Seek the Truth (Seneca 8)

Cordoba, birthplace of Seneca, painted by Carlo Bossoli in the 19th Century.

For the last few weeks we have been looking at De Vita Beata (“About a Happy Life”), by Seneca the Younger (c. 4BC – 65AD). In his eighth book he discusses the importance of strength of mind in the search for goodness and happiness.  This is part of his philosophy of stoicism.  Importantly (and perhaps in contrast to his previous arguments) he doesn’t advocate the avoidance of more transient pleasures in life altogether, but argues instead that pleasure should be our servant, not our master, “auxiliary troops” in the battle of life.

The following is my effort to present Seneca’s writing in more accessible form of English than most academic Latin translations.  Please see below for further explanation of this project, and some more information about Seneca himself.

What can we say about the fact that pleasure belongs to good and bad men alike, and that bad men take as much delight in their shame as good men in noble things? This is why the ancients told us to lead the highest life, not the most pleasurable, so that pleasure is the companion of a logical and honourable mind, not the guide. Let our reason observe and be informed by pleasure.

To live a happy life, then, is the same thing as to live according to nature. I will explain what this means.

If we look after our bodies and the physical benefits nature has given us with care and fearlessness, recognising them as transient – if we are not obsessed by them, or allow ourselves to become slaves to what is no part of our own being – if we think of all bodily pleasures and external delights as auxiliaries troops in the army of our existence – if we make them our servants, not our masters – then and only then are they of any value to our minds.

A man should be unbiased and unconquered by external influences. He should admire only himself, to feel confidence in his own spirit, and so prepare himself to cope with good or bad fortune. He should not let his confidence be without knowledge, nor his knowledge without steadfastness. He should always stick to his guns, and not allow anything to wipe away his beliefs. That kind of a man will be calm and composed in his demeanour, high-minded and courteous.

He must strive to seek for the truth, and let reason be guided by that. There is no other starting point than reason from which to start in pursuit of truth. It must fall back upon itself. Even the all-embracing universe and god who is its guide extends himself forth outwards, and yet returns from all directions back to himself. Let our mind do the same thing. When it has gone forth, reaching outwards and following the bodily senses, let it still remain their master and its own. This is how we will obtain a strength and ability which are united, and will derive from it a reasoning that never wavers between two opinions, and is not slow to form perceptions, beliefs or convictions.

A mind like that, when it has organised itself, co-ordinated its various aspects and, if I may say so, harmonized them, has achieved the greatest goodness. It has nothing evil or dangerous remaining, nothing to shake it or make it stumble. It will do everything under the guidance of its own will, and nothing unexpected will befall it. Whatever a mind like that does will turn out well, and that will happen easily, without the owner of that mind having to stoop to underhand means. Slow and hesitating action are the signs of a discordant mind and lack of settled purpose. You can therefore boldly declare that the greatest good is singleness of mind. Where agreement and unity are to be found, there must also be found virtues. It is the vices that are at war with one another.


Seneca was a philosopher, a dramatist, a satirist, a senator and a tutor and advisor to Nero.  He was also a vegetarian for a grand total of one year, until his father persuaded him to abandon the “foreign” practice.  After his retirement he was accused (probably falsely) of being involved in an attempt to assassinate Nero, and was forced to commit suicide, which he did with calm dignity and stoicism (or so the story goes – history is rarely told in an unbiased manner), after attending to his final letters.

Seneca wrote 124 letters tackling issues of morality, and they are absolutely fascinating and still thought-provoking today.  At least, they are thought-provoking if they are translated in an accessible manner.

We will look at some more of Seneca’s advice about how to achieve happiness next time.


An explanation of this project:

Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations.  For these Seneca translations I will be working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation by Aubrey Stewart from 1900.

Let’s look at what Seneca wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Seneca really had to say.


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Australian Etiquette, 1903

fashionSnippets 169.  In 1903 a book of useful household advice was published in Australia, How to Make and Save Money.  There is a lot of interesting information in there (and a lot that is frankly alarming) and we have looked at some of that in some previous snippets, but towards the end of the book there is also some advice on etiquette for the Australian gentleman.

In making an introduction, the gentleman should be introduced to the lady, not the lady to the gentleman.

If both are of the same sex, present the inferior in social position to the superior.

Permission must always be obtained before a gentlemen is presented to a lady.

On gentlemen being introduced to each other, they usually acknowledge by a bow, not by offering the hand.

Any one meeting at the house of a mutual friend and not introduced, should not claim acquaintance if they meet elsewhere.

When out walking with a friend, if you meet or are joined by a third party, it is not necessary to introduce one to the other.

Letters of introduction should be sent by post, enclosing your own card, and not by personal delivery.  This is, however, not always convenient.

If anxious to honour the person introduced, invite him to dinner and have some friends to meet him.

Morning calls are usually made between the hours of two and four.

When returning purely complimentary calls, you may leave your card without going in.

All visits of congratulation or condolence should be paid within a few days of the event that occasions them.

On making morning calls, a gentleman should not leave his hat in the hall, but take in into the room with him, holding it in his hand during his brief stay. Leave your umbrella in the hall.

When a lady visitor leaves the drawing-room it is polite to rise.

It is bad form to look at your watch during a visit.

In conversation avoid political and religious subjects, and never interrupt another person while speaking. Do not converse in a language that any in the company does not understand. Avoid whispering as it is bad taste.

When speaking with persons of rank, avoid the too frequent use of their titles; address a nobleman as you would any other gentleman. The Prince of Wales is only addressed as “Sir” in conversation; the Queen as “Madam.”

It is customary to write letters of invitation and acceptance in the third person. Invitations are now usually issued in the name of the lady of the house. Letters to strangers should commence with “Sir” or “Madam,” and at the close, on the left hand corner of the page, write the name of the individual addressed.

At evening parties, put on your gloves before entering the room, pay your respects to the lady of the house on entering, and do not remain to the close, unless you are on very familiar terms of friendship with the hostess.

Except in a case of necessity, never stop a business man in the street. If you must speak with him, walk on in his direction, state your business briefly, apologising for the detention.

In walking with a gentleman, your superior in age or station, give them the place of honour by taking yourself the outer side of the pavement. In walking with a lady, always take the outer side of the pavement.

“It is in good manners and not in good dress, that the truest gentility lies.”— Dr. Watts.

A lot of that is reasonably familiar, but the following seems somewhat unusual:

Telegraph of Love. — If a gentleman wants a wife, he wears a ring on the first finger of the left hand; if he be engaged, he wears it on the second finger; if married, on the third; and on the fourth if he never intends to be married. When a lady is not engaged, she wears a hoop or diamond on her first finger; if engaged, on the second; if married, on the third; and on the fourth if she intends to die unmarried. When a gentleman presents a fan, flower, or trinket to a lady with the left hand, this, on his part, is an overture of regard. Should she receive it with the left hand, it is considered as an acceptance of his esteem; but if with the right hand, it is a refusal of the offer. Thus by a few simple tokens explained by rule, the passion of love is expressed; and through the medium of the telegraph, the most timid and diffident men may, without difficulty, communicate his sentiments of regard to a lady, and, in case his offer should be refused, avoid experiencing the mortification of an explicit refusal.

Presumably “third finger”, for example, does not count the thumb on the hand, so that would make sense in terms of the traditional ring finger.  The meanings of the other fingers are less familiar.  I am not aware of Australia have different traditions in that respect, but if any readers can offer any insight into this, please make use of the comments section.


If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Pleasure or Virtue? (Seneca 7)

The Baths at Caracalla by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

For the last few weeks we have been looking at De Vita Beata (“About a Happy Life”), by Seneca the Younger (c. 4BC – 65AD). In his seventh book he tries to get to grips with the link between pleasure and goodness, and whether the two things go together or are in fact unconnected.  The following is my effort to present Seneca’s writing in more accessible form of English than most academic Latin translations.  Please see below for further explanation of this project, and some more information about Seneca himself.

Even the people who say that the greatest form of goodness is in their stomachs*, look what a dishonourable place they identify as its location. They say that pleasure goes hand in hand with virtue, and that nobody can live honourably without living cheerfully, or live cheerfully without living honourably. I do not see how these very different things are connected.

What prevents virtue existing in the absence of pleasure? The reason, of course, is that all good things derive their origin from virtue, and therefore even things you cherish and search for have roots in virtue. But if they were entirely inseparable, we would not find anything that is pleasant but not honourable, or anything that is most honourable indeed, but hard and achieved only by suffering.

In addition to this, pleasure visits the most immoral lives, but virtue cannot co-exist with a life of evil. Some unhappy people are not living lives without pleasure. In fact, it is because of pleasure that they are unhappy. This could not happen if pleasure had any connection with virtue, whereas virtue is often without pleasure, and never requires it.

Why link together two things which are different and even incompatible with one another? Virtue is a lofty quality, sublime, royal, unconquerable, untiring. Pleasure is low, slavish, weak, perishable. It makes its home in brothels and pubs. You will find virtue in the temple, the market place, the senate house, guarding the walls, covered with dust, sunburnt, with calloused hands. You will find pleasure skulking out of sight, looking for shadowy corners at the public baths, the hot rooms, place which fear the visits of the authorities, weak, lethargic, reeking of wine and perfume, or drugged and covered in make up like a corpse.

The greatest good is immortal. It knows no ending, and is never satisfied or regretful. A balanced mind never changes or hates itself, and the best things in life are also unchanging. But pleasure dies at the exact moment when it charms us the most. It has no staying power, and so it nauseates and exhausts us, fading away as soon as its first impulse is over. We cannot depend on anything whose nature is to change. So it is not possible that there could be any substance to something that comes and goes so quickly, and which perishes by exercising its own function. It arrives at the point when it ends, and even when it starts it keeps its end in sight.

* the Latin here is ilium, which could be translated as stomach or groin. Either make sense. Seneca is talking about people who prioritise physical pleasures over anything else.


Seneca was a philosopher, a dramatist, a satirist, a senator and a tutor and advisor to Nero.  He was also a vegetarian for a grand total of one year, until his father persuaded him to abandon the “foreign” practice.  After his retirement he was accused (probably falsely) of being involved in an attempt to assassinate Nero, and was forced to commit suicide, which he did with calm dignity and stoicism (or so the story goes – history is rarely told in an unbiased manner), after attending to his final letters.

Seneca wrote 124 letters tackling issues of morality, and they are absolutely fascinating and still thought-provoking today.  At least, they are thought-provoking if they are translated in an accessible manner.

We will look at some more of Seneca’s advice about how to achieve happiness next time.


An explanation of this project:

Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations.  For these Seneca translations I will be working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation by Aubrey Stewart from 1900.

Let’s look at what Seneca wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Seneca really had to say.


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Home Dentistry with Acid and String

An advert printed in “How to Make and Save Money”

Snippets 168.  In 1903 a book of useful household advice was published in Australia, How to Make and Save Money.  These kinds of books are always interesting to look at to see how things have changed, and often the advice will make you cringe.  For example, the following are a couple of quotes concerning problematic teeth.  Do not try them at home:

To make Brown Teeth White. Apply carefully over the teeth a stick dipped in strong acetic or nitric acid, and immediately wash out the mouth with cold water. To make the teeth even, if irregular, draw a piece of fine string betwixt them.

To Cure Toothache. Take equal parts of camphor, sulphuric ether, ammonia, laudanum, tincture of cayenne, and one-eight part oil of olives. Mix well together, saturate with the liquid a small piece of cotton wool and apply to the cavity of the diseased tooth. The pain will cease instantly.

If you thought tooth hygiene was poorly understood a century ago, how about allergies?  According to the author of How to Make and Save Money, if you were dairy intolerant you had simply brought it upon yourself:

Milk. This partakes both of animal and vegetable substances, and is a natural and wholesome food in its fluid state; and its productions of cheese and butter are among our best materials of diet. Those with whom milk disagrees are not in a healthy state; their stomachs reject milk chiefly because of irregularities in their mode of living.

The author also had very strong opinions about alcohol, and why it should be avoided:

Water Drinking. Some of the most hale and active men are mere water-drinkers. Webb, a noted pedestrian, never took even a drink of ale in his severe trials of active labour; perhaps he had reason to fear that if he tasted any strong liquor, the desire of excessive indulgence might have overcome his resolution. Many men have this unfortunate weakness, and to them “touch not — taste not” must be the strict rule, or they fall. Be this as it may regarding Mr. Webb, the following anecdote is told of him. He was one day recommending his system to a friend who loved strong drink, and pressing him to quit a course by which his health and intellect would be destroyed. The gentleman was so far convinced, that he declared he would leave off strong liquors by degrees. “By degrees!” said Mr. Webb, with warmth; “if you should unhappily fall into the fire, would you caution your servant to pull you out by degrees?” To say that water is not nourishing, and that wine and spirits and malt liquors are, is foolish; these excite and stimulate, but they do not truly nourish. They are sometimes useful as medicines, to assist digestion or refresh exhausted strength; but on the whole they cause infinitely more harm than good to the body.

Next week we will look at some useful notes on etiquette from the same book.


If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Childhood Happiness Regained (Seneca 6)

The Education of the Children of Clovis, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Seneca the Younger (c. 4BC – 65AD) had strong opinions about how to achieve happiness, and he wrote about them in De Vita Beata (“About a Happy Life”).  The sixth book (don’t worry, the “books” are just big paragraphs) is a slightly more difficult one to get to grips with, and I have taken a few more liberties than usual with the translation to really get Seneca’s intended meaning across, which is generally lost in a cloud of fusty old academic translation.

Picking up on his theme of living life by reason and rejecting the obsession with physical or transient pleasure, Seneca starts the next section by imagining an opponent to his views, and the opinion that would be offered.  Please see below for some interpretation of this book, further explanation of this project, and some more information about Seneca himself.

The opposite viewpoint is this: the mind wants its pleasures.

Let it have them then.  Let it become an expert in luxury and pleasure.  Let it indulge itself fully in everything that gives delight to the senses.  Then let it reflect on the pleasures of the past and with all those fading sensations fresh in the memory let it look forward happily and eagerly to other pleasures from the distant pass that will return, and it intends to experience once again.

While the body is helplessly devoted to instant gratification, let it look to the future and take stock of its hopes.  All this will make it appear even more wretched, in my opinion, because it is insanity to choose evil instead of good.  No insane person can be happy, and nobody can be sane if he regards what is harmful to the soul as the ultimate good, and strives to obtain it.

A happy man, therefore, is one who can make a sound judgement in all matters.  A happy man is one who is satisfied with his present circumstances, whatever they may be, and at peace with the conditions of his life.  A happy man is one whose reasoning dictates the manner in which he lives his entire life.

I think there is an important point there that Seneca doesn’t exactly make clear (and it is even less clear in the original Latin and virtually absent from the traditional translations), which I have tried to bring out a little more with careful choice of words: the distinction between pleasure-seeking (which Seneca thinks leads to misery, or at least not a lasting happiness) and the innocent, simpler pleasures of the past. Although he doesn’t actually mention childhood, I think that is probably the point he is grappling for when he says that those pleasures will return. After all, old age is often considered to be a return to childhood in some ways, gaining freedom from financial pressures and responsibilities, etc. But Seneca’s final point in this book reiterates the main thrust of his argument so far: be content with what you have, and make judgements through logic, not passion.

Whether that’s a good way to live life or not is open to opinion!


Seneca was a philosopher, a dramatist, a satirist, a senator and a tutor and advisor to Nero.  He was also a vegetarian for a grand total of one year, until his father persuaded him to abandon the “foreign” practice.  After his retirement he was accused (probably falsely) of being involved in an attempt to assassinate Nero, and was forced to commit suicide, which he did with calm dignity and stoicism (or so the story goes – history is rarely told in an unbiased manner), after attending to his final letters.

Seneca wrote 124 letters tackling issues of morality, and they are absolutely fascinating and still thought-provoking today.  At least, they are thought-provoking if they are translated in an accessible manner.

We will look at some more of Seneca’s advice about how to achieve happiness next time.


An explanation of this project:

Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations.  For these Seneca translations I will be working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation by Aubrey Stewart from 1900.

Let’s look at what Seneca wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Seneca really had to say.

The Education of the Children of Clovis, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Gollup up, Gollumpus!

Hoddy doddy, all a*se and no body.

Snippets 167.  Francis Grose (1731-1791) was a noted antiquarian who wrote a series of books about medieval antiquities. Financial difficulties inspired him to branch out into other areas of writing, and in 1785 his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published. Slang was a good choice of topic, as it would be entertaining and have a wide appeal. However, it stands as a useful record of the language in the 18th Century beyond the formal language studied by lexicographers. Previously we looked at some selected terms from letters A to F, so let’s continue with some examples beginnning with G and H, chosen (in the spirit of the original publication) for entertainment value as much as anything.

Galligaskins: breeches.

Gammon: to humbug, to deceive, to tell lies.  What rum gammon the old file pitched to the flat (how finely the knowing old fellow humbugged the fool).

Garret, or upper story: the head.  His garret, or upper story is empty, or unfurnished.

Gawkey: a tall, thin, awkward young man or woman.

Gentleman’s companion: a louse.

German duck: half a sheep’s head, boiled with onions.

Gingambobs: toys, bawbles.

Glass eyes: a nickname for one wearing spectacles.

Glimflashy: angry, or in a passion.

Gluepot: a parson, from joining men and women together in matrimony.

Go by the Ground: a little short person, man or woman.

Gollumpus: a large, clumsy fellow.

Gollup up: to drink down quickly.

Green gown: to give a girl a green gown (to tumble her on the grass, and pick the pins out of her frock).

Grimalkin: a cat.

Grog-blossom: a carbuncle, or pimple on the face, caused by drinking.

Grumbletonian: a discontented person, one who is always railing at the times or ministry.

Haddock: a purse.  A haddock stuffed with beans (i.e. a purse full of gold).

Hang an A*se: to hang back, hesitate.

Hard at his A*se: close after him.

Hatchway: the mouth.

Head rails: teeth.

Hearty Choak: he will have a hearty choak and caper sauce for breakfast (he will be hanged).

Hertfordshire Kindness: drinking twice to the same person.

Hobbledygee: a pace between a walk and a run, a dog-trot.

Hob or Nob: will you hob or nob with me?  A question formerly in fashion at polite tables, signifying a request or challenge to drink a glass of wine with the proposer.

Hoddy Doddy, all A*se and no Body: a short, clumsy person, either male or female.

Hodmandods: snails in their shells.

Hog Grubber: a mean, stingy fellow.

Hop-O’-My-Thumb: a diminutive person, man or woman.  She was such a hop-o’-my-thumb, that a pigeon, sitting on her shoulder, might peck a pea out of her a*se.

Hopper A*sed: having large projecting buttocks.

Hop the Twig: to run away.

Hugger Mugger: by stealth, privately, without making an appearance.  They spent their money in a hugger mugger way.

Hyp or Hip: a mode of calling to anyone passing by.  Hip, Michael, your head’s on fire (a piece of vulgar wit to a red haired man).

I would imagine that last one wore thin pretty quickly for 18th Century redheads.

With apologies for the vulgarities.  They made me laugh.


If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Life’s Little Scratches (Seneca 5)

corsica

Corsica, the island where Seneca was exiled by Claudius (photo by Mauro Cavallo, from Wikimedia Commons)

Seneca the Younger (c. 4BC – 65AD) had strong opinions about how to achieve happiness, and he wrote about them in De Vita Beata (“About a Happy Life”).  Being a stoic, a lot of his advice concerns stability in life rather than transient pleasures, and the theme of his fifth book (don’t worry, the “books” are just big paragraphs) is very much about not getting distracted by physical pleasure.  The following is my own translation, with the original text rendered into a style of English that is easily readable, unlike a lot of academic translations of Latin.  Please see below for further explanation of this project, and some more information about Seneca himself.

Now that I have allowed myself the freedom to define happiness, a man is happy who, thanks to logic, has ceased to either hope or fear. But rocks also do not feel fear or sadness, and nor do cattle, yet nobody would call them happy, because they cannot understand what happiness means. You can put into the same category as them the men whose dull nature and lack of self-knowledge reduces them to the level of cattle, mere animals. There is no difference between the one or the other, because animals have no logic, while those men have only a corrupted form of it, crooked, cunning and damaging to themselves.

Nobody can be happy if they are beyond the understanding of truth. Consequently, a happy life is unchangeable, and is founded upon true and reliable wisdom. The mind is uncontaminated and free from all evils only when it is able to escape not just from life’s wounds, but also life’s little scratches. Then it will always be able to stand its ground, defending even against the angry onslaught of bad fortune.

As for physical pleasures, they may surround us on all sides and use every means of attack, trying to win over the mind with their charms and using every possible strategy to distract our minds, completely or in part. But what mortal who retains any traces of humanity would want to be tempted day and night, and devote himself to bodily pleasures, neglecting his mind?

I’ll leave readers of this blog to answer Seneca’s question themselves, but personally I think having the strength of mind to escape “life’s scratches” as well as “life’s wounds” is a stunningly clever point from Seneca.  Sometimes it can be the little things in life that prey on the mind the most.


Seneca was a philosopher, a dramatist, a satirist, a senator and a tutor and advisor to Nero.  He was also a vegetarian for a grand total of one year, until his father persuaded him to abandon the “foreign” practice.  After his retirement he was accused (probably falsely) of being involved in an attempt to assassinate Nero, and was forced to commit suicide, which he did with calm dignity and stoicism (or so the story goes – history is rarely told in an unbiased manner), after attending to his final letters.

Seneca wrote 124 letters tackling issues of morality, and they are absolutely fascinating and still thought-provoking today.  At least, they are thought-provoking if they are translated in an accessible manner.

We will look at some more of Seneca’s advice about how to achieve happiness next time.


An explanation of this project:

Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations.  For these Seneca translations I will be working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation by Aubrey Stewart from 1900.

Let’s look at what Seneca wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Seneca really had to say.

corsica

Corsica, the island where Seneca was exiled by Claudius (photo by Mauro Cavallo, from Wikimedia Commons)


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

Posted in 1st Century, Books, History, Inspiration, Latin, People | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment