Your lot is painful, I admit. But it is best, you know, to bear life’s harsh necessities as lightly as you can.
Euripides, Helen, Line 253
Difficult lines to accept. Stoic philosophy says the same thing, that we cannot control what is not up to us, only the things that are (up to us). Epictetus talks about this a lot in his Enchiridion and Marcus Aurelius states these very clearly in his Meditations. But how to follow these? That is the question. It is difficult.
But we must endure. We must move on. As the previous post recently states, When things look really bad. The bear turns from bad to good and back again. When things are good we prepare for the bad, and when bad, you should prepare for the good. That is our fortuna.
Aeneas suffered much when he left Troy to found a new land. He sailed through tumultuous waters and dangers. Eventually he reached Italy to find even more trouble. But he endured and through that came Rome itself. It is easy to tell these stories of endurance and courage but to live by them in our own lives is the real challenge.
Ridebis, et licet rideas. Ego, ille quem nosti, apros tres et quidem pulcherrimos cepi. “Ipse?” inquis. Ipse; non tamen ut omnino ab inertia mea et quiete discederem. Ad retia sedebam; erat in proximo non venabulum aut lancea, sed stilus et pugillares; meditabar aliquid enotabamque, ut si manus vacuas, plenas tamen ceras reportarem. Non est quod contemnas hoc studendi genus; mirum est ut animus agitatione motuque corporis excitetur; iam undique silvae et solitudo ipsumque illud silentium quod venationi datur, magna cogitationis incitamenta sunt. Proinde cum venabere, licebit auctore me ut panarium et lagunculam sic etiam pugillares feras: experieris non Dianam magis montibus quam Minervam inerrare.
Pliny the Younger, Letter I.6
Mirum est ut animus agitatione motuque corporis excitetur; iam undique silvae et solitudo ipsumque illud silentium quod venationi datur, magna cogitationis incitamenta sunt.
Pliny is writing a letter to Tacitus, yes, the Historian. He says that how wonderful it is that the mind is sharpened by physical exercise, movement of the body. More importantly he says being alone in the silence of the woods which is a given for hunting and can be substituted by camping or a walk in the woods is a great incitement or stimulus of thought (cogitationis).
How the modern world keeps reminding us that this is true. Yet 2000 years ago, writers like Pliny or Seneca, urged people to get outside. Plato also states in the republic that you cannot have a mind without the body. See Exercise the mind and body.
So I urge you to get outside, maybe not to hunt, but to go camping, run, walk in the woods. Exercise the body so that to have a sound mind. As Horace says Carpe Diem. See Carpe diem.
Friends, hitherto we have been not at all ignorant of sorrow; surely this evil that besets us now is no greater than when the Cyclops penned us in his hollow cave by brutal strength; yet even from there we made our escape through my valor and counsel and wit; these dangers, too, I think, we shall some day remember.
Later Vergil quoted similar lines in his Epic the Aeneid.
O comrades—for ere this we have not been ignorant of misfortune—you who have suffered worse, this also the gods will end. You drew near to Scylla’s fury and her deep-echoing crags; you have known, too, the rocks of the Cyclopes; recall your courage and banish sad fear. Perhaps even this distress it will some day be a joy to recall.
O socii (neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum),
o passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem.
vos et Scyllaeam rabiem penitusque sonantis
accestis scopulos, vos et Cyclopia saxa
experti; revocate animos maestumque timorem
mittite; forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
Virgil, The Aeneid, Book I, Lines 198-203
Yes, even the greatest of poets plagiarized! But Virgil is imitating the best. Isn’t that how we should be? The Stoics said we should imitate The Sage, but we can never be the Sage, we can never ‘be good’ as Simonides says. So even in your hard times, endure, be patient, the bear will turn in time from misfortune to fortune again and back. (See Do ut des. I give so that you may give.).
As the Chorus says to Deianeira in The Women of Trachis by Sophocles:
When you complain of this fortune, I feel with you, but I shall oppose you; for I say that you should not wear away all hopefulness. Not even the son of Kronos, who ordains all things, has given mortals a fate free from pain; but as it were the revolving paths of the Bear bring to all suffering and joy in turn. For neither spangled Night nor spirits of death nor riches abide for mortals, but joy or loss at once is gone, and then comes back.
ὧν ἐπιμεμφομένας ἁδεῖα
μέν, ἀντία δ᾿ οἴσω.
φαμὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἀποτρύειν
ἐλπίδα τὰν ἀγαθὰν
χρῆναί σ᾿· ἀνάλγητα γὰρ οὐδ᾿
ὁ πάντα κραίνων βασιλεὺς
ἐπέβαλε θνατοῖς Κρονίδας·
ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ πῆμα καὶ χαρὰν
πᾶσι κυκλοῦσιν οἷον Ἄρ-
κτου στροφάδες κέλευθοι.
μένει γὰρ οὔτ᾿ αἰόλα
νὺξ βροτοῖσιν οὔτε κῆ-
ρες οὔτε πλοῦτος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄφαρ
βέβακε, τῷ δ᾿ ἐπέρχεται
χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.
Sophocles, The Women of Trachis, Lines 122-135
These are hard for us to hear. But in time things will get better.
As Horace says in Ode 1.24 to his friend Virgil:
It is hard. But becomes lighter with patience
whatever is not allowed by Nature to correct.
durum: sed levius fit patientia
quidquid corrigere est nefas.
Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.
Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus.
Horace, Satires, Book I, IX, line 59
I found this quote in a old Latin text from the 1930’s, Latin Second Year, Berry-Lee, 1938.
Work hard. Study hard. How many times have you heard that?
The more and more I live, the more and more I see that this adage is true, through and through. It doesn’t mean you work forever and never take a break or never enjoy life, but the people who have succeeded in life, are the hard workers.
Cum multum laborēs, multa discēs.
Unknown…I found in the Ecce Romani series.
When you work much, you learn many things.
I keep coming back constantly in my readings to Horace. Once in awhile, a small quote will pop up somewhere, in a Latin text or some book, or as a word of advice on a website. And again, I am reminded and pickup his text and read some more, after enduring a grueling work week or some other vicissitude of life. He has so many wonderful sayings that speak to us even now about life, about the brevity of life, about the importance of living in the moment and cherishing what you have, and enduring life’s hardships and despairs. All this sounds like cliche but they are not.
Read some Horace especially what I have posted here. Time and time again you will agree with him. Pick up Horace’s Odes, Epodes, and Satires. They are a joy to read.
Of course Aesop has much to say about this as well:
During the summer, the ant went around the fields collecting grains of wheat and barley so that he could store up some food for the winter. A dung beetle watched the ant and decided that he must be a wretched creature since he worked all the time, never taking a moment’s rest, unlike the other animals. The ant didn’t pay attention to the dung beetle and simply went about his business. When winter came and the dung was washed away by the rain, the beetle grew hungry. He went to the ant and begged him to share a little bit of his food. The ant replied, ‘O beetle, if you had done some work yourself instead of making fun of me while I was working so hard, then you would not need to be asking me for food.’
The fable teaches us that we should not neglect important things that require our attention, and instead we should attend in good time to our future well-being.
During the wintertime, an ant was living off the grain that he had stored up for himself during the summer. The cricket came to the ant and asked him to share some of his grain. The ant said to the cricket, ‘And what were you doing all summer long, since you weren’t gathering grain to eat?’ The cricket replied, ‘Because I was busy singing I didn’t have time for the harvest.’ The ant laughed at the cricket’s reply, and hid his heaps of grain deeper in the ground. ‘Since you sang like a fool in the summer,’ said the ant, ‘you better be prepared to dance the winter away!’
This fable depicts lazy, careless people who indulge in foolish pastimes, and therefore lose out.
But there can be consequences to working too much, so there must be a balance:
Ants gather up a big pile of grain so that they can consume it during the winter, but at a certain point the pigs come along and they scatter the grain and eat it all up.
A fable against the vain accumulation of material goods.
The same thing often happens to people: they gather much and often, but thieves come, or the bailiffs of the prince, or their own family members, and everything gets devoured, or else they end up leaving their wealth to strangers.
Source: Aesop’s Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World’s Classics): Oxford, 2002.
NOTE: New cover, with new ISBN, published in 2008; contents of book unchanged.
Also the Penguin Classics book on Aesop’s Complete Fables is a good read before bedtime. Maybe once a day, open to wherever it guides you and read the fable listed. You will be surprised how much advice is there.
We have all heard, I presume, that traveling will make you feel better, especially during Christmas Holiday, New Years, or for that matter, the Saturnalia.
“Go on holiday!”
“Get out of here. It will make you feel better!”
And on and on.
Seneca in his Epistles (letters) has something to say about this, and we should take heed:
Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate (i.e. you should change your attitude not your surroundings.) Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil remarks,
“Lands and cities are left behind,”
Virgil, Book III. Line 72.
your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.
Seneca, Epistles, Letter XXVIII.1
Hoc tibi soli putas accidisse et admiraris quasi rem novam, quod peregrinatione tam longa et tot locorum varietatibus non discussisti tristitiam gravitatemque mentis? Animum debes mutare, non caelum. Licet vastum traieceris mare, licet, ut ait Vergilius noster,
“Terraeque urbesque recedant,”
Virgil, Liber III.72
sequentur te, quocumque perveneris, vitia.
Seneca, Epistula, XXVIII.1
Your faults, your problems will follow you. They go where you go. The cure is to deal with them internally, in your mind, in your soul. Once you do this you may go anywhere. You are only masking this when you travel and eventually it will come to the surface and become apparent.
Horace also discusses this in his own Epistles, I.11.27 as mentioned by Elaine Fantham in Seneca – Selected Letters:
And you—whatever hour God has given for your weal, take it with grateful hand, nor put off joys from year to year; so that, in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily. For if ’tis reason and wisdom that take away cares, and not a site commanding a wide expanse of sea, they change their clime, not their mind, who rush across the sea.a ’Tis a busy idleness that is our bane; with yachts and cars we seek to make life happy.
What you are seeking is here…
Horace, Epistles, I.11.27
tu quamcumque deus tibi fortunaverit horam
grata sume manu, neu dulcia differ in annum;
ut quocumque loco fueris vixisse libenter
te dicas. nam si ratio et prudentia curas,
non locus effusi late maris arbiter aufert,
caelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt.
strenua nos exercet inertia: navibus atque
quadrigis petimus bene vivere. quod petis hic est…
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Epistulae I.11.27
However, I’d like to add my slight dissent.
Sometimes, taking a break into nature or another surrounding that is comforting can help us deal with our internal struggles. As long as you know this, traveling can be a respite and a cure for our damaged soul. But we must be aware of this: traveling itself does not help us, we help ourselves. So read these letters and delve into other letters by these authors. They will comfort you on your travels.
Seneca in the same letter then quotes Socrates to add legitimacy to his claim:
How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you?
Socrates (Unknown Source – I am unable to cite this source).
How can novelty of surroundings abroad and becoming acquainted with foreign scenes or cities be of any help? You are running away form your own company. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.
Quid cognitio urbium aut locorum? In inritum cedit ista iactatio. Quaeris quare te fuga ista non adiuvet? Tecum fugis.
The very dashing about just adds to the trouble it causes you.
As it is, intend of traveling, you are rambling and drifting, exchanging one place for another when the thing you are looking for, the good life, is available everywhere.
quod quaeris, bene vivere, omni loco positum sit.
Again, it (traveling) can be a temporary respite from your troubles, but unless confronted (i.e your troubles, problems, internal conflicts), they remain.
That trouble once removed, all change of scene will become pleasant; though you may be driven to the uttermost ends of the earth, in whatever corner of a savage land you may find yourself, that place, however forbidding, will be to you a hospitable abode.
At cum istud exemeris malum, omnis mutatio loci iucunda fiet; in ultimas expellaris terras licebit, in quolibet barbariae angulo conloceris, hospitalis tibi illa qualiscumque sedes erit.
Socrates said, “For a start then we must introduce children to arithmetic and geometry while they are young, and they must be taught all the preliminaries before they tackle dialectic, without making them learn the system of education compulsorily.”
“What do you mean?”
“No free man should learn any subject under forced labor,” I said. “While physical exertion undertaken by force has no adverse effect on the body, any exercise forced on the soul has no lasting value.”
“True,” he said.
“So don’t bring your children up by force in their studies,” I said, “but in a playful way so that you are in a better position also to observe what the natural abilities of each pupil are.”
People often dismiss the education of children. Plato discusses this explicitly in the Republic. However, it is also discussed by many other authors including Roman authors such as Quintilian and Plutarch.
Quintilianus mentions that forced education, possibly looking back at Plato, is bad for children:
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. A.D. 35-c. 95) was born in Calagurris, Spain, and was brought as a child to Home. Emperor Vespasian appointed him public teacher of oratory in Rome; among his pupils were Pliny the Younger and the future emperor Hadrian. At the age of 48 Quintilian retired from teaching to find time to write his celebrated Institutio Oratoria. The quotations below taken from this book demonstrate that his ideas on childhood education might have been written by a contemporary educator.
Above all things we must take care that the child, who is not yet old enough to love his studies, does not come to hate them and dread the bitterness which he has once tasted, even when the years of infancy are left behind. His studies must be made an amusement.
Study depends on the good will of the student, a quality that cannot be secured by compulsion.
I disapprove of flogging, although it is the regular custom and meets with the acquiescence of Chrysippus [the Stoic philosopher], because in the first place it Is a disgraceful form of punishment and in any case it is an insult, as you will realize if you imagine its infliction at a later age.
I will content myself with saying that children are helpless and easily victimized, and that therefore no one should be given unlimited power over them.
Taken from Pediatrics, November 1973, VOLUME 52 / ISSUE 5. Which summarizes his ancient work: Institutio Oratoria
Nec sum adeo aetatium inprudens ut instandum protinus teneris acerbe putem exigendamque plane operam. Nam id in primis cavere oportebit, ne studia qui amare nondum potest oderit et amaritudinem semel perceptam etiam ultra rudes annos reformidet. Lusus hic sit, et rogetur et laudetur et numquam non fecisse se gaudeat, aliquando ipso nolente doceatur alius cui invideat, contendat interim et saepius vincere se putet: praemiis etiam, quae capit illa aetas, evocetur.
Quintilianus, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1.1, 20.
As a educator myself and a father, I have found it difficult to teach when a child is insolent or lazy or acts as if they do not want to learn. I have gotten angry and insolent myself but now realize that these were mistakes. The child learns less and does not enjoy learning anymore. We must take heed in this and apply ancient philosophy to our techniques. Use other forms or methods that help the child enjoy learning, not despise it.
Remember they are a sponge absorbing knowledge instantaneously. As Critias says to Socrates in the Timaeus, Line 26B:
Marvellous, indeed, is the way in which the lessons of one’s childhood “grip the mind,” as the saying is. For myself, I know not whether I could recall to mind all that I heard yesterday; but as to the account I heard such a great time ago, I should be immensely surprised if a single detail of it has escaped me.
Take a step back, reevaluate the methods, stop, or continue the lesson with less and build upon it the next day. For the teacher, read Quintilianus, read Plato, and read Plutarch as well. Then become a better teacher and person.
The republic by Plato is a book about questioning what is Justice, but it is also about how to find the True Form of the Good. Actually at the end of book IX, Socrates surprisingly says that the construction of the Just City can probably never happen on this earth and that we must construct it within our minds instead. But how do go about that? One hint is given in The Symposium, by the Priestess from Mantinea, Diotima.
She says, and I am quoting from the end of the Republic by Plato, Appendix I, translated by Desmond Lee, by Penguine books (Because he summarizes it so well. I paraphrase it here with additions):
Anyone who wants to pursue this goal correctly must begin by turning to physical beauty, and then if he (or she) gets the right guidance fall in love with a particular individual and with her (or him) produce thought of beauty. He/She must then perceive that the beauty in one individual is similar to that in another, and that if beauty of form is what he/she is pursuing it is stupid not to recognize that the beauty exhibited by all individuals is the same. With that recognition he/she becomes the lover of all physical beauty, and his/her passion for a single individual slackens as something of a small account.
The next stage is for him/her to reckon beauty of mind more valuable than beauty of body, and if he/she meets someone who has an attractive mind but little bodily charm, to be content to love and care for him/her and produce thoughts which improve the young; this again will compel him/her to look for beauty in habits of life and customs and to recognize that here again all beauty is akin, and that bodily beauty is a poor thing in comparison.
From ways of life he/she must proceed to forms of knowledge and see their beauty too, and look to the fullness of beauty as a whole, giving up the slavish and small-minded devotion to individual examples, whether a girl or boy, man or woman, or a way of life, and turning instead to the great sea of beauty now before their eyes. They can then in their generous philosophical love beget great and beautiful words and thoughts, and be strengthened to glimpse the one supreme form of knowledge, whose object is the beauty of which I will now speak…For anyone who has been guided so far in their pursuit of love, and surveyed these beauties in right and due order, will at this final stage of love suddenly have revealed to himself or herself a beauty whose nature is marvelous indeed, which is the culmination of all his/her efforts.
Plato, The Symposium, Lines 210a-e
Another is that we must meditate and look inwards. This is suggested by Buddhism, but also by Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius says that we should not expect or hope for Plato’s Republic. We should not even hope for approval by others. This is a personal journey.
Marcus Aurelius says:
The universal cause is a torrent, sweeping everything in its stream. So, man, what does that mean for you? Do what nature requires at this moment. Start straight away, if that is in your power: don’t look over your shoulder to see if people will know. Don’t hope for Plato’s utopian republic, but be content with the smallest step forward, and regard even that result as unimportant.
μὴ τὴν Πλάτωνος πολιτείαν ἔλπιζε.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IX, 29.
Bronson Alcott, and George Ripley, tried to found Utopian Schools in Massachusetts in the 19th century, but these schools, Fruitlands and Brookfarm, failed miserably. Bronson Alcott’s daughter, yes, you know her, Louis May Alcott, wrote about it in Wild Oats. So find beauty in things and knowledge. Find it in architecture, nature, in your own mind. Find it in the minds of others, not just their bodies.
Menander sums it up in one of his Sententiae #851:
Ψυχῆς ὄλεθρός ἐστι σωμάτων ἔρως.
Destruction of/for the soul is love of bodies (only).
I added the implicit, “only”. So although we all start out loving bodies and people, you must progress beyond this to attain true knowledge and wisdom, and to see the Form of the Good.