this identification (on Seneca's dismissive attitude toward the syllogisms of “dialecticians,” and on how this differs from early Stoic thought on the value of knowledge for a good life, see Cooper 2004, 314–320).

3.2 The Will and the Self

The Stoic understanding of the soul further involves core epistemological ideas. Human beings have “impressions” (imprints or alterations of the soul). We acquire the views we hold by assenting to impressions; in every given case, we can assent to an impression, negate it, or withhold judgment. Since this is in our power, it is in our power to become wise (by assenting only to cognitive impressions, which represent things precisely as they are). Human action is generated through “assent” to practical impressions; such assent sets off impulse (hormê). If there is no external impediment, impulse leads to action. It is in our power to become virtuous, because assent is in our control; we decide how we act. Seneca discusses these and related issues with the help of a term that has no equivalent in Greek Stoicism: voluntas.

Traditionally, Seneca was seen either as the discoverer of the will, or, at least, a major stepping-stone towards St. Augustine (for detailed discussion of the literature, see Inwood 2005 [5]; key contributions are: I. Hadot 1969, Voelke 1973, Dihle 1982, Donini 1982, Kahn 1988; for the view that already Aristotle has a conception of the will, see Irwin 1992; for a critique of the traditional view see Rist 1969, and, recently, Inwood 2005 [5]).

It is a difficult question what precisely would count as the discovery of the will. Clearly, voluntas and velle (‘willing’, ‘wanting’) figure prominently in many of Seneca's arguments. Does Seneca think there is a separate faculty of the will, thus modifying psychological monism? Or is he interested in exploring the phenomenology of decision-making and self-improvement, and this leads him to describe certain mental acts as acts of willing (velle)? This second suggestion seems more persuasive, and seems to capture much of what is important to the traditional interpretation: that Seneca keeps discussing how we must be continually committed to self-improvement (cf. Letters 34.3 and 71.36). Perhaps Seneca's depictions of the mental act that the Greek Stoics call assent appear in some sense richer than those of the earlier Stoics (without changing the substance of the theory), because Seneca likes to use metaphorical language. Rather than stick with the abstract description that, in deciding what to do, we assent to a practical impression, Seneca envisages us as judges, passing judgment over what we should be doing, and issuing commands to ourselves (cf. Inwood 2005, [5] and [7]; Star 2012, 23-52). With respect to the emotions, Seneca distinguishes between involuntary reactions (what earlier Stoics call “proto-emotions” or propatheiai) and full-blown emotions, which involve assent and thus are voluntary (On Anger II; see below). They are voluntary in the sense that assent is in the agent's power. This is a key piece of Stoic doctrine—that, whether we are foolish or wise, it is in our power to assent or not assent to impressions. But at other times, Seneca employs a normative notion of voluntariness. Only virtuous action is free in the sense of being fully reasonable, while other actions spring from irrational movements of the mind such as emotions; in this sense, only virtuous action is voluntary (Letter 66.16).

Seneca's discussions of self-improvement raise a further question: Does Seneca discover the self (or, as Veyne puts this question, “the I”; Veyne 2003)? In a famous passage of On Anger (III 36.3–4) Seneca tells his readers how he, every evening, examines himself. Does Seneca's emphasis on reflection involve a turn to the self, as it has seemed to many recent readers inspired by Foucault's discussions of these matters? Is Seneca concerned with a practice of self-shaping? In order to think about the question of whether Seneca discovers or even invents the self, we might distinguish different versions of it. First, we may ask whether Seneca modifies psychological monism, so as to make room for a self reflecting upon itself (in a way which makes the self have a complex structure that the Greek Stoics would not have envisaged for the rational soul of human beings). Second, we might think that what readers, in the wake of Foucault's influential studies, have found modern about Seneca is simply his therapeutic concern with fashioning one's own life. This second view is much weaker, and is by now widely accepted (Long 2006, 362). The first view is forcefully critiqued by Inwood (2005 [12]; cf. Bartsch and Wray 2009). While Seneca invites us to engage reflectively with our lives, this does not revise basic Stoic assumptions about the soul. But we might also raise a third question: Can we acceptably, to borrow a term from Veyne, “abuse” Seneca for our own purposes, knowing full well that we are reading a certain kind of concern with the self into his works which has more to do with our own times than with a precise interpretation of his work? This is Veyne's suggestion: “Stoicism has thus become, for our use, a philosophy of the active turning in on itself of the I […]. It was nothing of the kind in its own day, but the Letters permit us to view it as such.” (2003, x).

When Seneca discusses how we must hold on to the insight that only virtue is good, in order to improve ourselves, it may sometimes seem as if he blamed the world (competition, superficial lifestyles, etc.) for the difficulty of the task. But ultimately, Seneca argues that we are standing in our own way. He tells his addressees that, by living in such-and-such a way, they weigh themselves down (‘tibi gravis eris’; On Peace of Mind 3.6), or become a problem to themselves (‘tu tibi molestus es’; Letter 21.1). It is with a view to this reflective engagement with one's thought that Hadot finds ‘spiritual exercises’ in Roman Stoic philosophy (P. Hadot 1995, 79–144; cf. Letter 6.1 on self-transformation).

Care for one's soul involves the Socratic project of aiming to know oneself. In the Natural Questions, Seneca says that nature has given us mirrors so that we may know ourselves (ut homo ipse se nosset). Even this external means of seeing ourselves—which, Seneca deplores, is mostly put to less than virtuous uses—serves a purpose; for example, the young see the bloom of their youth, thus being reminded that this is the time for study and bravery (NQ 1.16.1–17.10; cf. Williams 2005). Ultimately, however, coming to know oneself is a matter of reflective self-examination and philosophical study. At the same time, Seneca argues that the private life and the public life are cures for each other (On Peace of Mind 17.3; cf. Inwood 2005 [12]). This balance may indicate that the project of improving the states of one's mind or soul (or ‘self’) might ultimately involve what the Stoics call oikeiôsis, ‘affiliation.’ According to Stoic theory, one should fully appreciate the way in which everything outside of one's mind ‘belongs to one’ (one's body, other human beings, other parts of the world, the world as a whole). That is, in finding a balance between retreat and philosophy on the one hand, and the life of politics on the other, one is aiming to be a citizen of one's local community and of the world (cf. Gill 2009).

Like St. Augustine, whose “turn inside” is as much debated by scholars as Seneca's “turn to the self,” Seneca seems to think that turning to one's soul is not enough—we need to further turn to God. However, for Seneca, the study of nature and God seems to be motivated by care for one's soul (rather than, say, by love for God). In the Natural Questions, Seneca suggests that the reflective engagement with our own soul is but the first step. Even if we escape the violent emotions and disruptions of a public life, we might not yet have escaped from ourselves, that is, from an excessive concern with our own particular situation and needs. We must turn into ourselves (in se recedendum), but then we must also retreat from ourselves (a se recedendum) (NQ 4.20). From a care of ourselves that revolves around ethical questions, we must turn to the study of nature and theology (NQ 1.1–8). How does such study liberate us? By removing us from our localized concerns, and offering us a distanced, disengaged perspective on them. The study of nature is an attempt at overcoming one's mortality (NQ 1.17). More than that, the ideal of virtue that is at issue in taking care of one's soul is, ultimately, the ideal of becoming like God (Russell 2004). This is a thought that perhaps is rather foreign to modern psychotherapeutic techniques, and to Foucaultian ideas about self-care.

3.3 The Therapy of the Emotions

Questions relating to Stoic psychological monism have been most widely discussed with a view to the theory of the emotions—here, it makes a great difference whether we think that irrational desires can overcome reason, or are irrational acts of the rational soul. Seneca's treatment of the emotions has been scrutinized for indications of both points of view. Sorabji interprets Seneca as situating his account of the emotions vis-à-vis early and middle Stoic theories that differ from his own (1989); Fillon-Lahille studies On Anger with source-critical methods (1984). According to others, On Anger can be studied as a treatise on emotion that is basically in agreement with Stoic psychological monism, and appreciated for the detailed treatment that Seneca devotes to this, as he sees it, particularly violent emotion (Cooper 1999; Vogt 2006).

According to the Stoics, the ideal agent has no emotions. Stoic theory of the emotions does not aim at moderation or “adequate” emotional responses. Rather, it aims at a life without emotions. However, the Stoics do not suggest that the perfect agent is affectively inert. Rational affective reactions and dispositions replace emotion. The ideal agent has “good feelings” of wishing (which replaces desire), caution (which replaces fear), and joy (which replaces pleasure) (Cooper 2005; Graver 2007, 51–55; Kamtekar 2005). Further, the ideal agent has proto-emotions, that is, initial affective and physiological reactions that do not depend on assent (On Anger 2.1–4; 1.16.7).

The conceptions of good or rational feelings (i.e., the affective dispositions and reactions of the wise person) and proto-emotions render Stoic thought on the emotions less implausible than it is sometimes taken to be. But still, students of ancient theories of emotion have often felt that one simply must side with an Aristotelian position—with the view that there are adequate, measured emotions. Suppose someone commits a crime; are not we justly angry, and should we not react to the crime? As Seneca puts it, will the ideal agent not be angry if he sees his father murdered and his mother raped? Yes, he argues, we should react, but not with emotions and emotional action (revenge), no matter how curbed they might be through reflection. The idea of “moderate emotions,” says Seneca, is about as absurd as the idea of “moderate insanity” (Letter 85.9). Emotions are irrational (85.8); there is no taming of the irrational, precisely because it is irrational. Emotions thus cannot be moderated—they must be replaced with rational responses. The ideal agent will avenge and defend others out of duty (quia oportet) (On Anger 1.12), not out of anger or lust for revenge.

Seneca's detailed analysis of anger adds in interesting ways to our knowledge of how, precisely, the Stoic claim that emotions are opinions plays out. According to the early Stoics, there are four generic emotions: pleasure (in the sense of being pleased about something), pain (in the sense of being distressed or feeling displeased), desire, and fear. Pleasure is directed at a presumed good that is present; pain at a presumed bad that is present; desire at a presumed good in the future; fear at a presumed bad in the future. Since emotions are impulses, they result in action (if there is no external impediment). Anger counts as a kind of desire. In anger, the agent assents to the impression that she should take revenge. But the judgment that first generates anger is something like ‘He wronged me’. On Anger thus helps shed light on the way in which several judgments can figure in one emotion, and how emotion is tied up with irrational action (Vogt 2006; Kaster 2010, Introduction).

Next to anger, Seneca pays most attention to fear and grief, emotions that tend to dominate human life due to human mortality (NQ 6.1.1–4.2; 32.1–12; on grief, see esp. Letters 26, 63, 77). Fear of death is paradoxical: It wants to preserve life, but it spoils life (6.32.9). It is one of the key tasks for the progressor to come to terms with death (Edwards 2014; Mann 2006; Letters 1.2 and 4.3–9). Fear makes us “lose our minds,” and thus literally removes rationality (NQ 6.29). It is through changing our views regarding the presumed badness of death that we can overcome fear and grief. Death is a natural event, and understanding death is part of the study of nature. We fear most what we do not understand; knowledge cures fear (NQ 6.3.4). Seneca takes seriously two accounts of death: either death is a transition to a better afterlife, or it is a genuine end. In his tragedies, Seneca explores more troubling scenarios (see above). The tragedies might illustrate irrational attitudes to death; or they might be a testament to the fact that consolatory philosophy cannot silence these darker visions (for a discussion of death in Seneca's prose writings and poetry, and a defense of the latter view, see Busch 2009).

In On Peace of Mind 15.1, Seneca raises an interesting question. Why does the ideal agent not deplore vice, and so feel in some way bad about it? This question bears on a key aspect of the Stoic theory. Although there are four generic emotions, there are only three rational feelings; they replace pleasure, desire, and fear. There is no rational correlate to pain or distress, i.e., to those emotions in which we judge something bad to be present. Of course, the wise person will not judge that illness or loss of money is bad; she knows that only vice is bad. But why does she not make precisely this judgment—that vice is bad—in such a way that an affective stance of ‘rational deploring’ goes along with it? Seneca gives an answer that is in agreement with the fundamental Stoic claim that virtue benefits. The sage puts on a smile, rather than being saddened, because his cheerfulness gives hope. This reply, brief as it is, perhaps contains the core of an argument relevant to the Stoic stance on (what we call) the ‘negative moral emotions’. Part of this argument might be that virtue does not allow for rational negative affective responses, since such responses would not benefit.

In his discussion of how the virtuous person responds to weaknesses in others, Seneca extends the Stoic spectrum of rational feelings to include mercy (clementia). Seneca's treatise On Mercy has puzzled historians: by praising the goodness of the young Nero as Emperor—his mercy, as opposed to cruelty, severity, and pity—Seneca creates the prototype of “advice to princes” literature (see Long 2003; cf. Kaster 2010 for a brief introduction to the treatise). We cannot here enter into the question of whether Seneca chooses to ignore or did not know of the murder Nero had recently committed. Perhaps the answer is simply that things look different in hindsight (see Braund 2009). The Latin term for mercy, clementia, is difficult to translate; sometimes scholars opt for clemency, thus signaling that Seneca discusses a virtue that we are not immediately familiar with. In On Mercy, clementia is a virtue of a superior. This is in itself a novelty within Stoic ethics. Earlier Stoics did not conceive of virtues for particular roles. Instead, virtue or wisdom is thought to translate into role-specific kinds of expertise whenever a virtuous person comes to have such a role. The notion of clemency, as Seneca develops it, has its origin in Roman self-descriptions: clemency is a virtue that Rome exercises vis-a-vis defeated peoples. That is, clemency is an attitude that was originally displayed towards enemies, not towards one's own citizens; with Caesar, it becomes the virtue of an emperor (these are the outlines of a highly instructive sketch of the concept's history in Braund 2009).

In Seneca, clementia is a kind of restraint in a powerful person who might otherwise lash out and act cruelly, and it is something like equity (cf. Braund 2009). Arguably, the first kind of clementia is not a Stoic virtue. A person whose savagery needs to be contained cannot count as virtuous (Vogt 2011). Scholars also raise the question of whether equity, understood as the ability of a ruler to judge a case by all its particular characteristics (rather than simply apply a rule) fits into Stoic philosophy (Braund 2009). ‘Equity’ is the standard translation of the Greek epieikeia, which Aristotle discusses in Nicomachean Ethics V.10. Aristotle discusses a well-known problem: the law is general, but every case that needs to be judged is particular. Equity is a juridical virtue; it aims to remedy an inevitable feature of the law understood as a set of rules: its generality. According to two doxographical passages, the Stoics do not ascribe equity to their wise person (DL 7.123 and Stobaeus, 2.96.4–9). However, these texts are plausibly understood as making the claim that the Stoics do not ascribe Aristotelian equity —and that is, the equity that aims to remedy the shortcomings of general rules—to the wise person. The law, as the Stoics conceive of it, is not the positive set of laws in a given political community. For them, the only law worthy of the name ‘law’ is identical with reason, and thus with what should be done (Vogt 2008, chapter 4). Equity of a distinctively Stoic kind, understood as the ability to judge every case by fully appreciating all particular circumstances, fits perfectly into the larger framework of Stoic ethics (Vogt 2011).

4. Virtue

4.1 Appropriate and Correct Action

The Stoic distinction between valuable and good things is at the center of Seneca's Letters. So-called preferred indifferents—health, wealth, and so on—have value (their opposites, dispreferred indifferents, have disvalue). But only virtue is good. Again and again, Seneca discusses how health and wealth do not contribute to our happiness. Seneca approaches this issue not as an academic puzzle, as if we needed to be compelled by intricate proof to accept this point. He speaks very directly to his readers, and his examples grip us moderns as much as they gripped his contemporaries. We tend to think that life would be better if only we did not have to travel for the lowest fare, but in a more comfortable fashion; we are disheartened when our provisions for dinner are no better than stale bread. By addressing these very concrete situations, Seneca keeps hammering home the core claim of Stoic ethics: that virtue alone is sufficient for happiness, and nothing else even makes a contribution. It is important to note that preferred indifferents have value though they are not good in the terminological sense of the Stoics. Scholars sometimes suggest that, for Seneca, preferred indifferents are worthless and to be frowned upon (for example, Braund 2009). In doing so, they pick up on the metaphors and examples that Seneca employs. Seneca writes with an acute awareness of how difficult it is not to see things like health and wealth as good, and that is, as contributing to one's happiness. Accordingly, Seneca keeps giving vivid examples, aiming to help his audience become less attached to things of mere value. However, he does not suggest that things like health or wealth should be regarded dismissively, or not taken care of.

A related and equally important aspect of Stoic ethics is the distinction between appropriate and correct action. Appropriate action takes indifferents adequately into account. Both fools and the wise can act appropriately. But only the wise act perfectly appropriately, or correctly: their action is based on their perfect deliberation, and reflects the overall consistency of their soul. Seneca explains matters in precisely this fashion: while we should take indifferents (health, illness, wealth, poverty, etc.) judiciously into account, as things of value or disvalue to us, the good does not reside in getting or avoiding them. What is good is that I choose well (Letter 92.11–12). In response to the question ‘What is virtue?’, Seneca says “a true and immovable judgment” (Letter 71.32; tr. Inwood). Attributing any real importance to indifferents, Seneca argues, is like preferring, among two good men, the one with the fancy haircut (Letter 66.25). This comparison is typical for Seneca's tendency to capture the standing of valuable indifferents in forceful, figurative language. A nice haircut, one might think, could be seen as entirely irrelevant. But this is not Seneca's point. Compared to the good, preferred indifferents pale, and appear as insignificant as a fashionable haircut when compared with genuine virtue. But preferred indifferents are valuable. In deliberation, we do not compare them with the good; we consider them next to dispreferred indifferents.

In appropriate action, the agent takes things of value into account. This, however, does not happen in the abstract—she does not weigh the value of wealth against the value of health in a general fashion. Rather, she thinks about the way in which a specific situation and the courses of action available in it involve indifferents—for example, putting on the appropriate clothes for a given occasion (Letter 92.11). Since the features of the situation in which one acts thus matter to appropriate action, the Stoics apparently wrote treatises (now lost) in which they discussed at length how this or that feature may bear on what one should be doing (Sedley 2001). Seneca's Letters 94 and 95 seem to be examples of this kind of treatise. The very fact that such treatises are written testifies to the fact that indifferents are not simply irrelevant: they are the material of deliberation.

Since Kidd (1978), Letters 94 and 95 have been read with a view to the question of whether rules figure in Stoic ethics (for a discussion of the letters that is not framed by this question, see I. Hadot 1969, 8–9). This question, in turn, is relevant to our interpretation of the Stoic conception of law. The Stoics have long been considered the ancestors of the natural law tradition (Striker 1987). If the Stoics formulate rule-like precepts, then perhaps this means that the law, as the Stoics understand it, consists of a set of laws.

In Letters 94 and 95, Seneca discusses two notions, praecepta and decreta, usually translated as ‘precepts’ and ‘principles’. The topic of Seneca's discussion is this. If we seek a good life by studying philosophy, do we need to study only decreta, or also praecepta? According to the first position, the only thing needed to achieve virtue is to immerse oneself in the core tenets of Stoic philosophy. It is these that Seneca calls decreta; decreta thus are not practical principles or rules. They are principles of philosophy, in the sense of being the most abstract and fundamental teachings of the Stoics.

According to the second position, which Seneca seems to endorse, studying the first principles of Stoic philosophy is not sufficient; we should also think in detail about the demands that specific situations in life might make on us (and so, we should study praecepta relating to them). It may seem that these lower-level considerations involve rules: in such-and-such a situation, one should act in such-and-such a way (Annas 1993, 98-105; Mitsis 2001). However, it is not clear whether Seneca indeed envisages such rules. As students of virtue, we will benefit from thinking our way through a variety of situations that one might encounter in life, contemplating how the different features of these situations matter to appropriate action, and so developing a sharpened sense of the particular value of the various things that do have value or disvalue for a human being. Seneca's ‘case studies’ (e.g., a previously married wife should be treated differently from a previously unmarried wife) perhaps only hone the students' appreciation for the kinds of issues that matter to appropriate action, where different things of value or disvalue impinge case by case, rather than providing them with rules for specific situations. Further, Seneca envisages an advisor who reminds us of insights such as ‘money does not bring happiness’. Such almost proverbial sayings, however, do not appear to be rules. Finally, the advisor is someone who can come up with specific advice for a given occasion, such as ‘walk in such-and-such a way’ (see On Favors 15.2; Inwood 2005 [4]; Schafer 2009, esp. regarding Letters 94 and 95; Vogt 2007, 189–198). As Seneca emphasizes in Letter 71.1, advice is adjusted to situations, and situations are in flux. If one needs advice, one is not asking to be told the correct rule to cover the situation; one is asking how to balance various considerations.

4.2 Benefiting Others

Although the Stoics are, with respect to the good, most famous for the claim that only virtue is good, they define the good as benefit. Seneca agrees with the early Stoic view that the good benefits. As we have seen, Seneca thinks that both public life and philosophy are good forms of life, if conducted right, precisely because both are of benefit to others. When discussing the benefit that a philosophical life brings to others, he claims that the virtuous person's life is beneficial even if she performs no public function whatsoever. Her gait, her silent persistence, and the expression of her eyes, benefit. Just as some medication works merely through its smell, virtue has its good effects even from a distance (On Peace of Mind 4.6–7).

Seneca devotes an entire treatise to the question of how one should benefit others, and how one should receive benefits, On Benefits (or: On Favors, lat. De beneficiis). On Benefits is the longest extant Senecan treatise on one specific ethical topic. Though the treatise is firmly situated in the Roman social context, its detailed analysis and richness of examples make it more than an historical document. Seneca discusses good deeds and badly performed favors, graceful and ungraceful receiving, the joy or burden of returning favors, as well as gratitude and envy. Seneca's topic is a hybrid of the kind of phenomena anthropologists discuss in terms of gift exchange, the specific configuration of these phenomena studied in ancient Rome, and Stoic views to the effect that only the good person benefits others. This mix makes for a rather difficult text. It is no surprise, then, that there used to be almost no helpful literature. This state, however, is ameliorated by recent translations with philosophical introductions, by John Cooper and J.F. Procopé (1995; Books 1–4) and by Miriam Griffin and Brad Inwood (featuring also an Introduction by the series editors E. Asmis, S. Bartsch and M. Nussbaum, 2011), as well as Griffin's new "guide" to On Benefits (2013)

What, then, are benefits or favors as Seneca uses the term? Roughly speaking, one can think of beneficia as any kind of help a person might offer to another person qua member of a group, such that this strengthens the cohesion of the group and affirms or creates social bonds. Examples include: to give money or other material assistance, to use one's influence in someone's favor or in favor of someone's family member, to advance someone's health or personal safety, to save someone (her child, etc.) from calamity, to get someone out of prison, to console, to speak on someone's behalf, to further someone's career, to teach and educate someone, to instruct or advise someone.

Benefits are given largely between those who do not belong to the same household. They thus differ from the responsibilities that attach to the roles of son or wife and from the services that slaves or employees are expected to perform (3.18.1). What parents do for their children, however, counts as benefit and not as role-specific responsibilities. Sons are returning what they owe, thus fulfilling the obligations that attach to their role. But it is important to Seneca that sons can also genuinely benefit their parents (3.29.1–38.3), for example, if through their outstanding achievements they put the parents into the spotlight, in Seneca's eyes a priceless benefit (3.32.2). Moreover, Seneca spends much of Book 3 arguing that slaves can benefit their masters, namely when they do more than they are compelled to do. Seneca thinks that, given how hateful compulsion is for anyone, benefits conferred by slaves reflect an admirable ability to overcome resentment for being in the position they are in (3.19.4).

Lending (as opposed to giving) money is not a beneficium. If money or wealth is involved in a favor, it must be freely given. Indeed, if one does not want to stand in the kind of social relationship that the giving and receiving of benefits creates, one can accept money only as a loan. If, say, a person whom you did not want in your life were to free you from prison through paying the ransom, you might accept this, but you should quickly raise the money to repay her. That way, no bond is established (2.21.1–2). The distinction between lending and giving runs through the treatise as a whole. It connects to two further ideas. First, that the right attitudes of giving, receiving, and returning a benefit involve freedom (1.4.3). The addressee of On benefits is called Liberalis, a name that drives home a point that Seneca wants to emphasize. For something to count as a benefit it must not be given slowly, grudgingly, or in some other reluctant way; it must be given freely. To be rightly received, the good deed should not be perceived by the recipient as a burden; it must be accepted freely. Indeed, the kind of emotion that reflects the appropriate attitudes on both parts is joy. Anything else would be suggestive of hesitations, concerns about undesired ties, and so on. Second, the distinction between lending and giving is reflected in a distinction between justice and beneficence (3.14.3–15.3). Justice appears inferior to Seneca insofar as, in that sphere, we are putting faith in seals rather than souls (3.15.3). If the domain of ‘good deeds’ was invaded by attitudes appropriate to lending and contractual obligations, Seneca thinks that something of great value would be lost.

Throughout the treatise, Seneca's focus is on attitudes, not on de facto performed actions. It is not the transfer of an object, or the return of a favor, that ultimately counts. Strictly speaking, a favor consists in the relevant state of mind of the giver (that he wants to benefit someone) and similarly in the grateful state of mind of the receiver. What we might call the intention to benefit, and the intention to gratefully repay the favor are the relevant actions of giving and receiving correctly. As some scholars put it, it is the act of willing which counts as a correct action (Inwood, 2005 [3]; cf. Letter 81.10–13). These arguments reflect core intuitions of Stoic ethics. Scholars traditionally judge Book 4 to be the part of the treatise that addresses more abstract philosophical questions, thus aiming to integrate a discussion about the norms pertaining to a historical practice in Rome with Stoic tenets in ethics. However, this assessment is best seen as making a comparative judgment. There is more explicit Stoic theory in Book 4 than in the other books. Seneca discusses the benefits conveyed by God, drawing on Stoic theology and philosophy of nature (see 5.3 below on Stoic theology).

Otherwise, one might argue that Book 4 is not all that different from the rest of the treatise. In particular, Seneca's question whether benefits ought to be given for their own sake or for the sake of some advantage to the giver does not employ any quintessentially Stoic assumptions. Indeed, one might even say that it is in considerable tension with central intuitions of earlier Stoic ethics. For the Stoics, the good and the advantageous really are one and the same. Moreover, Book 4 does not, as one might expect, address the subtleties of the Stoic conception of the good, which would be a way of pushing the discussion to a more theoretical level. Seneca's arguments about good deeds are essentially already laid out in Books 1 to 3. The claim that what matters are intentions and attitudes was already established in ways that are relatively independent of Stoic premises about the good: by distinguishing benefits from obligations; by pointing to the dangers of burdening others with expectations they shall not be able to meet; by elaborating on the fact that there must be a way of repaying even for those who are without material means; and so on. Seneca addresses in rather concrete ways the problems that are likely to arise in a society that is held together by the exchange of favors. As a result of imperfect giving, recipients easily become dependents and feel enslaved by their donors.

Much of On Benefits is normative, aiming to lay down “a law of life” (1.4.2.) about giving, receiving, and returning. Seneca's recommendations, however, are based on what he perceives to be facts about human psychology. For example, he thinks that the negative aspects of how others conduct themselves towards us shall stick more firmly in our minds than the positive aspects (1.1.8), and that we tend to have ever new desires, so that we are inevitably less aware of benefactions received in the past than we are of what we want for the present and future (3.3.1.). To give well involves recognition of such facts. Often, Seneca observes, we are evasive and assist only grudgingly. No wonder that our reticence sticks out more in people's minds than the fact that we eventually relented; no wonder that we are not held in esteem for such ungracious giving (I.1.8).

Assuming that Seneca is right, and that it is difficult to be good at helping, the focus of an ethical discussion about helping should not be in the first instance on how much help should be given (as it often is today). Rather, it should be on how one achieves something rare and difficult, namely to help in such a way that the recipient does not end up being worse off for having been helped. Among works in modern moral philosophy, the treatise that perhaps bears most resemblance with On Benefits is Kant's Doctrine of Virtue, a book that contains so-called “casuistical” sections where Kant discusses such matters as how certain ways of helping might lower the recipient in her own eyes and the eyes of others, thus making the receiver appear more manifestly inferior than she should be (Vogt 2008). Indeed, Kant and Seneca agree on the following point (though of course much of the background reasoning differs): good giving may even require leaving the recipient of help in the dark, because otherwise the negative effects (the social positioning of someone as recipient and ultimately dependent) can outweigh the benefit (2.10.1). Seneca's tone suggests that he agrees with a popular sentiment when he says that ungratefulness is an extremely grave and widespread vice. And yet, he thinks that bad giving is prior to and often directly responsible for bad receiving or lack of repaying; Book 1 and Book 2 both begin with this idea.

4.3 The Good

In Letter 120, Seneca explains how we arrive at the notion of the good. This question is a much-discussed topic in Stoic ethics. The Stoics hold that, in the process of growing up, human beings acquire rationality, which importantly consists in acquiring preconceptions (prolêpseis). Once a human being has reason in this minimal sense, she can improve and eventually perfect her rationality. As part of this process she comes to acquire the concept of the good. The transitional moment in which a human being finally and fully recognizes that only virtue (consistency) is good is momentous: this is the moment in which a fool becomes a wise person (Cicero, De fin. 3.20–22). At that point, a human being acquires what we might call the scientific concept of the good. She now masters a concept of the good that gets things right—once one has this concept, one is not going to fall back on misguided ideas such as ‘money brings happiness’. But does it not seem that we have a notion of the good before, eventually, turning into wise people, if we do? We here must distinguish two notions. First, human beings have a preconception of the good—we call things good before understanding any of the truths of Stoic philosophy. But second, we might, as progressors, also come to see the point of the Stoic claim that only virtue is good, without yet being fully able to consistently appreciate its truth in our lives. As we have seen, it is this condition of the progressor that Seneca has in mind as the objective he hopes to achieve in many of his writings.

Letter 120 seems to contribute to Stoic thought about the acquisition of the concept of the good in precisely this fashion. Unlike Cicero, Seneca does not discuss the transitional moment in which an agent becomes wise. Rather, he discusses how we come to understand what the Stoics are talking about when they say that only virtue is good (supposing that neither we nor those we live with are virtuous). When reading about great deeds, we magnify the virtuous features of the agents, and minimize their negative features (Inwood, 2005 [10]). By these and similar cognitive operations, we arrive at an understanding of what virtue would actually be. This realization enables us to see virtue's goodness without having encountered a real-life instance of virtue (for the Stoics, the fully wise are rarely or never encountered).

5. Physics and Theology

5.1 The Practical Side of Natural Philosophy

Seneca's Natural Questions consist of eight books on meteorology. Two recent publications argue forcefully for a revised order to the books: 3, 4a, 4b, 5, 6, 7, 1 and 2. Harry Hine's translation is the first edition to print the books in this order (2010), and Gareth Williams argues that this is the most likely intended sequence in which the books should be read (2012).

Today's readers tend to show little enthusiasm when they turn to the Natural Questions. What are we to think of long discussions about clouds, rain, lights in the sky, lightning and thunder, wind, comets, and earthquakes, combined with detailed treatments of terrestrial waters and, specifically, the Nile? Why does Seneca devote so much time to these phenomena? Scholars read the Natural Questions against the background of the meteorological tradition, a long-standing genre. Seneca, it is argued, engages in a project that is rather well established (Graver 2000, 45 and 51). Different contributions to this genre share a common goal. The rational explanation of natural phenomena will change the way we live in the world. To take a simple example: a person who understands the workings of thunder and lightning is not going to think that Zeus is sending her the message that he is angry. As Graver points out, at the time when Seneca writes the Natural Questions, this kind of concern is most prominently associated with Epicurean philosophy (2000, 51). Epicurean physics is in the business of fighting superstition and fear. The person who thinks that Zeus is speaking to her through the weather is in turmoil; the person who understands how the elements interact can live a more rational and better life. Now, a Stoic philosopher writing on these matters faces a challenge. Epicureans argue that God does not concern himself with the particulars of human life to the extent of signaling to us that a certain action of ours did not meet his approval. The Stoic God, however, is caring, benevolent, and concerned with the details of human life. Thus, the fear that easily attaches to meteorological phenomena must be fought with nothing but the detail of physical analysis. The argument that God would not care to send us signs is unavailable: the Stoic God, and Seneca agrees on this, is in principle such as to send us signs, which is why divination counts as a science (cf. 2.32–51 on lightning and divination; Williams 2012, chapter 8).

Ultimately, the project of the Natural Questions is to “take measure of God” (1.17), to “walk through the universe” (mundum circuire; 3.1), to celebrate the works of the gods (3.5), and to free us from fear induced by natural events (6.4). The study of clouds or thunderstorms is interesting because we want to understand how clouds or thunderstorms arise—but more than that, it must be salutary (2.59.2), and it helps us achieve human excellence (3.10–18) (Inwood, 2005 [8]; on the relationship of ethics and physics, cf. I. Hadot, 1969, 111–117). Seneca pursues a long-standing concern with making nature less scary, thus approaching meteorology partly from an ethical perspective. Moreover, the Natural Questions contain a number of discussions of human beings who act in what Seneca sees as particularly sordid and depraved ways. These passages are often described as digressions. Another reading, put forward by Williams (2012, Chapter 2), characterizes the Natural Questions as going beyond the meteorological tradition precisely because the text is in this particular way colorful, imaginative, and dramatic. Williams argues that Seneca's treatise is importantly an artistic engagement with nature. Seneca aims to make some of his points by contrasting the beauty of nature's workings with the ugliness of vicious action.

Seneca's study of nature is importantly about a human being's place and standing within the world. How could a person not investigate nature, knowing that ‘all this’—the world—pertains to her (ad se pertinere; Natural Questions 1.13)? Seneca's cosmopolitanism is integral to the way he leads his readers into the study of nature. Only when we view our local lives from the perspective of the stars do we come to see the insignificance of riches, borders, and so on (NQ 1.9–13). In an influential phrase, Pierre Hadot calls this perspective the ‘view from above’ (1995)—a view that liberates us insofar as we come to see many seemingly important issues as mere trifles. We need the study of nature in order to reach the kind of distance from our everyday concerns that eventually frees us from unreasonable concern for them. And we investigate nature as something that we are a part of. In agreement with early Stoic thought about the universe as a large living being with parts, Seneca thinks that we are rightly motivated to study nature—nature is the large entity of which we are parts. Natural philosophy thus is necessary for fully engaging with one's life. We might note that Seneca contrasts the study of nature with the study of history; for him, it is the seemingly more theoretical field of physics that has greater practical value. It is better to praise the gods than to praise the conquests of Philip or Alexander (NQ 3.5). Further, the study of nature is particularly valuable because it is the study of what should happen (quid faciendum sit), as opposed to the study of what in fact did happen (quid factum) (NQ 3.7).

5.2 The Natural Law

The Stoics are considered ancestors of the natural law tradition. The standard epithet of the law, in early Stoicism, is ‘common’ (koinos), not ‘natural’. Seneca, however, characterizes laws or the law as natural and talks of the lex naturae (“law of nature”). Early Stoic thought about the law is partly rooted in the theory of appropriate action, and partly in a physical account of how reason—Zeus—pervades the world.

It is this physical notion of the law that is most prominent in Seneca. In his discussion of earthquakes and human fear, Seneca points out that we err by assuming that in some places, there is no danger of earthquakes; all places are subject to the same law (lex) (6.1.12). In another context, Seneca points out that the natural laws (iura) govern events under the earth as much as above (3.16.4). The world is constituted so that everything that is going to happen, including the conflagration of the world when it comes to an end, is from the very beginning part of it. Natural events like earthquakes, and in fact all events, help nature go through with the natural statutes (naturae constituta) (3.29.4). Since nature (or Zeus) decided in the beginning what was going to happen, everything is easy for nature (3.30.1). The study of nature aims at accepting facts of nature, first and foremost the fact that human beings are mortal. Seneca refers to the necessity of death as a natural law (NQ 6.32.12: mors naturae lex est). Death is a “done deal” already at conception (On Peace of Mind 11.6; cf. NQ 2.59.6). It is the task of science to understand why death need not be feared, that the philosophical life is particularly indispensable because it prepares us for death, and that the kinds of death that we are prone to fear particularly, such as death through an earthquake, are really not much different from more usual kinds of death. To be free according to the law of nature is to be prepared to die any minute (3.16). That we are all equals in death reflects the justice of nature (6.1.8).

A theme that is equally present in Seneca's natural philosophy and in his therapeutic practice is time. Book 3 of the Natural Questions is entitled On the waters of the earth and begins with reflections on the enormous time which the task of natural philosophy may consume; on time that has been wasted with worldly concerns; and the claim that it can be regained if we make diligent use of the present. The fact that human life is finite is thus present from the very first lines of the book. Seneca then turns to the way in which the world's life-cycle is as finite as that of a human being. Just as a human foetus already contains the seed of its death, the beginnings of the world contain its end (3.28.2–3). It is precisely for this reason that things are easy for nature. Its death does not, as it were, come as a surprise—nature is well-prepared. Nature does what it initially determined; nothing in nature's doings is ad hoc (3.30.1). Seneca points to examples: Look at the way the waves roll onto the beaches; the oceans are trained in how to flood the earth (3.30.2). The world's preparedness for its death seems to be the perfect analogue of how, for Seneca, we ought to spend our lives. In Letter 12.6–8, Seneca says that everything, light and darkness, is contained in a single day. To use the present well is to be aware of this completeness. More days, and months, and years, will (or at least may) make up our lives. But we should not think of them as stretching out into the future; rather, they are concentric circles surrounding the day which, right now, is present. And since even this very day stretches out, from its beginning to its end, we can appreciate it as containing everything—there can be more such days, but they will be more of the same. Thus, every such day, if it is lived well, we can be fully prepared to die.

5.3 God

The study of nature—of the heavens—eventually leads to knowledge of God (or at least, to the beginnings of such an understanding; NQ 1.13). Seneca characterizes God in a number of ways: (i) God is everything one sees and everything one does not see. Nothing greater than his magnitude is conceivable (magnitudo […] qua nihil maius cogitari potest); he alone is everything—he keeps together his work from the inside and the outside (NQ 1.13). (ii) God is completely soul (animus) and reason (ratio) (1.14), or, as Seneca puts it in Letter 65.12, “reason in action” (ratio faciens). (iii) Like earlier Stoics, Seneca emphasizes that God (‘Jupiter’) can be referred to by many names: fate, the cause of causes (causa causarum), providence, nature, universe (NQ 2.45.2). (iv) Seneca agrees with the orthodox Stoic view that God is corporeal. God is a part of the world (pars mundi; NQ 7.30.4). At the same time, he emphasizes that it is in thought that we have to see God—he flees human eyes. The study of God is thus not the study of a visible entity (7.30.3–5). (v) God, or nature, is beneficial (5.18.13–15). Two of these ideas are particularly important to Seneca's ethics. Much of Book 4 of On Benefits is devoted to the fact that God is beneficial (4.3.3–4.9.1). It is through the example of God's goodness that Seneca aims to explain why giving should really not be done with a view to one's own advantage: there is no advantage that God could possibly gain from us, and yet God benefits all of us (4.3.3). Indeed, God is the ultimate source of benefits; as cause of all causes, God is also the cause of everything that is good for us, and that includes the sun, the seasons, and so on. This connects to the point that God is referred to by many names. Seneca envisages the objection that these gifts do not come from God, but from nature; but whoever makes this objection fails to understand that nature is but another name for God (4.7.1).

Earlier Stoic theology is partly developed in conversation with and contradistinction from Epicurean theology. The central point of contention in this debate is whether God concerns himself with us, whether he is caring in the sense of attending to the details of how our lives are going. Seneca clearly shares the orthodox Stoic view that God is supremely caring. For example, Seneca describes the way in which God made the world as if he had built a wonderfully stable and beautiful house to present to us as a gift (4.6.2). In response to the question of how we know that there are gods, the earlier Stoics argued that every human being has a preconception of God. Seneca offers a version of this. The common practice of praying would be “insane” if there were no caring God. People would be addressing deities who are deaf (4.4.2). The fact that people everywhere seem to turn to God in prayer indicates for Seneca that there must be a caring God.

Seneca further agrees with earlier Stoic physics in taking divination seriously. In his discussions of thunder and lighting in the Natural Questions, Seneca explains that, while every natural event is a sign, we should not think of God busying himself with sending us, as it were, a sign at every particular occasion. Rather, we should explain natural events by seeking out their natural causes, and at the same time understand that the order of things as a whole is established by God. Since there is this order, divination is possible (NQ 2.32.1–4). Fate is the necessity of all events and actions, which no power can disrupt (2.36). Prayer cannot change fate; but since the gods have left some things unresolved, prayer can be effective (2.37.2).

Like other ancient philosophers, Seneca discusses virtue as the ideal of “becoming like God.” This is, however, not an otherworldly ideal—rather, it is the ideal of perfecting our rationality, as agents living in this world (Russell 2004). We are a part of God; to perfect our reason is to achieve the perfect rationality of divinity. In agreement with earlier Stoics, Seneca thinks that the virtuous man is an equal to the gods (Letter 92.30–31; 87.19). Seneca's natural philosophy and his theology are thus closely related to his ethics and philosophical psychology. Ultimately, he is concerned with how we can perfect our soul, and he pursues this question in a variety of ways—by discussing virtue, the soul, nature, and theology.

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Seneca's Essays Volume I


Source: Lucius Annasus Seneca. Moral Essays. Translated by John W. Basore. The Loeb Classical Library. London: W. Heinemann, 1928-1935. 3 vols.: Volume I. Before using any portion of this text in any theme, essay, research paper, thesis, or dissertation, please read the disclaimer.

Transcription conventions: Page numbers in angle brackets refer to the edition cited as the source. The Latin text, which appears on even-numbered pages, is not included here. Words or phrases singled out for indexing are marked by plus signs. In the index, numbers in parentheses indicate how many times the item appears. A slash followed by a small letter or a number indicates a footnote at the bottom of the page. Only notes of historical, philosophical, or literary interest to a general reader have been included. I have allowed Greek passages to stand as the scanner read them, in unintelligible strings of characters.



Table of Contents:  ON  PROVIDENCE+ | ON FIRMNESS+ | ON ANGER+ | ON MERCY+

Index:  ambition+(1) | anger+(2) | Anger_vs_reason+(1) | Animal_rationis_capax+(1) | avarice+(1) | bees+(1) | caligo_mist+(1) | common+(2) | conscientious_objectors+(1) | Cordelia+(1) | depravity+(1) | Douglas+(1) | effeminacy+(1) | epilepsy+(1) | equality+(1) | fortune+(1) | fortune_favours_bold+(1) | HenV+(1) | Hotspur+(1) | injury+(1) | insanity+(1) | interests+(1) | Jesus+(3) | king_over_himself+(1) | knowing_self+(1) | Lear+(5) | liberal+(1) | Liberty+(1) | Lucy_poem+(1) | Macbeth+(1) | Macro_Micro+(1) | other_cheek+(1) | Man_of_Mode+(1) | manly+(1)  | nil_admirari+(1) | noblesse_oblige+(1) |Orig_sin+(1) | Ovid_Phaeton+(1) | PlainDealer+(1) | Prom_Unbound+(1) | Prospero+(8) |  rage+(2) | rank+(1) | Regulus+(1) | Revenge+(1) |Saeva_indignatio+(1) | sentiment+(1) | servitude+(1) | sinful_nature_of_man+(1) | social_creature+(1) | suicide+(1)  | Thou_owest_God_a_death+(1) | usurers+(1) | what_is_is_right+(1) | whom_the_lord_loveth+(1) | woman+(1) | Yahoo+(2) | Yeats_to_a_friend+(1)


 THE DIALOGUES OF
  LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA
   BOOK I
   TO LUCILIUS ON PROVIDENCE+

 Why, though there is a Providence, some Misfortunes befall Good Men.

You have asked me, Lucilius, why, if a Providence rules the world, it still happens that many evils befall good men. This would be more fittingly answered in a coherent work designed to prove that a Providence does preside over the universe, and that God concerns himself with us. But since it is your wish that a part be severed from the whole, and that I refute a single objection while the main question is left untouched, I shall do so; the task is not difficult, - I shall be pleading the cause of the gods.
     For the present purpose it is unnecessary to show that this mighty structure of the world does not endure without some one to guard it, and that the assembling and the separate flight of the stars above are not due to the workings of chance; that while bodies which owe their motion to accident often fall into disorder and quickly collide, this swift revolution of the heavens, being ruled by eternal law, goes
<Ess1-3>


ON PROVIDENCE, i. 2-4

on unhindered, producing so many things on land and sea, so many brilliant lights in the sky all shining in fixed array; that this regularity does not belong to matter moving at random, and that whatever combinations result from chance do not adjust themselves with that artistry whereby the earth, the heaviest in weight, abides immovable and beholds the flight of the sky as it whirls around it, and the seas, flooding a the valleys, soften the land, and feel no increase from the rivers, and whereby huge growths spring up from the tiniest seeds. Even the phenomena which seem irregular and undetermined - I mean showers and clouds, the stroke of crashing thunderbolts and the fires that belch from the riven peaks of mountains, tremors of the quaking ground, and the other disturbances which the turbulent element in nature sets in motion about the earth, these, no matter how suddenly they occur, do not happen without a reason; nay, they also are the result of special eauses, and so, in like manner, are those things which seem miraculous by reason of the incongruous situations in which they are beheld, such as warm waters in the midst of the sea- waves,and the expanses of new islands that spring up in the wide ocean. Moreover, if any one observes how the shore is laid bare as the sea withdraws into itself, and how within a short time the same stretch is covered over again, he will suppose that it is some blind fluctuation which causes the waves now to shrink and flow inwards, now to burst forth and in mighty sweep seek their former resting-place, whereas in fact they increase by degrees, and true to the hour and the day they approach in propor- <
<Ess1-5>


ON PROVIDENCE, i. 4-ii. 1

tionately larger or smaller volume according as they are attracted by the star we call the moon, at whose bidding the ocean surges. But let such matters be kept for their fitting time, - all the more so, indeed, because you do not lack faith in Providence, but complain of it. I shall reconcile you with the gods, who are ever best to those who are best. For Nature never permits good to be injured by good; between good men and the gods there exists a friendship brought about by virtue.
     Friendship, do I say? Nay, rather there is a tie of relationship and a likeness, since, in truth, a good man differs from God in the element of time only; he is God's pupil, his imitator, and true offspring, whom his all-glorious parent, being no mild taskmaster of virtues, rears, as strict fathers do, with much severity. And so, when you see that men who are good and acceptable to the gods labour and sweat and have a difficult road to climb, that the wicked, on the other hand, make merry and abound in pleasures, reflect that our children please us by their modesty, but slave-boys by their forwardness; that we hold in check the former by sterner discipline, while we encourage the latter to be bold. Be assured that the same is true of God. He does not make a spoiled pet of a good man; he tests him, hardens him, and fits him for his own service. You ask, "Why do many adversities come to good men?" No evil can befall a good man; opposites do not mingle. Just as the countless rivers, the vast fall of rain from the sky, and the huge volume of mineral springs do not change the taste of the sea, do not even modify it, so the assaults of adversity do not weaken the spirit of a brave man. It always
<Ess1-7>


ON PROVIDENCE, ii. 1-6

maintains its poise, and it gives its own colour to everything that happens; for it is mightier than all external things. And yet I do not mean to say that the brave man is insensible to these, but that he overcomes them, and being in all else unmoved and calm rises to meet whatever assails him. All his adversities he counts mere training. Who, moreover, if he is a man and intent upon the right, is not eager for reasonable toil and ready for duties accompanied by danger? To what energetic man is not idleness a punishment? Wrestlers, who make strength of body their chief concern, we see pitting themselves against none but the strongest, and they require of those who are preparing them for the arena that they use against them all their strength; they submit to blows and hurts, and if they do not find their match in single opponents, they engage with several at a time. Without an adversary, prowess shrivels. We see how great and how efficient it really is, only when it shows by endurance what it is capable of. Be assured that good men ought to act likewise; they should not shrink from hardships and difficulties, nor complain against fate; they should take in good part whatever happens, and should turn it to good. Not what you endure, but how you endure, is important.
     Do you not see how fathers show their love in one way, and mothers in another? The father orders his children to be aroused from sleep in order that they may start early upon their pursuits, - even on holidays he does not permit them to be idle, and he draws from them sweat and sometimes tears. But the mother fondles them in her lap, wishes to keep them out of the sun, wishes them never to be unhappy, never to cry, never to toil. Toward good
<Ess1-9>


ON PROVIDENCE, ii. 6-10

men God has the mind of a father, he cherishes for them a manly love, and he says, "Let them be harassed by toil, by suffering, by losses, in order that they may gather true strength." Bodies grown fat through sloth are weak, and not only labour, but even movement and their very weight cause them to break down. Unimpaired prosperity cannot withstand a single blow; but he who has struggled constantly with his ills becomes hardened through suffering; and yields to no misfortune; nay, even if he falls, he still fights upon his knees. Do you wonder if that God, who most dearly loves the good, who wishes them to become supremely good and virtuous, allots to them a fortune that will make them struggle? For my part, I do not wonder if sometimes the gods are moved by the desire to behold great men wrestle with some calamity. We men at times are stirred with pleasure if a youth of steady courage meets with his spear an onrushing wild beast, if unterrified he sustains the charge of a lion. And the more honourable the youth who does this, the more pleasing this spectacle becomes. But these are not the things to draw down the gaze of the gods upon us - they are childish, the pas-times of man's frivolity. But lo! here is a spectacle worthy of the regard of God as he contemplates his work; lo! here a contest worthy of God, - a brave man matched against ill-fortune, and doubly so if his also was the challenge. I do not know, I say, what nobler sight the Lord of Heaven could find on earth, should he wish to turn his attention there, than the spectacle of Cato, after his cause had already been shattered more than once, nevertheless standing erect amid the ruins of the commonwealth. "Although," said he,
<Ess1-11>


ON PROVIDENCE, ii. 10-iii. 1

"all the world has fallen under one man's sway, although Caesar's legions guard the land, his fleets the sea, and Caesar's troops beset the city gates, yet Cato has a way of escape; with one single hand he will open a wide path to freedom. This sword, unstained and blameless even in civil war, shall at last do good and noble service: the freedom which it could not give to his country it shall give to Cato! Essay, my soul, the task long planned; deliver yourself from human affairs. Already Petreius and Juba have met and lie fallen, each slain by the other's hand./a Their compact with Fate was brave and noble, but for my greatness such would be unfit. For Cato it were as ignoble to beg death from any man as to beg life." I am sure that the gods looked on with exceeding joy while that hero, most ruthless in avenging himself, took thought for the safety of others and arranged the escape of his departing followers; while even on his last night he pursued his studies; while he drove the sword into his sacred breast; while he scattered his vitals, and drew forth by his hand that holiest spirit, too noble to be defiled by the steel./b I should like to believe that this is why the wound was not well-aimed and efficacious - it was not enough for the immortal gods to look but once on Cato. His virtue was held in check and called back that it might display itself in a harder role; for to seek death needs not so great a soul as to reseek it. Surely the gods looked with pleasure upon their pupil as he made his escape by so glorious and memorable an end! Death consecrates those whose end even those who fear must praise. But as the discussion progresses, I shall show how
<Ess1-13>


ON PROVIDENCE, iii. 1-2

the things that seem to be evils are not really so. This much I now say that those things which you call hardships, which you call adversities and accursed, are, in the first place, for the good of the persons themselves to whom they come; in the second place, that they are for the good of the whole human family, for which the gods have a greater concern than for single persons; again, I say that good men are willing that these things should happen and, if they are unwilling, that they deserve misfortune. I shall add, further, that these things happen thus by destiny, and that they rightly befall good men by the same law which makes them good. I shall induce you, in fine, never to commiserate a good man. For he can be called miserable, but he cannot be so.
Of all the propositions which I have advanced, the most difficult seems to be the one stated first, - that those things which we all shudder and tremble at are for the good of the persons themselves to whom they come. "Is it," you ask, "for their own good that men are driven into exile, reduced to want, that they bear to the grave wife or children, that they suffer public disgrace, and are broken in health?" If you are surprised that these things are for any man's good, you must also be surprised that by means of surgery and cautery, and also by fasting and thirst, the sick are sometimes made well. But if you will reflect that for the sake of being cured the sick sometimes have their bones scraped and removed, and their veins pulled out, and that sometimes members are amputated which could not be left without causing destruction to the whole body, you will allow yourself to be convinced of this as well, that ills are sometimes for the good of those to whom
<Ess1-15>


they come; just as much so, my word for it, as that things which are lauded and sought after are sometimes to the hurt of those who delight in them, being very much like over-eating, drunkenness, and the other indulgences which kill by giving pleasure. Among the many fine sayings of one friend Demetrius there is this one, which I have just heard; it still rings in my ears. "No man," said he, " seems to me more unhappy than one who has never met with adversity." For such a man has never had an opportunity to test himself. Though all things have flowed to him according to his prayer, though even before his prayer, nevertheless the gods have passed an adverse judgement upon him. He was deemed unworthy ever to gain the victory over Fortune, who draws back from all cowards, as if she said, "Why should I choose that fellow as my adversary? He will straightway drop his weapons; against him I have no need of all my power - he will be routed by a paltry threat; he cannot bear even the sight of my face. Let me look around for another with whom to join in combat. I am ashamed to meet a man who is ready to be beaten." {fortune_favours_bold+} A gladiator counts it a disgrace to be matched with an inferior, and knows that to win without danger is to win without glory. The same is true of Fortune. She seeks out the bravest men to match with her; some she passes by in disdain. Those that are most stubborn and unbending she assails, men against whom she may exert all her strength. Mucius she tries by fire, Fabricius by poverty, Rutilius by exile, Regulus by torture, Socrates by poison, Cato by death. It is only evil fortune that discovers a great exemplar.
<Ess1-17>
ON PROVIDENCE, iii. 5-7
     Is Mucius unfortunate because he grasps the flames of the enemy with his right hand and forces himself to pay the penalty of his mistake? because with his charred hand he routs the king whom with his armed hand he could not rout? Tell me, then, would he be happier if he were warming his hand in his mistress's bosom?
     Is Fabricius unfortunate because, whenever he has leisure from affairs of state, he tills his fields? because he wages war not less on riches than on Pyrrhus? because the roots and herbs on which he dines beside his hearth are those that he himself, an old man and honoured by a triumph, grubbed up in cleaning off his land? Tell me, then, would he be happier if he loaded his belly with fish from a distant shore and with birds from foreign parts?   if he aroused the sluggishness of his loathing stomach with shell-fish from the eastern and the western sea? if he had game of the first order, which had been captured at the cost of many a hunter's life, served with fruit piled high around?
     Is Rutilius unfortunate because those who condemned him will have to plead their cause through all the ages? because he was more content to endure that his country should be robbed of him than that he should be robbed of exile? because he was the only one who refused anything to the dictator Sulla, and when recalled from exile all but drew back and fled farther away? "Let those," says he, "whom your I 'happy' era/a has caught at Rome, behold it. Let them see the forum streaming with blood, and the heads of senators placed above the pool of Servilius - for there the victims of Sulla's proscriptions are stripped - and bands of assassins
<Ess1-19>
ON PROVIDENCE, III. 7-10

roaming at large throughout the city, and many thousands of Roman citizens butchered in one spot after, nay, by reason of, a promise of security, - let those who cannot go into exile behold these things!" Is Lucius Sulla happy because his way is cleared by the sword when he descends to the forum? because he suffers the heads of consulars to be shown him and has the treasurer pay the price of their assassination out of the public funds? And these all are the deeds of that man - that man who proposed the Cornelian Law!/a Let us come now to Regulus+: what injury did Fortune do to him because she made him a pattern of loyalty, a pattern of endurance? Nails pierce his skin, and wherever he rests his wearied body he lies upon a wound; his eyes are stark in eternal sleeplessness. But the greater his torture is, the greater shall be his glory. Would you like to know how little he regrets that he rated virtue at such a price? Make him whole again and send him back to the senate; he will express the same opinion. Do you, then, think Maecenas a happier man, who, distressed by love and grieving over the daily repulses of his wayward wife, courted slumber by means of harmonious music, echoing faintly from a distance? Although he drugs himself with wine, and diverts his worried mind with the sound of rippling waters, and beguiles it with a thousand pleasures, yet he, upon his bed of down, will no more close his eyes than that other upon his cross. But while the one, consoled by the thought that he is suffering hardship for the sake of right, turns his eyes from his suffering to its cause, the other, jaded with pleasures and struggling with too much good fortune,
<Ess1-21>


ON PROVIDENCE, iii. 11-14

is harassed less by what he suffers than by the reason for his suffering. Surely the human race has not come so completely under the sway of vice as to cause a doubt whether, if Fate should give the choice, more men would rather be born a Regulus than a Maecenas; or if there should be one bold enough to say that he would rather have been born a Maecenas than a Regulus, the fellow, although he may not admit it, would rather have been born a Terentia/a! Do you consider that Socrates was ill- used because he drank down that drought/b which the state had brewed as if it were an elixir of immortal life, and up to the point of death discoursed on death? Was he ill-treated because his blood grew cold, and, as the chill spread, gradually the beating of his pulses stopped? How much more should we envy him than those who are served in cups of precious stone, whose wine a catamite - a tool for anything, an unsexed or sexless creature - dilutes with snow held above in a golden vessel! They will measure out afresh all their drink in vomit, with wry faces tasting in its stead their own bile; but he will quaff the poison gladly and with good cheer. Touching Cato, enough has been said, and it will be granted by the consensus of mankind that that great man reached the pinnacle of happiness, he whom Nature chose to be the one with whom her dread power should clash. "The enmity of the powerful," said she, "is a hardship; then let him match himself at one and the same time against Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus. It is a hardship to be outstripped by an inferior in the candidacy for office; then let him be defeated by Vatinius./c It is
<Ess1-23>


ON PROVIDENCE, iii. 14-iv. 4

a hardship to engage in civil war; then let him fight the whole world over for a just cause, ever with ill success but with equal stubbornness. It is a hardship to lay hand upon oneself then let him do it. And what shall I gain thereby that all may know that these things of which I have deemed Cato worthy are not real ills."
     Success comes to the common man, and even to commonplace ability; but to triumph over the calamities and terrors of mortal life is the part of a great man only. Truly, to be always happy and to pass through life without a mental pang is to be ignorant of one half of nature. You are a great man; but how do I know it if Fortune gives you no opportunity of showing your worth? You have entered as a contestant at the Olympic games, but none other besides you; you gain the crown, the victory you do not gain. You have my congratulations - not as a brave man, but as if you had obtained the consulship or praetorship; you have enhanced your prestige. In like manner, also, I may say to a good man, if no harder circumstance has given him the opportunity whereby alone he might show the strength of his mind, "I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, - not even yourself." For if a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what be can do except by trying. {knowing_self+} and so some men have presented themselves voluntarily to laggard misfortune, and have sought an opportunity to blazon forth their worth when it was but to pass into obscurity. Great men, I say, rejoice oft-times in adversity, as do brave soldiers in
<Ess1-25>


ON PROVIDENCE, iv. 4-6

warfare. I once heard Triumphus, a gladiator in the time of Tiberius Caesar, complaining of the scarcity of shows. "How fair an age," he said, "has passed away!"
     True worth is eager for danger and thinks rather of its goal than of what it may have to suffer, since even what it will have to suffer is a part of its glory. {Hotspur+} Warriors glory in their wounds and rejoice to display the blood spilled with luckier fortune+. Those who return from the battle unhurt may have fought as well, but the man who returns with a wound wins the greater regard. God, I say, is showing favour to those whom he wills shall achieve the highest possible virtue whenever he gives them the means of doing a courageous and brave deed, and to this end they must encounter some difficulty in life. You learn to know a pilot in a storm, a soldier in the battle-line. How can I know with what spirit you will face poverty, if you wallow in wealth? How can I know with what firmness you will face disgrace, ill fame, and public hatred, if you attain to old age amidst rounds of applause, - if a popularity attends you that is irresistible, and flows to you from a certain leaning of men's minds? How do I know with what equanimity you would bear the loss of children, if you see around you all that you have fathered? I have heard you offering consolation to others. If you had been offering it to yourself, if you had been telling yourself not to grieve, then I might have seen your true character. Do not, I beg of you, shrink in fear from those things which the immortal gods apply like spurs, as it were, to, our souls. Disaster is Virtue's opportunity. Justly may those be termed unhappy who are dulled by
<Ess1-27>


ON PROVIDENCE, iv. 6-9

an excess of good fortune, who rest, as it were, in dead calm upon a quiet sea; whatever happens will come to them as a change.

Cruel fortune bears hardest upon the inexperienced; to the tender neck the yoke is heavy. The raw recruit turns pale at the thought of a wound, but the veteran looks undaunted upon his own gore, knowing that blood has often been the price of his victory.

In like manner God hardens, reviews, and disciplines those whom he approves, whom he loves. {whom_the_lord_loveth+} Those, however, whom he seems to favour, whom he seems to spare, he is really keeping soft against ills to come. For you are wrong if you suppose that any one is exempt from ill. Even the man who has prospered long will have his share some day; whoever seems to have been released has only been reprieved. Why is it that God afflicts the best men with ill health, or sorrow, or some other misfortune? For the same reason that in the army the bravest men are assigned to the hazardous tasks; it is the picked soldier that a general sends to surprise the enemy by a night attack, or to reconnoitre the road, or to dislodge a garrison. Not a man of these will say as he goes, "My commander has done me an ill turn," but instead, "He has paid me a compliment." In like manner, all those who are called to suffer what would make cowards and poltroons weep may say, "God has deemed us worthy instruments of his purpose to discover how much human nature can endure."
     Flee luxury, flee enfeebling good fortune, from which men's minds grow sodden, and if nothing intervenes to remind them of the common lot, they sink, as it were, into the stupor of unending drunkenness. The man who has always had glazed
<Ess1-29>


windows to shield him from a drought, whose feet have been kept warm by hot applications renewed from time to time, whose dining- halls have been tempered by hot air passing beneath the floor and circulating round the walls, - this man will run great risk if he is brushed by a gentle breeze. While all excesses are hurtful, the most dangerous is unlimited good fortune. It excites the brain, it evokes vain fancies in the mind, and clouds in deep fog the boundary between falsehood and truth. Would it not be better, summoning virtue's help, to endure everlasting ill fortune than to be bursting with unlimitedand immoderate blessings? Death from starvation comes very gently, but from gorging men explode. And so, in the case of good men the gods follow the same rule that teachers follow with their pupils; they require most effort from those of whom they have the surest hopes. Do you imagine that the Lacedaemonians hate their children when they test their mettle by lashing them in public? Their own fathers call upon them to endure bravely the blows of the whip, and ask them, though mangled and half-dead, to keep offering their wounded bodies to further wounds. Why, then, is it strange if God tries noble spirits with severity? No proof of virtue is ever mild. If we are lashed and torn by Fortune, let us bear it; it is not cruelty but a struggle, and the oftener we engage in it, the stronger we shall be. The staunchest member of the body is the one that is kept in constant use. We should offer ourselves to Fortune in order that, struggling with her, we may be hardened by her. Gradually she will make us a match for herself. Familiarity with exposure to danger will give contempt for danger. So the
<Ess1-31>
bodies of sailors are hardy from buffeting the sea, the hands of farmers are callous, the soldier's muscles have the strength to hurl weapons, and the legs of a runner are nimble. In each, his staunchest member is the one that he has exercised. By enduring ills the mind attains contempt for the endurance of them; you will know what this can accomplish in our own case, if you will observe how much the peoples that are destitute and, by reason of their want, more sturdy, secure by toil. Consider all the tribes whom Roman civilization does not reach - I mean the Germans and all the nomad tribes that assail us along the Danube. They are oppressed by eternal winter and a gloomy sky, the barren soil grudges them support, they keep off the rain with thatch or leaves, they range over ice-bound marshes, and hunt wild beasts for food. Are they unhappy, do you think? There is no unhappiness for those whom habit has brought back to nature./a For what they begin from necessity becomes gradually a pleasure. They have no homes and no resting-places except those which weariness allots for the day; their food is mean and must be got by the hand; terrible harshness of climate, bodies unclothed, - such for countless tribes is the life which seems to you so calamitous! Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even if good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms
<Ess1-33>
ON PROVIDENCF,, iv. 16-v. 4

and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them.
     Consider, too, that it is for the common good to have the best men become soldiers, {rank+} so to speak, and do service. It is God's purpose, and the wise man's as well, to show that those things which the ordinary man desires and those which he dreads are really neither goods nor evils./a It will appear, however, that there are goods, if these are bestowed only on good men, and that there are evils, if these are inflicted only on the evil. Blindness will be a curse if no one loses his eyes but the man who deserves to have them torn out; therefore let an Appius and a Metellus be deprived of the light. Riches are not a good; therefore let even the panderer Elius possess them in order that men, though they hallow wealth in temples, may see it also in a brothel. In no better way can God discredit what we covet than by bestowing those things on the basest men while withholding them from the best. "But," you say, "it is unjust that a good man be broken in health or transfixed or fettered, while the wicked are pampered and stalk at large with whole skins." What then? Is it not unjust that brave men should take up arms, and stay all night in camp, and stand with bandaged wounds before the rampart, while perverts and professional profligates rest secure within the city? What then? Is it not unjust that the noblest maidens/b should be aroused from sleep to perform sacrifices at night, while others stained with sin enjoy soundest slumber? Toil summons the best men. The senate is often kept in session the whole day long, though all the while every worthless fellow is either amusing himself at the recreation- <Ess1-35>


ON PROVIDENCE, v. 4-7

ground, or lurking in an eating-house, or wasting his time in some gathering. The same is true in this great commonwealth of the world. Good men labour, spend, and are spent, and withal willingly. Fortune does not drag them - they follow her, and match her pace. If they had known how, they would have outstripped her. Here is another spirited utterance which, I remember, I heard that most valiant man, Demetrius, make: "Immortal gods," he said, "I have this one complaint to make against you, that you did not earlier make known your will to me; for I should have reached the sooner that condition in which, after being summoned, I now am. Do you wish to take my children? - it was for you that I fathered them. Do you wish to take some member of my body? - take it; no great thing am I offering you; very soon I shall leave the whole. Do you wish to take my life? - why not? I shall make no protest against your taking back what once you gave. With my free consent you shall have whatever you may ask of me. What, then, is my trouble? I should have preferred to offer than to relinquish. What was the need to take by force? You might have had it as a gift. Yet even now you will not take it by force, because nothing can be wrenched away from a man unless he withholds it."
     I am under no compulsion, I suffer nothing against my will, and I am not God's slave but his follower, and the more so, indeed, because I know that everything proceeds according to law that is fixed and enacted for all time. Fate guides us, and it was settled at the first hour of birth what length of time remains for each. Cause is linked with cause, and all public and private issues are directed
<Ess1-37>


ON PROVIDENCE, v. 7-9

by a long sequence of events. Therefore everything should be endured with fortitude, since things do not, as we suppose, simply happen - they all come. Long ago it was determined what would make you rejoice, what would make you weep, and although the lives of individuals seem to be marked by great dissimilarity, yet is the end one - we receive what is perishable and shall ourselves perish. Why, therefore, do we chafe? why complain? For this were we born. Let Nature deal with matter, which is her own, as she pleases; let us be cheerful and brave in the face of everything, reflecting that it is nothing of our own that perishes.
     What then, is the part of a good man? To offer himself to Fate. It is a great consolation that it is together with the universe we are swept along; whatever it is that has ordained us so to live, so to die, by the same necessity {Lucy_poem+} it binds also the gods. One unchangeable course bears along the affairs of men and gods alike. Although the great creator and ruler of the universe himself wrote the decrees of Fate, yet he follows them. {Prom_Unbound+} He obeys for ever, he decreed but once. "Why, however," do you ask, "was God so unjust in his allotment of destiny as to assign to good men poverty, wounds, and painful death?" It is impossible for the moulder to alter matter; to this law it has submitted. Certain qualities cannot be separated from certain others; they cling together, are indivisible. Natures that are listless, that are prone to sleep, or to a kind of wakefulness that closely resembles sleep, are composed of sluggish elements. It takes sterner stuff to make a man who deserves to be mentioned with consideration. His course will not be the level way;
<Ess1-39>


ON PROVIDENCE, v. 9-vi. 1

uphill and downhill must he go, be tossed about, and guide his bark through stormy waters; he must keep his course in spite of fortune. Much that is hard, much that is rough will befall him, but he himself will soften the one, and make the other smooth. Fire tests gold, misfortune brave men. See to what a height virtue must climb! you will find that it has no safe road to tread:
     The way is steep at first, and the coursers strain
     To climb it, fresh in the early morn. They gain
     The crest of heaven at noon; from here I gaze
     Adown on land and sea with dread amaze,
     And of my heart will beat in panic fear.
     The roadway ends in sharp descent - keep here
     A sure control; 'twill happen even so
     That Tethys, stretching out her waves below,
     Will often, while she welcomes, be affright
     To see me speeding downward from the height./a
     {Ovid_Phaeton+}

Having heard the words, that noble youth replied, I like the road, I shall mount; even though I fall, it will be worth while to travel through such sights." But the other did not cease from trying to strike his bold heart with fear:
     And though you may not miss the beaten track,
     Nor, led to wander, leave the zodiac,
     Yet through the Bull's fierce horns, the Centaur's bow
     And raging Lion's jaws you still must go./b

In reply to this he said, "Harness the chariot you offered; the very things that you think affright me urge me on. I long to stand aloft where even the Sun-god quakes with fear." The groveller and the coward will follow the safe path: virtue seeks the heights.
     "But why," you ask, does God sometimes allow evil to befall good men? Assuredly he does not.
<Ess1-41>


ON PROVIDENCE, vi. 1-4

Evil of every sort he keeps far from them - sin and crime, evil counsel and schemes for greed, blind lust and avarice intent upon another's goods. The good man himself he protects and delivers: does any one require of God that he should also guard the good man's luggage? Nay, the good man himself relieves God of this concern; he despises externals. Democritus, considering 1111111riches to be a burden to the virtuous mind, renounced them. Why, then, do you wonder if God suffers that to be the good man's lot which the good man himself sometimes chooses should be his lot? Good men lose their sons; why not, since sometimes they even slay them?/a They are sent into exile; why not, since sometimes they voluntarily leave their native land, never to return? They are slain; why not, since sometimes they voluntarily lay hand upon themselves?/b Why do they suffer certain hardships? It is that they may teach others to endure them they were born to be a pattern. Think, then, of God as saying: "What possible reason have you to complain of me, you who have chosen righteousness? Others I have surrounded with unreal goods, and have mocked their empty minds, as it were, with a long, deceptive dream. I have bedecked them with gold, and silver, and ivory, but within there is nothing good. The creatures whom you regard as fortunate, if you could see them, not as they appear to the eye, but as they are in their hearts, are wretched, filthy, base - like their own house-walls, adorned only on the outside. Sound and genuine such good fortune is not; it is a veneer, and that a thin one. So long, therefore, as they can stand firm and make the show that they desire, they glitter and deceive;
<Ess1-43>


ON PROVIDENCE, vi. 4 7

when, however, something occurs to overthrow and uncover them, then you see what deep-set and genuine ugliness their borrowed splendour hid. But to you I have given the true and enduring goods, which are greater and better the more any one turns them over and views them from every side. I have permitted you to scorn all that dismays and to disdain desires. Outwardly you do not shine; your goods are directed inward. Even so the cosmos, rejoicing in the spectacle of itself, scorns everything outside. {Yeats_to_a_friend+} Within I have bestowed upon you every good; your good fortune is not to need good fortune.
     'Yet,' you say, 'many sorrows, things dreadful and hard to bear, do befall us.' Yes, because I could not withdraw you from their path, I have armed your minds to withstand them all; endure with fortitude. In this you may outstrip God; he is exempt from enduring evil, while you are superior to it. Scorn poverty; no one lives as poor as he was born. Scorn pain; it will either be relieved or relieve you. Scorn death, which either ends you or transfers you. Scorn Fortune; I have given her no weapon with which she may strike your soul. Above all, I have taken pains that nothing should keep you here against your will; the way out lies open. If you do not choose to fight, you may run away. Therefore of all things that I have deemed necessary for you, I have made nothing easier than dying. I have set life on a downward slope: if it is prolonged, only observe and you will see what a short and easy path leads to liberty. I have not imposed upon you at your exit the wearisome delay you had at entrance. Otherwise, if death came to a man as slowly as his birth, Fortune would have kept her
<Ess1-45>


ON PROVIDENCE, vi. 8-9

great dominion over you. Let every season, every place, teach you how easy it is to renounce Nature and fling her gift back in her face. In the very presence of the altars and the solemn rites of sacrifice, while you pray for life, learn well concerning death. The fatted bodies of bulls fall from a paltry wound, and creatures of mighty strength are felled by one stroke of a man's hand; a tiny blade will sever the sutures of the neck, and when that joint, which binds together head and neck, is cut, the body's mighty mass crumples in a heap. No deep retreat conceals the soul, you need no knife at all to root it out, no deeply driven wound to find the vital parts; death lies near at hand. For these mortal strokes I have set no definite spot; anywhere vou wish, the way is open. Even that which we call dying, the moment when the breath forsakes the body, is so brief that its fleetness cannot come within the ken. Whether the throat is strangled by a knot, or water stops the breathing, or the hard ground crushes in the skull of one falling headlong to its surface, or flame inhaled cuts off the course of respiration, be it what it may, the end is swift. Do you not blush for shame?  You dread so long what comes so quickly!
<Ess1-47> 


BOOK II
TO SERENUS ON THE FIRMNESS+  {CONSTANTIA}
OF THE WISE MAN
 

The Wise Man can receive neither Injury nor Insult.

I might say with good reason, Serenus, that there is as great a difference between the Stoics and the other schools of philosophy as there is between males and females, since while each set contributes equally to human society, the one class is born to obey, the other to command. Other philosophers, using gentle and persuasive measures, are like the intimate family physician, who, commonly, tries to cure his patients, not by the best and the quickest method, but as he is allowed. The Stoics, having adopted the heroic course, are not so much concerned in making it attractive to us who enter upon it, as in having it rescue us as soon as possible and guide us to that lofty summit which rises so far beyond the reach of any missile as to tower high above all fortune. " But," you say, "the path by which we are called to go is steep and rugged." What of it? Can the heights be reached by a level path? But the way is not so sheer as some suppose. The first part only has rocks and cliffs, and appears impassable, just as many places, when viewed from afar, seem often to
<Ess1-49>


ON FIRMNESS, 1. 2-ii. 2

be an unbroken steep since the distance deceives the eye; then, as you draw nearer, these same places, which by a trick of the eyes had merged into one, open up gradually, and what seemed from a distance precipitous is now reduced to a gentle slope.
     Recently, when there happened to be some mention of Marcus Cato, you, with your impatience of injustice, grew indignant because Cato's own age had failed to understand him, because it had rated him lower than any Vatinius though he towered above any Pompey and Caesar; and it seemed to you shameful that when he was about to speak against some law in the forum, his toga was torn from his shoulders, and that, after he had been hustled by a lawless mob all the way from the rostrum to the Arch of Fabius, he had to endure vile language, and spittle, and all the other insults of a maddened crowd. And then I made answer that on behalf of the state you had good reason to be stirred - the state which Publius Clodius on the one hand, Vatinius and all the greatest rascals on the other, were putting up for sale, and, carried away by blind cupidity, did not realize that, while they were selling, they too were being sold. For Cato himself I bade you have no concern, for no wise man can receive either injury or insult. I said, too, that in Cato the immortal gods had given to us a truer exemplar of the wise man than earlier ages had in Ulysses and Hercules. For we Stoics have declared that these were wise men, because they were unconquered by struggles, were despisers of pleasure, and victors over all terrors. Cato did not grapple with wild beasts - the pursuit of these is for the huntsman and the
<Ess1-51>


ON FIRMNESS, ii. 2-iii. 1

peasant; he did not hunt down monsters with fire and sword, nor did he chance to live in the times when it was possible to believe that the heavens rested on one man's shoulders. In an age when the old credulity had long been thrown aside, and knowledge had by time attained its highest development, he came into conflict with ambition+, a monster of many shapes, with the boundless greed for power which the division of the whole world among three men\a could not satisfy. He stood alone against the vices of a degenerate state that was sinking to destruction beneath its very weight, and he stayed the fall of the republic to the utmost that one man's hand could do to draw it back, until at last he was himself withdrawn and shared the downfall which he had so long averted, and the two whom heaven willed should never part were blotted out together. For Cato did not survive freedom, nor freedom Cato. Think you that what the people did to such a man could have been an injury, even if they tore from him either his praetorship or his toga? even if they bespattered his sacred head with filth from their mouths? The wise man is safe, and no injury or insult can touch him. I imagine that I see you flaring up in a temper and about to boil over; you are getting ready to exclaim: "This is the sort of thing that detracts from the weight of the teachings of you Stoics. You make great promises, promises which are not even to be desired, still less believed; then after all your big words, while you deny that a wise man is poor, you do not deny that he usually possesses neither slave nor house nor food; while you deny that a wise man is mad, you do not deny that he does lose
<Ess1-53>


ON FIRMNESS, iii. 1.-4

his reason, that he babbles crazy words, that he will venture to do whatever his violent disorder impels him to do; while you deny that a wise man is ever a slave, you do not likewise go on to deny that he will be sold, that he will do what he is ordered to do, and render to his master the services of a slave. So, for all your lofty assumption, you reach the same level as the other schools -only the names of things are changed. And so I suspect that something of this sort lurks behind this maxim also, "A wise man will receive neither injury nor insult" - a maxim which at first sight, appears noble and splendid. But it makes a great difference whether you place the wise man beyond feeling injured or beyond being injured. For if you say that he will bear injury calmly, he has no peculiar advantage; he is fortunate in possessing a common quality, one which is acquired from the very repetition of injuries - namely, endurance. If you say that he will not receive injury, that is, that no one will attempt to injure him, then, abandoning all other business, I am for becoming a Stoic."\a I assuredly did not intend to deck up the wise man with the fanciful honour of words, but to place him in the position where no injury may reach him. "What then?" you say; "will there be no one to assail him, no one to attempt it?" Nothing in the world is so sacred that it will not find some one to profane it, but holy things are none the less exalted, even if those do exist who strike at a greatness that is set far beyond them, and which they will never damage. The invulnerable thing is not that which is not struck, but that which is not hurt; by this mark I will show you the wise man. Is there any doubt that the strength that cannot be overcome is a truer
<Ess1-55>


ON FIRMNESS, iii. 4-iv. 1

sort than that which is unassailed, seeing that untested powers are dubious, whereas the stability that repels all assaults is rightly deemed most genuine? So you must know that the wise man, if no injury hurts him, will be of a higher type than if none is offered to him, and the brave man, I should say, is he whom war cannot subdue, whom the onset of a hostile force cannot terrify, not he who battens at ease among the idle populace. Consequently I will assert this - that the wise man is not subject to any injury. It does not matter, therefore, how many darts are hurled against him, since none can pierce him. As the hardness of certain stones is impervious to steel, and adamant cannot be cut or hewed or ground, but in turn blunts whatever comes into contact with it; certain substances cannot be consumed by fire, but, though encompassed by flame, retain their hardness and their shape; as certain cliffs, projecting into the deep, break the force of the sea, and, though lashed for countless ages, show no traces of its wrath, just so the spirit of the wise man is impregnable and has gathered such a measure of strength as to be no less safe from injury than those things which I have mentioned.
    "What then?" you say; "will there be no one who will attempt to do the wise man injury?" Yes, the attempt will be made, but the injury willnot reach him. For the distance which separates him from contact with his inferiors is so great that no baneful force can extend its power all the way to him. Even when the mighty, exalted by authority and powerful in the support of their servitors, strive to injure him, all their assaults on wisdom will fall as short of their mark as do the missiles shot on high by
<Ess1-57>


ON FIRMNESS, iv. 1-v. 2

bowstring or catapult, which though they leap beyond our vision, yet curve downwards this side of heaven. Tell me, do you suppose that when that stupid king\a darkened the day with the shower of his darts, any arrow fell upon the sun, or that he was able to reach Neptune when he lowered his chains into the deep? As heavenly things escape the hands of man and divinity suffers no harm from those who demolish temples and melt down images, so every wanton, insolent, or haughty act directed against the wise man is essayed in vain. "But it would be better," you say, "if no one cared to do such things." You are praying for what is a hard matter - that human beings should do no wrong. And that such acts be not done is profitable to thosc who are prone to do them, not to him who cannot be affected by them even if they are done. No, I am inclined to think that the power of wisdom is better shown by a display of calmness in the midst of provocation, just as the greatest proof that a general is mighty in his arms and men is his quiet unconcern in the country of the enemy. Let us make a distinction, Serenus, if you like, between injury and insult. The former is by its nature more serious; the latter, a slighter matter -serious only to the thin- skinned - for men are not harmed, but angered by it. Yet such is the weakness and vanity of some men's minds, there are those who think that nothing is more bitter. And so you will find the slave who would rather be struck with the lash than the fist, who considers stripes and death more endurable than insulting words. To such a pitch of absurdity have we come that we are harrowed not merely by pain but by the idea of pain, like
<Ess1-59>


ON FIRMNESS, v. 2-5

children who are terror-stricken by darkness and the ugliness of masks and a distorted countenance; who are provoked even to tears by names that are unpleasant to their ears, by gesticulation of the fingers,\a and other things which in their ignorance they shrink from in a kind of blundering panic. Injury has as its aim to visit evil upon a person. But wisdom leaves no room for evil, for the only evil it knows is baseness, which cannot enter where virtue and uprightness already abide. Consequently, if there can be no injury without evil, no evil without baseness, and if, moreover, baseness cannot reach a man already possessed by uprightness, then injury does not reach the wise man. For if injury is the experiencing of some evil, if, moreover, the wise man can experience no evil, no injury affects a wise man. All injury is damaging to him who encounters it, and no man can receive injury without some loss either in respect to his position or his person or things external to us. But the wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself, he trusts nothing to fortune, his own goods are secure, since he is content with virtue, which needs no gift from chance, and which, therefore, can neither be increased nor diminished. For that which has come to the full has no room for further growth, and Fortune can snatch away only what she herself has given. But virtue she does not give; therefore she cannot take it away. Virtue is free, inviolable, unmoved, unshaken, so steeled against the blows of chance that she cannot be bent, much less broken. Facing the instruments of torture she holds her gaze unflinching, her expression changes not at all, whether a hard or a happy lot is shown her. Therefore the wise man will lose
<Ess1-61>


ON FIRMNESS, v. 5-vi. 2

nothing which he will be able to regard as loss; for the only possession he has is virtue, and of this he can never be robbed. {Jesus+} Of all else he has merely the use on sufferance. Who, however, is moved by the loss of that which is not his own? But if injury can do no harm to anything that a wise man owns, since if his virtue is safe his possessions are safe, then no injury can happen to the wise man.
     When Demetrius, the one who had the appellation of Poliorcetes, had captured Megara, he questioned Stilbo, a philosopher, to find out whether he had lost anything, and his answer was, "Nothing; I have all that is mine with me." Yet his estate had been given up to plunder, his daughters had been outraged by the enemy, his native city had passed under foreign sway, and the man himself was being questioned by a king on his throne, ensconced amid the arms of his victorious army. But he wrested the victory from the conqueror, and bore witness that, though his city had been captured, he himself was not only unconquered but unharmed. For he had with him his true possessions, upon which no hand can be laid, while the property that was being scattered and pillaged and plundered he counted not his own, but the adventitious things that follow the beck of Fortune. Therefore he had esteemed them as not really his own; for all that flows to us from without is a slippery and insecure possession. Consider now, can any thief or traducer or violent neighbour, or any rich man who wields the power conferred by a childless old age, do injury to this man, from whom war and the enemy and that exponent of the illustrious art of wrecking cities could snatch away nothing? Amid swords flashing
<Ess1-63>


ON FIRMNESS, vi. 2-5

on every side and the uproar of soldiers bent on pillage, amid flames and blood and the havoc of the smitten city, amid the crash of temples falling upon their gods, one man alone had peace. It is not for you, therefore, to call reckless this boast of mine\a; and if you do not give me credence, I shall adduce a voucher for it. For you can hardly believe that so much steadfastness, that such greatness of soul falls to the lot of any man. But here is one\b who comes into our midst and says: "There is no reason why you should doubt that a mortal man can raise himself above his human lot, that he can view with unconcern pains and losses, sores and wounds, and nature's great commotions as she rages all around him, can bear hardship calmly and prosperity soberly, neither yielding to the one nor trusting to the other; that he can remain wholly unchanged amid the diversities of fortune and count nothing but himself his own, and of this self, even, only its better part. See, here am I to prove to you this - that, though beneath the hand of that destroyer of so many cities fortifications shaken by the battering-ram may totter, and high towers undermined by tunnels and secret saps may sink in sudden downfall, and earthworks rise to match the loftiest citadel, yet no war-engines can be devised that will shake the firm-fixed soul. I crept just now from the ruins of my house, and while the conflagration blazed on every side, I fled from the flames through blood; what fate befalls my daughters, whether a worse one than their country's own, I know not. Alone and old, and seeing the enemy in possession of everything around me, I, nevertheless, declare that my holdings are all intact
<Ess1-65>


ON FIRMNESS, vi. 6-vii. 1

and unharmed. I still possess them; whatever I have had as my own, I have. There is no reason for you to suppose me vanquished and yourself the victor; your fortune has vanquished my fortune. Where those things are that pass and change their owners, I know not; so far as my possessions are concerned they are with me, and ever will be with me. The losers are yonder rich men who have lost their estates - the libertines who have lost their loves - the prostitutes whom they cherished at a great expenditure of shame - politicians who have lost the senate-house, the forum, and the places appointed for the public exercise of their failings; the usurers+ have lost their records on which their avarice+, rejoicing without warrant, based its dream of wealth. But I have still my all, untouched and undiminished. Do you, accordingly, put your question to those who weep and wail, who, in defence of their money, present their naked bodies to the point of the sword, who, when their pockets are loaded, flee from the enemy." Know, therefore, Serenus, that this perfect man, full of virtues human and divine, can lose nothing. His goods are girt about by strong and insurmountable defences. Not Babylon's walls, which an Alexander entered, are to be compared with these, not the ramparts of Carthage or Numantia, both captured by one man's hand,\a not the Capitol or citadel of Rome - upon them the enemy has left his marks. The walls which guard the wise man are safe from both flame and assault, they provide no means of entrance, -are lofty, impregnable, godlike. There is no reason for you to say, Serenus, as your habit is, that this wise man of ours is nowhere to be found. He is not a fiction of us Stoics, a sort of
<Ess1-67>


ON FIRMNESS, vii. 1-4

phantom glory of human nature, nor is he a mere conception, the mighty semblance of a thing unreal, but we have shown him in the flesh just as we delineate him, and shall show him - though perchance not often, and after a long lapse of years only one. For greatness which transcends the limit of the ordinary and common type is produced but rarely. But this self-same Marcus Cato, the mention of whom started this discussion,\a I almost think surpasses even our exemplar. Again, that which injures must be more powerful than that which is injured; but wickedness is not stronger than righteousness; therefore it is impossible for the wise man to be injured. Only the bad attempt to injure the good; the good are at peace with each other, the bad are no less harmful to the good than they are to each other. But if only the weaker man can be injured, and if the bad man is weaker than the good man, and the good have to fear no injury except from one who is no match for them, then injury cannot befall the wise man. For by this time you do not need to be reminded of the fact that there is no good man except the wise man. "But," some one says, "if Socrates was condemned unjustly, he received an injury." At this point it is needful for us to understand that it is possible for some one to do me an injury and for me not to receive the injury. For example, if a man should steal something from my country-house and leave it in my town-house, he would have committed a theft, but I should have lost nothing. It is possible for one to become a wrong-doer, although he may not have done a wrong. If a man lies with his wife as if she were another

<Ess1-69>


ON FIRMNESS, vii. 4-viii. 1

man's wife, he will be an adulterer, though sbe will not be an adulteress. {Jesus+} Some one gave me poison, but the poison lost its efficacy by being mixed with food; the man, by giving the poison, became guilty of a crime, even if he did me no injury. A man is no less a murderer because his blow was foiled, intercepted by the victim's dress. All crimes, so far as guilt is concerned, are completed even before the accomplishment of the deed. Certain acts are of such a character, and are linked together in such a relation, that while the first can take place without the second, the second cannot take place without the first. I shall endeavour to make clear what I mean. I can move my feet without running, but I cannot run without moving my feet.   It is possible for me, though being in the water, not to swim; but if I swim, it is impossible for me not to be in the water. To the same category belongs the matter under (discussion. If I have received an injury, it must necessarily have been done. If an injury was done, I have not necessarily received it; for many things can happen to avert the injury. Just as, for example, some chance may strike down the hand while it takes aim and turn the speeding missile aside, so it is possible that some circumstance may ward off injuries of any sort and intercept them in mid-course, with the result that they may have been done, yet not received.
     Moreover, justice can suffer no injustice, because opposites do not meet. But no injury can be done without injustice; therefore no injury can be done to the wise man. And you need not be surprised; if no one can do him an injury, no one can do him a service either. The wise man, on the one hand, lacks nothing that he can receive as a gift; the evil
<Ess1-71>


ON FIRMNESS, viii. 1-3

man, on the other, can bestow nothing good enough for the wise man to have. For a man must have before he can give; the evil man, however, has nothing that the wise man would be glad to have transferred to himself. It is impossible, therefore, for any one either to injure or to benefit the wise man, since that which is divine does not need to be helped, and cannot be hurt; and the wise man is next-door neighbour to the gods and like a god in all save his mortality. As he struggles and presses on towards those things that are lofty, well-ordered, undaunted, that flow on with even and harmonious current, that are untroubled, kindly, adapted to the public good, beneficial both to himself and to others, the wise man will covet nothing low, will never repine. The man who, relying on reason, marches through mortal vicissitudes with the spirit of a god, has no vulnerable spot where he can receive an injury. From man only do you think I mean? No, not even from Fortune, who, whenever she has encountered virtue, has always left the field outmatched. If that supreme event, beyond which outraged laws and the most cruel masters have nothing with which to threaten us, and in which Fortune uses up all her power, is met with calm and unruffled mind, and if it is realized that death is not an evil and therefore not an injury either, we shall much more easily bear all other things - losses and pains, disgrace, changes of abode, *bereavements, and separations. These things cannot overwhelm the wise man, even though they all encompass him at once; still less does he grieve when they assault him singly. And if he bears composedly the injuries of Fortune, how much
<Ess1-73>


ON FIRMNESS, viii. 3-ix. 3

the more will he bear those of powerful men, whom he knows to be merely the instruments of Fortune!
    All such things, therefore, he endures in the same way that he submits to the rigours of winter and to inclement weather, to fevers and disease, and the other accidents of chance; nor does he form so high an estimate of any man as to think that he has done anything with the good judgement that is found only in the wise man./a All others are actuated, not by judgement, but by delusions and deceptions and ill-formed impulses of the mind, which the wise men <sic> sets down to the account of chance; but every power of Fortune rages round about us and strikes what counts for naught!
     Consider, further, that the most extensive opportunity for injury is found in those things through which some danger is contrived for us, as, for example, the suborning of an accuser, or the bringing of a false accusation, or the stirring up of the hatred of the powerful against us, and all the other forms of robbery that exist among civilians. Another common type of injury arises when a man has his profits or a long-chased prize torn from his grasp, as when a legacy which he has made great effort to secure is turned aside, or the goodwill of a lucrative house is withdrawn. All this the wise man escapes, for he knows nothing of directing his life either towards hope or towards fear. Add, further, that no man receives an injury without some mental disturbance, yea more, he is perturbed even by the thought of it; but the man who has been saved from error, who is self- controlled and has deep and calm repose, is free from such perturbation. For if an
<Ess1-75>


ON FIRMNESS, ix. 3-x. 1

injury reaches him, it does stir and incite him; yet, if he is a wise man, he is free from that anger which is aroused by the mere appearance of injury, and in no other way could he be free from the anger than by being free also from the injury, knowing that an injury can never be done to him. For this reason he is so resolute and cheerful, for this reason he is elate with constant joy. So far, moreover, is he from shrinking from the buffetings of circumstances or of men, that he counts even injury profitable, for through it he finds a means of putting himself to the proof and makes trial of his virtue. Let us, I beseech you, be silent\a in the presence of this proposition, and with impartial minds and ears give heed while the wise man is made exempt from injury! Nor because of it is aught diminished from your wantonness, or from your greediest lusts, or from your blind presumption and pride! You may keep your vices - it is the wise man for whom this liberty is being sought. Our aim is not that you may be prevented from doing injury, but that the wise man may cast all injuries far from him, and by his endurance and his greatness of soul protect himself from them. Just so in the sacred games many have won the victory by wearing out the hands of their assailants through stubborn endurance. Do you, then, reckon the wise man in this class of men - the men who by long and faithful training have attained the strength to endure and tire out any assault of the enemy. Having touched upon the first part of the discussion, let us now pass to the second, in which by arguments - some of them our own, most of them, however, common to our school - we shall disprove the possibility of insult. It is a slighter offence than
<Ess1-77>


ON FIRMNESS, x. i-4

injury, something to be complained of rather than avenged, something which even the laws have not deemed worthy of punishment. This feeling is stirred by a sense of humiliation as the spirit shrinks before an uncomplimentary word or act. "So- andso did not give me an audience today, though he gave it to others"; "he haughtily repulsed or openly laughed at my conversation"; "he did not give me the seat of honour, but placed me at the foot of the table." These and similar reproaches - what shall I call them but the complainings of a squeamish temper? And it is generally the pampered and prosperous who indulge in them; for if a man is pressed by worse ills, he has not time to notice such things. By reason of too much leisure natures which are naturally weak and effeminate and, from the dearth of real injury, have grown spoiled, are disturbed by these slights, the greater number of which are due to some fault in the one who so interprets them. Therefore any man who is troubled by an insult shows himself lacking in both insight and belief in himself; for he decides without hesitation that he has been slighted, and the accompanying sting is the inevitable result of a certain abjectness of spirit, a spirit which depreciates itself and bows down to another. But no one can slight the wise man, for he knows his own greatness and assures himself that no one is accorded so much power over him, and all these feelings, which I prefer to call rather annoyances than distresses of the mind, he does not have to overcome - nay, he does not even have them. Quite different are the things that do buffet the wise man, even though they do not overthrow him, such as bodily pain and infirmity, or the loss of friends
<Ess1-79>


ON FIRMNESS, x. 4-xi. 2

and children, and the ruin that befalls his country amid the flames of war. I do not deny that the wise man feels these things; for we do not claim for him the hardness of stone or of steel. There is no virtue that fails to realize that it does endure. What, then, is the case? The wise man does receive some wounds, but those that he recieves he binds up, arrests, and heals; these lesser things he does not even feel, nor does he employ against them his accustomed virtue of bearing hardship, but he either fails to notice them, or counts them worthy of a smile.
     Moreover, since, in large measure, insults come from the proud and arrogant and from those who bear prosperity ill, the wise man possesses that which enables him to scorn their puffed- up attitude - the noblest of all the virtues, magnanimity. This passes over everything of that sort as of no more consequence than the delusive shapes of dreams and the apparitions of the night, which have nothing in them that is substantial and real. At the same time he remembers this, - that all others are so much his own inferiors that they would not presume to despise what is so far above them. The word "contumely" is derived from the word "contempt," for no one outrages another by so grave a wrong unless he has contempt for him; but no man can be contemptuous of one who is greater and better than himself, even if his action is of a kind to which the contemptuous are prone. For children will strike their parents in the face, and the infant tumbles and tears his mother's hair and slobbers upon her, or exposes to the gaze of the family parts that were better covered over, and a child does not shrink from foul language. Yet we do not count any of these things an insult,
<Ess1-81>


ON FIRMNESS. xi. 2-xii. 2

And why? because he who does them is incapable of being contemptuous. For the same reason the waggery of slaves, insulting to their masters, amuses us, and their boldness at the expense of guests has license only because they begin with their master himself; and the more contemptible and even ridiculous any slave is, the more freedom of tongue he has. For this purpose some people buy young slaves because they are pert, and they whet their impudence and keep them under an instructor in order that they may be practised in pouring forth streams of abuse; and yet we call this smartness, not insult. But what madness it is at one time to be amused, at another to be affronted, by the same things, and to call something, if spoken by a friend, a slander; if spoken by a slave, a playful taunt!
     The same attitude that we have toward young slaves, the wise man has toward all men whose childhood endures even beyond middle age and the period of grey hairs. Or has age brought any profit at all to men of this sort, who have the faults of a childish mind with its defects augmented, who differ from children only in the size and shape of their bodies, but are not less wayward and unsteady, who are undiscriminating in their passion for pleasure, timorous, and peaceable, not from inclination, but from fear? Therefore no one may say that they differ in any way from children. For while children are greedy for knuckle-bones, nuts, and coppers, these are greedy for gold and silver, and cities; while children play among themselves at being magistrates, and in make-believe have their bordered toga, lictors' rods and tribunal, thine play in earnest at the same things in the Campus Martius and the
<Ess1-83>


ON FIRMNESS, xii. 2-xiii. 2

forum and the senate; while children rear their toy houses on the sea-shore with heaps of sand, these, as though engaged in a mighty enterprise, are busied in piling up stones and walls and roofs, and convert what was intended as a protection to the body into a menace.\a Therefore children and those who are farther advanced in life are alike deceived, but the latter in different and more serious things. And so the wise man not improperly considers insult from such men as a farce, and sometimes, just as if they were children, he will admonish them and inflict suffering and punishment, not because he has received an injury, but because they have committed one, and in order that they may desist from so doing. For thus also we break in animals by using the lash, and we do not get angry at them when they will not submit to a rider, but we curb them in order that by pain we may overcome their obstinacy. Now, therefore, you will know the answer to the question with which we are confronted: "Why, if the wise man cannot receive either injury or insult, does he punish those who have offered them?" For he is not avenging himself, but correcting them. But why is it that you refuse to believe that the wise man is granted such firmness of mind, when you may observe that others have the same, although for a different reason? What physician gets angry with a lunatic? Who takes in ill part the abuse of a man stricken with fever and yet denied cold water? The wise man's feeling towards all men is that of the physician towards his patients: he does not scorn to touch their privy parts if they need treatment, or to view the body's refuse and discharges, or to endure violent words from those who rage in delirium. <Ess1-85>


ON FIRMNESS, xiii. 2-4

The wise man knows that all who strut about in togas and in purple, as if they were well and strong, are, for all their bright colour, quite unsound, and in his eyes they differ in no way from the sick who are bereft of self-control. And so he is not even irritated if in their sick condition they venture to be somewhat impertinent to their physician, and in the same spirit in which he sets no value on the honours they have, he sets no value on the lack of honour they show. Just as he will not be flattered if a beggar shows him respect, nor count it an insult if a man from the dregs of the people, on being greeted, fails to return his greeting, so, too, he will not even look up if many rich men look up at him. For he knows that they differ not a whit from beggars {equality+} -yea, that they are even more wretched; since the beggar wants little, the rich man much. And, on the other hand, he will not be disturbed if the King of the Medes or King Attalus of Asia, ignoring his greeting, passes him by in silence and with a look of disdain. He knows that the position of such a man is no more to be envied than that of the slave in a large household whose duty it is to keep under constraint the sick and the insane. The men who traffic in wretched human chattels, buying and selling near the temple of Castor, whose shops are packed with a throng of the meanest slaves - if some one of these does not call me by name, shall I take umbrage? No, I think not. For of what good is a man who has under him none but the bad? Therefore, just as the wise man disregards this one's courtesy or discourtesy, so will he likewise disregard the king's: "You, O king, have under you Parthians and Medes and Bactrians, but you hold them in cheek by fear; they never allow
<Ess1-87>


ON FIRMNESS, xiii. 4-xiv. 2

you to relax your bow; they are your bitterest enemies, open to bribes, and eager for a new master." Consequently the wise man will not be moved by any man's insult. For men may all differ one from another, yet the wise man regards them as all alike because they are all equally foolish; since if he should once so far condescend as to be moved either by insult or injury, he could never be unconcerned. Unconcern, however, is the peculiar blessing of the wise man, and he will never allow himself to pay to the one who offered him an insult the compliment of admitting that it was offered. For, necessarily, whoever is troubled by another's scorn, is pleased by his admiration.

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