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BOOK: Dialogues and Letters
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19              You must retire to these pursuits which are quieter, safer and
more important. Do you think it is the same thing whether you are overseeing the transfer of corn into granaries, unspoilt by the dishonesty and carelessness of the shippers, and taking care that it does not get damp and then ruined through heat, and that it tallies in measure and weight; or whether you take up these sacred and lofty studies, from which you will learn the substance of god, and his will, his mode of life, his shape; what fate awaits your soul; where nature lays us to rest when released from our bodies; what is the force which supports all the heaviest elements of this world at the centre, suspends the light elements above, carries fire to the highest part, and sets the stars in motion with their proper changes – and learn other things in succession which are full of tremendous marvels? You really should leave the ground and turn your thoughts to these studies. Now while the blood is hot you should make your way with vigour to better things. In this kind of life you will find much that is worth your study: the love and practice of the virtues, forgetfulness of the passions, the knowledge of how to live and die, and a life of deep tranquillity.

 Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another's, and their walk by another's pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

20              So, when you see a man repeatedly wearing the robe of office, or one whose name is often spoken in the Forum, do not envy him: these things are won at the cost of life. In order that one year may be dated from their names they will waste all their own years. Life has left some men struggling at the start of their careers before they could force their way to the height of their ambition. Some men, after they have crawled through a thousand indignities to the supreme dignity, have been assailed by the gloomy thought that all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph. Some try to adjust their extreme old age to new hopes as though it were
youth, but find its weakness fails them in the midst of efforts that overtax it. It is a shameful sight when an elderly man runs out of breath while he is pleading in court for litigants who are total strangers to him, and trying to win the applause of the ignorant bystanders. It is disgraceful to see a man collapsing in the middle of his duties, worn out more by his life-style than by his labours. Disgraceful too is it when a man dies in the midst of going through his accounts, and his heir, long kept waiting, smiles in relief. I cannot resist telling you of an instance that occurs to me. Sextus Turannius
was an old man known to be scrupulous and diligent, who, when he was ninety, at his own request was given retirement from his office by Gaius Caesar. He then ordered himself to be laid out on his bed and lamented by the assembled household as though he were dead. The house bewailed its old master's leisure, and did not cease its mourning until his former job was restored to him. Is it really so pleasant to die in harness? That is the feeling of many people: their desire for their work outlasts their ability to do it. They fight against their own bodily weakness, and they regard old age as a hardship on no other grounds than that it puts them on the shelf. The law does not make a man a soldier after fifty or a senator after sixty: men find it more difficult to gain leisure from themselves than from the law. Meanwhile, as they rob and are robbed, as they disturb each other's peace, as they make each other miserable, their lives pass without satisfaction, without pleasure, without mental improvement. No one keeps death in view, no one refrains from hopes that look far ahead; indeed, some people even arrange things that are beyond life – massive tombs, dedications of public buildings, shows for their funerals, and ostentatious burials. But in truth, such people's funerals should be conducted with torches and wax tapers,
as though they had lived the shortest of lives.


Seneca advises Lucilius on how to face the anxieties of a lawsuit and troubles in general

1          You write that you are worried about the outcome of a lawsuit
which an enraged enemy is bringing against you. You think that
I'll persuade you to view the future with confidence and calm
yourself with comforting hope. For what need is there to summon
troubles, to anticipate them, all too soon to be endured when
they come, and squander the present in fears of the future? It is
certainly foolish to make yourself wretched now just because you
are going to be wretched some time in the future.

2               But I shall lead you to tranquillity by another route. If you
want to be rid of all anxiety, suppose that anything you are
afraid of happening is going to happen in any case, then mentally
calculate all the evil involved in it and appraise your own fear:
you will undoubtedly come to realize that what you fear is either

3          not great or not long-lasting. It won't take long to assemble
examples to convince you: every age has produced them. Cast
your mind back to any sphere of life, whether at home or abroad,
and you will think of minds which showed either philosophical
maturity or great natural energy. If you are condemned, can you
think of a harsher fate than exile or imprisonment? Is anything
more fearful than burning or death? Set up these horrors one by
one and summon forth those who have despised them: we don't

4           have to hunt for them, but to select them.
Rutilius bore his
condemnation as though the only thing that hurt him was the
false judgment. Metellus endured his exile bravely, Rutilius even
willingly; the former afforded the state the chance to recall him,
the latter refused to return for Sulla – a man to whom one did
not then refuse anything. Socrates debated when in prison, and
refused to accept the promise of escape, remaining there so that
he could free men from their two worst fears, death and prison.

5          Mucius put his own hand in the fire. Being burnt is ghastly: how
much more so if you submit to it voluntarily! Here you see a man
neither clever nor fortified by precepts against death or pain,
simply a product of tough military discipline, punishing himself
for a failed attempt. He stood and watched his right hand dripping
into the enemy's brazier, and did not remove the bare bones of
his dissolving hand until his enemy took the fire away. He could
have done something more successful in that campaign, but nothing
more brave. You can see how much more keen is virtue to
anticipate dangers than cruelty to inflict them: Porsina was more
ready to spare Mucius for wishing to kill him than Mucius was to
spare himself because he had failed to do so.

6             ‘These stories are chanted in all the rhetorical schools,' you say;
‘soon you'll be coming to the theme Contempt for Death and
telling me about Cato.'
And why not tell you about him reading
Plato's dialogue on that last night, with a sword near his pillow?
He had taken care to have these two aids in his extremity, the
will to die and the means to die. And so, arranging his affairs so
far as his final disaster allowed, he determined to act so that no
one would have the choice whether to kill Cato or to spare

7          him. He then drew his sword which until that day he had kept
unstained by any slaughter, and said, ‘Fortune, you have achieved
nothing by blocking all my efforts. So far I have fought for my
country's liberty, not my own, and all my determination was
aimed at living, not a free man myself, but among free men. But
now that mankind's affairs are hopeless let Cato be led to safety.'

8          Then he dealt himself a fatal wound on the head. This was bound
up by the doctors, but, though his blood and his strength were
failing him, his courage failed him not, and by now angry not just
with Caesar but with himself he tore at his wound with his bare
hands, and not so much let forth as cast out that noble spirit which
despised any kind of tyranny.

9              ‘
I am not piling up examples just to exercise my wits but to
support you against a horrifying prospect; and I shall do this the
better by showing you that not only brave men have treated with
contempt this moment when life ceases, but some who were in
other respects indolent have here matched the courage of the
bravest. Such was Scipio,
father-in-law of Gnaeus Pompey, who,
carried back by adverse winds to Africa and seeing his ship
in the power of his enemies, fell on his sword, and when men asked
where was the general he replied, ‘All is well with the general.'
These words raised him to the stature of his ancestors and ensured
the continuance of that renown which destiny granted the Scipios
in Africa. It was a great achievement to conquer Carthage, but

10         a greater one to conquer death. ‘All is well with the general,' he
said: should a general – and what is more Cato's general – die

11         otherwise? I'm not referring you to the history books or assembling
from all past ages the very many who have despised death.
Look at these times of ours whose apathy and affected manners
we complain about: they will still offer you individuals of every
rank, fortune and age who have cut short their sufferings by death.
Trust me, Lucilius, death is so far not to be feared that, thanks

12         to it, nothing is to be feared. So listen with tranquillity to your
enemy's threats, and though your good conscience gives you
confidence, since there are many powerful factors outside the
case, you must both hope for the most favourable outcome and
gird yourself to face the most unfavourable one. But this above all
remember: to banish life's turbulence and see clearly the essence of
everything. You will then realize that there is nothing fearful

13         there except fear itself. What you see happen with children is true
of us slightly older children too. If they see their own friends
and regular playfellows wearing masks they become frightened of
them. Well, not only people but things must have their masks
stripped off and their true features restored.

14            Why do you show me swords and flames and a crowd of
executioners clamouring around you? Away with that parade
behind which you lurk to terrify fools: you are death, whom
lately my slave and my handmaid despised. Why display again all
that equipment of whips and racks – the instruments specially
designed to tear apart individual joints, and a thousand other
tools for slaughtering a man bit by bit? Lay aside those means of
paralysing us with horror; silence the groans, the shrieks, the
hoarse cries extorted under torture. Of course you are pain –
pain which the gouty man scorns, the dyspeptic suffers while he
indulges himself, the girl endures in childbirth. You are mild if I
can bear you and short-lived if I cannot.

15             Think these things over: you have often heard them and often
said them yourself, but you must give practical proof that you
have really absorbed them from others and uttered them sincerely.
For this is the most shocking charge commonly brought against
us, that we deal in the words of philosophy and not its works.
Well, then, have you just now realized that death looms over
you, or exile, or anguish? You were born to these things. Let us

16         reflect that whatever can happen is going to happen. I am sure
you have done what I'm telling you to do: my point now is not
to let your mind be overwhelmed by this anxiety of yours, for it
will be deadened and lose its vigour when the time comes for it
to bestir itself to action. Divert it from your individual case to a
general one. Tell yourself that you have only a little body, frail
and mortal, and threatened by pain not only from ill-treatment
by superior strength. Pleasures themselves lead to pain, banquets
bring indigestion, excessive drinking brings muscular paralysis and
fits of trembling, lust brings deformity in hands, feet and all the

17         joints. I shall become poor: I'll be among the majority. I shall
become an exile: I'll suppose myself a native of my place of
banishment. I shall be bound in fetters: so what? Am I free now?
Nature has tied me to this grievous weight of my body. I shall
die: what you mean is this – I shall cease to be liable to illness, I
shall cease to be liable to bonds, I shall cease to be liable to death.

18             I am not so gauche as to keep repeating the Epicurean refrain
here, that fears about the underworld are groundless, and there is
no Ixion turning on his wheel, no Sisyphus heaving a stone uphill
with his shoulders, no possibility of anyone's entrails being daily
devoured and reborn. No one is so childish as to fear Cerberus
and darkness and the spectral forms of skeletons. Death either
destroys us or sets us free. If we are released, the better part of us

19         remains having lost its burden; if we are destroyed, nothing
remains and good and evil alike are removed. Allow me at this
point to quote your own verse, first warning you to deem it
written not for others but even for yourself. It is shocking to say
one thing and think another: how much worse to write one thing
and think another! I recall that you once treated this topic, that

20         we don't suddenly meet death but gradually approach it. Every
day we die, for every day part of our life is lost, and even when
we are growing bigger our life is growing shorter. We have lost
successively childhood, boyhood, youth. Right up to yesterday
all the time which has passed has been lost, and this present day
itself we share with death. It is not the last drop of water which
empties the water-clock, but all that dripped out previously. In
the same way the final hour when we actually die does not alone
bring our death but simply completes the process. At that point
we have arrived at death, but we have been journeying thither

BOOK: Dialogues and Letters
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