Wisdom from Seneca

All passages come from Seneca’s priceless The Letters of a Stoic [the Robin Campbell translation]

“Letter II”…It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more. What difference does it make how much there is laid away in a man’s safe or in his barns, how many head of stock he grazes or how much capital he puts out at interests, if he is always after what is another’s and only counts what he has yet to get, never what he has already (34).

 

“Letter III”
-Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one (though I should call the first the worthier and the second the safer behaviour) (36).

“Letter V”
-The very name of philosophy, however modest the manner in which it is pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society. Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd…Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they may have to imitate us in everything (37).
-…one’s life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular morality. People should admire our way of life but they should at the same time find it understandable (37-38).

’Cease to hope,’ he [Hecato] says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’ …Widely different though they are, the two of them march in unison like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope…both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse. Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present (38).

“Letter XVI”
-…making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already. You have to preserve and fortify your pertinacity until the will to good becomes a disposition to good (63).

 

“Letter XVIII

...it takes a more developed sense of fitness, on the other hand, not to make oneself a person apart, to be neither indistinguishable from those about one nor conspicuous by one’s difference, to do the same things but not in quite the same manner (66-67).
-It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs. .If you want a man to keep his head when the crisis comes you must give him so training before it comes.

“Letter XXXVIII”
-What is required is not a lot of words but effectual ones.
-…precepts have the same features as seeds: they are of compact dimensions and they produce impressive results—given, as I say, the right sort of mind, to grasp at and assimilate them. The mind will then respond by being in its turn creative and will produce a yield exceeding what was put into it. (82)

“Letter XL”
-…there’s no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed (95).

“Letter XCI”
So the spirit must be trained to a realization of its lot. It must come to see that there is nothing fortune will shrink from, that she wields the same authority over emperor and empire alike and the same power over cities as over men. There’s no ground for resentment in all this. We’ve entered into a world in which these are the terms life is lived on—if you’re satisfied with that, submit to them, if you’re not, get out, whatever way you please. Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and the highest alike, make your peace with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties (181-82).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s