philosophiae servias oportet, ut tibi contingat vera libertas.
Senena, Letter VIII.
Which form of slavery is truly acceptable? Slavery to Philosophy.
Why study philosophy? To be free.
Seneca the Younger says in his Letter VIII of Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium or Moral Letters (i.e. Letters from a Stoic – Penguin Classics) that the only freedom we have is to study Philosophy, that is to be a slave to Philosophy.
Excerpts from Letter VIII:
I point other men to the right path, which I have found late in life, when wearied with wandering. I cry out to them: “Avoid whatever pleases the throng: avoid the gifts of Chance! Halt before every good which Chance brings to you, in a spirit of doubt and fear; for it is the dumb animals and fish that are deceived by tempting hopes. Do you call these things the ‘gifts’ of Fortune? They are snares. And any man among you who wishes to live a life of safety will avoid, to the utmost of his power, these limed twigs of her favour, by which we mortals, most wretched in this respect also, are deceived; for we think that we hold them in our grasp, but they hold us in theirs. Such a career leads us into precipitous ways, and life on such heights ends in a fall. Moreover, we cannot even stand up against prosperity when she begins to drive us to leeward; nor can we go down, either, ‘with the ship at least on her course,’ or once for all; Fortune does not capsize us,—she plunges our bows under and dashes us on the rocks.
“Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life; that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health.
The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind. Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.
It matters little whether the house be built of turf, or of variously coloured imported marble; understand that a man is sheltered just as well by a thatch as by a roof of gold. Despise everything that useless toil creates as an ornament and an object of beauty. And reflect that nothing except the soul is worthy of wonder; for to the soul, if it be great, naught is great.”
When I commune in such terms with myself and with future generations, do you not think that I am doing more good than when I appear as counsel in court, or stamp my seal upon a will, or lend my assistance in the senate, by word or action, to a candidate? Believe me, those who seem to be busied with nothing are busied with the greater tasks; they are dealing at the same time with things mortal and things immortal.
“If you would enjoy real freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy.” The man who submits and surrenders himself to her is not kept waiting; he is emancipated on the spot. For the very service of Philosophy is freedom.
How many poets give forth ideas that have been uttered, or may be uttered, by philosophers! I need not touch upon the tragedians and our writers of national drama; for these last are also somewhat serious, and stand half-way between comedy and tragedy. What a quantity of sagacious verses lie buried in the mime!
How many of Publilius’s lines are worthy of being spoken by buskin-clad actors, as well as by wearers of the slipper! I shall quote one verse of his, which concerns philosophy, and particularly that phase of it which we were discussing a moment ago, wherein he says that the gifts of Chance are not to be regarded as part of our possessions:
Still alien is whatever you have gained By coveting.a
I recall that you yourself expressed this idea much more happily and concisely:
What Chance has made yours is not really yours.b
And a third, spoken by you still more happily, shall not be omitted:
The good that could be given, can be removed.c
Excerpts- Seneca the Younger, Epistles, Letter VIII – on the philosopher’s seclusion.
People are slaves to their social media, newspapers, work, consumerism, and past times – positive and negative. We accept these forms of slavery daily.
Why should we?