Best Seneca Essays

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.


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)


 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


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- <

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


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


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,

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


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

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.
     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

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,

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

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


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


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

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
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
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>


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


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;

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

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.


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;


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


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!


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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,

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

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

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.

We do this to our philosophies. We redraft their contours based on projected shadows, or give them a cartoonish shape like a caricaturist emphasising all the wrong features. This is how Buddhism becomes, in the popular imagination, a doctrine of passivity and even laziness, while Existentialism becomes synonymous with apathy and futile despair. Something similar has happened to Stoicism, which is considered – when considered at all – a philosophy of grim endurance, of carrying on rather than getting over, of tolerating rather than transcending life’s agonies and adversities.

No wonder it’s not more popular. No wonder the Stoic sage, in Western culture, has never obtained the popularity of the Zen master. Even though Stoicism is far more accessible, not only does it lack the exotic mystique of Eastern practice; it’s also regarded as a philosophy of merely breaking even while remaining determinedly impassive. What this attitude ignores is the promise proffered by Stoicism of lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.

It ignores gratitude, too. This is part of the tranquility, because it’s what makes the tranquility possible. Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – and a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything. Philosophers who pine for supreme psychological liberation have often failed to realise that they belong to a confederacy that includes the Stoics. ‘According to nature you want to live?’ Friedrich Nietzsche taunts the Stoics in Beyond Good and Evil (1886):

O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power – how could you live according to this indifference? Living – is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living – estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative ‘live according to nature’ meant at bottom as much as ‘live according to life’ – how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourself are and must be?

This is pretty good, as denunciations of Stoicism go, seductive in its articulateness and energy, and therefore effective, however uninformed.

Which is why it’s so disheartening to see Nietzsche fly off the rails of sanity in the next two paragraphs, accusing the Stoics of trying to ‘impose’ their ‘morality… on nature’, of being ‘no longer able to see [nature] differently’ because of an ‘arrogant’ determination to ‘tyrannise’ nature as the Stoic has tyrannised himself. Then (in some of the least subtle psychological projection you’re ever likely to see, given what we know of Nietzsche’s mad drive for psychological supremacy), he accuses all of philosophy as being a ‘tyrannical drive’, ‘the most spiritual will to power’, to the ‘creation of the world’.

The truth is, indifference really is a power, selectively applied, and living in such a way is not only eminently possible, with a conscious adoption of certain attitudes, but facilitates a freer, more expansive, more adventurous mode of living. Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.

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If we can’t always go to our philosophers for an understanding of Stoicism, then where can we go? One place to start is the Urban Dictionary. Check out what this crowdsourced online reference to slang gives as the definition of a ‘stoic’:


Someone who does not give a shit about the stupid things in this world that most people care so much about. Stoics do have emotions, but only for the things in this world that really matter. They are the most real people alive.

Group of kids are sitting on a porch. Stoic walks by.

Kid – ‘Hey man, yur a fuckin faggot an you suck cock!’

Stoic – ‘Good for you.’

Keeps going.

You’ve gotta love the way the author manages to make mention of a porch in there, because Stoicism has its root in the word stoa, which is the Greek name for what today we would call a porch. Actually, we’re more likely to call it a portico, but the ancient Stoics used it as a kind of porch, where they would hang out and talk about enlightenment and stuff. The Greek scholar Zeno is the founder, and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius the most famous practitioner, while the Roman statesman Seneca is probably the most eloquent and entertaining. But the real hero of Stoicism, most Stoics agree, is the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

He’d been a slave, which gives his words a credibility that the other Stoics, for all the hardships they endured, can’t quite match. He spoke to his pupils, who later wrote down his words. These are the only words we know today as Epictetus’, consisting of two short works, the Enchiridion and the Discourses, along with some fragments. Among those whom Epictetus taught directly is Marcus Aurelius (another Stoic philosopher who did not necessarily expect to be read; his Meditations were written expressly for private benefit, as a kind of self-instruction).

Among those Epictetus has taught indirectly is a whole cast of the distinguished, in all fields of endeavour. One of these is the late US Navy Admiral James Stockdale. A prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years during that conflict, he endured broken bones, starvation, solitary confinement, and all other manner of torture. His psychological companion through it all were the teachings of Epictetus, with which he had familiarised himself after graduating from college and joining the Navy, studying philosophy at Stanford University on the side. He kept those teachings close by in Vietnam, never letting them leave his mind even when things were at their most dire. Especially then. He knew what they were about, those lessons, and he came to know their application much better than anyone should have to.

Stockdale wrote a lot about Epictetus, in speeches and memoirs and essays, but if you want to travel light (and, really, what Stoic doesn’t?), the best thing you could take with you is a speech he gave at King’s College London in 1993, published as Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (1993). That subtitle is important. Epictetus once compared the philosopher’s lecture room to a hospital, from which the student should walk out in a little bit of pain. ‘If Epictetus’s lecture room was a hospital,’ Stockdale writes, ‘my prison was a laboratory – a laboratory of human behaviour. I chose to test his postulates against the demanding real-life challenges of my laboratory. And as you can tell, I think he passed with flying colours.’

‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate’

Stockdale rejected the false optimism proffered by Christianity, because he knew, from direct observation, that false hope is how you went insane in that prison. The Stoics themselves believed in gods, but ultimately those resistant to religious belief can take their Stoicism the way they take their Buddhism, even if they can’t buy into such concepts as karma or reincarnation. What the whole thing comes down to, distilled to its briefest essence, is making the choice that choice is really all we have, and that all else is not worth considering. ‘Who […] is the invincible human being?’ Epictetus once asked, before answering the question himself: ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.’

Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it. This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity, and it’s part of what Seneca was extolling when he wrote what he would say to one whose spirit has never been tempered or tested by hardship: ‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you were capable of, not even you yourself.’ We do ourselves an immense favour when we consider adversity an opportunity to make this discovery – and, in the discovery, to enhance what we find there.

Another shrewdly resourceful Stoic mind-hack is what William B Irvine – in his book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy­ (2009)– has given the name ‘negative visualisation’. By keeping the very worst that can happen in our heads constantly, the Stoics tell us, we immunise ourselves from the dangers of too much so-called ‘positive thinking’, a product of the mind that believes a realistic accounting of the world can lead only to despair. Only by envisioning the bad can we truly appreciate the good; gratitude does not arrive when we take things for granted. It’s precisely this gratitude that leaves us content to cede control of what the world has already removed from our control anyway.

How did we let something so eminently understandable become so grotesquely misunderstood? How did we forget that that dark passage is really the portal to transcendence?

Many will recognise in these principles the general shape and texture of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Indeed, Stoicism has been identified as a kind of proto-CBT. Albert Ellis, the US psychologist who founded an early form of CBT known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) in 1955, had read the Stoics in his youth and used to prescribe to his patients Epictetus’s maxim that ‘People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things.’ ‘That’s actually the “cognitive model of emotion” in a nutshell,’ Donald Robertson tells me, and he should certainly know, as a therapist who in 2010 wrote a book on CBT with the subtitle ‘Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy’.

This simplicity and accessibility ensure that Stoicism will never be properly embraced by those who prefer the abstracted and esoteric in their philosophies. In the novel A Man in Full (1998), Tom Wolfe gives Stoicism, with perfect plausibility, to a semi-literate prison inmate. This monologue of Conrad Hensley’s may be stilted, but there’s nothing at all suspect about the sentiment behind it. When asked if he is a Stoic, Conrad replies: ‘I’m just reading about it, but I wish there was somebody around today, somebody you could go to, the way students went to Epictetus. Today people think of Stoics – like, you know, like they’re people who grit their teeth and tolerate pain and suffering. What they are is, they’re serene and confident in the face of anything you can throw at them.’

Marcus Aurelius started each day telling himself: ‘I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people’

Which leads us naturally to ask just what it was that was thrown at them. We’ve already noted that Epictetus had the whole slavery thing going on, so he checks out. So does Seneca, in spite of what many have asserted – most recently the UK classicist Mary Beard in an essay for the New York Review of Books that asks: ‘How Stoical Was Seneca?’ before providing a none-too-approving answer. What Beard’s well-informed and otherwise cogent essay fails to allow for is just how tough it must have been for Seneca – tubercular, exiled, and under the control of a sadistically murderous dictator – no matter what access he sometimes had to life’s luxuries. It was Seneca himself who said that ‘no one has condemned wisdom to poverty’, and only an Ancient Greek Cynic would try to deny this. Besides, Seneca would have been the first to tell you, as he told a correspondent in one of his letters: ‘I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.’

Marcus Aurelius lay ill in that hospital, too. As beneficiary of the privileges of emperor, he also endured the struggles and stresses of that very same position, plus a few more besides. I know better than to try to improve on the following accounting, provided in Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life:

He was sick, possibly with an ulcer. His family life was a source of distress: his wife appears to have been unfaithful to him, and of the at least 14 children she bore him, only six survived. Added to this were the stresses that came with ruling an empire. During his reign, there were numerous frontier uprisings, and Marcus often went personally to oversee campaigns against upstart tribes. His own officials – most notably, Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria – rebelled against him. His subordinates were insolent to him, which insolence he bore with ‘an unruffled temper’. Citizens told jokes at his expense and were not punished for doing so. During his reign, the empire also experienced plague, famine, and natural disasters such as the earthquake at Smyrna.

Ever the strategist, Marcus employed a trusty technique in confronting the days that comprised such a life, making a point to tell himself at the start of each one of them: ‘I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.’ He could have been different about it – he could have pretended things were just hunky-dory, especially on those days when they really were, or seemed to be. But how, then, would he have been prepared to angle both into the wind and away from it – adapting, always, to fate’s violently vexing vicissitudes? Where would that have left him when the weather changed?

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Lary Wallace

is an American writer living in Bangkok.

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