Here Seneca Meditations Excerpt
Seneca's Daily Meditation Practice
How much better it is to perceive its first beginnings - how slight, how harmless they are! You will find that the same thing happens with a man which you observe in dumb animals; we are ruffled by silly and petty things. The bull is aroused by a red colour, the asp strikes at a shadow, bears and lions are irritated by a handkerchief; all creatures by nature wild and savage are alarmed by trifles. The same is true of men, whether they are by nature restless or inert. They are smitten with suspicions, so powerfully, even,that they sometimes call moderate benefits injuries; these are the most common, certainly the most bitter, source of anger. For we become angry at our dearest friends because they have bestowed less than we anticipated, and less than they conferred upon another; and yet for both troubles there is a ready remedy. More favour has been shown another; then let us without making comparison be pleased with what we have. That man will never be happy whom the sight of a happier man tortures. I may have less than I hoped for; but perhaps I hoped for more than I ought. It is from this direction that we have most to fear; from this springs the anger that is most destructive, that will assail all that is most holy. Among those who dispatched the divine Julius there were more friends than enemies - friends whose insatiate hopes he had failed to satisfy, He wished <Ess1-329>
ON ANGER, III. xxx. 4-xxxi. 3 indeed to do so - for no man ever made a more generous use of victory, from which he claimed nothing for himself except the right to give away - but how could he gratify such unconscionable desires, since every one of them coveted as much as any one could possibly covet? And so he saw his fellow-soldiers around his chair with their swords drawn - Tillius Cimber, a little while before the boldest defender of his cause, and others who, after Pompey was no more, had at length become Pompeians./a It is this that turns against kings their own weapons, and drives their most trusted followers to the point of planning for the death of those for whom and before whom they had vowed to die. No man when he views the lot of others is content with his own. This is why we grow angry even at the gods, because some person is ahead of us, forgetting how many men there are behind us, and how huge a mass of envy follows at the back of him who envies but a few. Nevertheless such is the presumptuousness of men that, although they may have received much, they count it an injury that they might have received more. "He gave me the praetorship, but I had hoped for the consulship; he gave me the twelve fasces, but he did not make me a regular consul; he was willing that my name should be attached to the year,/b but he disappointed me with respect to the priesthood; I was elected a member of the college, but why of one only? he crowned me with public honour, but he added nothing to my patrimony; what he gave me he had to give to somebody - he took nothing out of his own pocket." Express thanks rather for what you have received; wait for the rest, and be glad that you are not yet surfeited. There is a <Ess1-331>
ON ANGER, III. xxxi. 3-xxxiii. 1 pleasure in having something left to hope for. Have you outstripped all others? Rejoice that you are first in the regard of your friend. Are there many who outstrip you? Consider how many more you are ahead of than behind, Do you ask me what is your greatest fault? Your book-keeping is wrong; what you have paid out you take high; what you have received, low. Different considerations should in different cases restrain us. From some let fear stay our anger, from others respect, from others pride. A fine thing we shall have done, no doubt, if we send a wretched slave to prison! Why are we in such a hurry to flog him at once, to break his legs forthwith? Such power,though deferred, will not perish. Wait for the time when the order will be our own; at the moment we shall speak under the dictation of anger; when that has passed, then we shall be able to see at what value we should appraise the damage. For it is in this that we are most liable to be wrong. We resort to the sword and to capital punishment, and an act that deserves the censure of a very light flogging we punish by chains, the prison, and starvation. "In what way," you ask, "do you bid us discover how paltry, how pitiful, how childish are all those things by which we think we are injured?" I, assuredly, could suggest nothing better than that you acquire a truly great spirit, and that you realize how sordid and worthless are all these things for the sake of which we wrangle, rush to and fro, and pant; these do not deserve a thought from the man who has any high and noble purpose. Most of the outcry is about money. It is this which wearies the courts, pits father against son, brews poisons, and gives swords alike to the legions and to <Ess1-333>
ON ANGER, III. xxxiii. 1-xxxlv. 1 cut-throats it is daubed with our blood; because of it husbands and wives make night hideous with their quarrels, crowds swarm to the tribunals of the magistrates, kings rage and plunder and overthrow states that have been built by the long labour of centuries, in order that they may search for gold and silver in the very ashes of cities. It is a pleasure, you say, to see money-bags lying in the corner. But these are what men shout for until their eyeballs start; for the sake of these the law-courts resound with the din of trials, and jurors summoned from distant parts sit in judgement to decide which man's greed has the juster claim. But what if it is not even a bag of money, but only a handful of copper or a silver piece, reckoned by a slave, which causes an heirless old man on the verge of the grave to split with rage? And what if it is only a paltry one per cent of interest/a that causes the moneylender, sick though he be, with crippled feet and with gnarled hands that no longer serve for counting money, to shout aloud, and in the very throes of his malady to require securities for his pennies? If you were to offer me all the money from all the mines, which we are now so busy in digging, if you were to cast before my eves all the money that buried treasures hold - for greed restores to earth what it once in wickedness drew forth - I should not count that whole assembled hoard worth even a good man's frown. With what laughter should we attend the things that now draw tears from our eyes!
Come, now, run through the other causes of anger - foods, drinks, and the refinements in regard to them devised to gratify pride, insulting words, disrespectful gestures, stubborn beasts of burden and lazy slaves, <Ess1-335>
ON ANGER, III. xxxiv. 1-xxxv. 2 suspicion and the malicious misconstruction of another's words, the result of which is that the very gift of human speech is counted among the injustices of nature. Believe me, these things which incense us not a little are little things, likc the trifles that drive children to quarrels and blows. Not one of them, though we take them so tragically, is a serious matter, not one is important. From this, I say, from the fact that you attach great value to petty things, come your anger and your madness. This man wanted to rob me of my inheritance; this one slandered me to people whom I had long courted in the expectation of a legacy; this one coveted my mistress. The desire for the same thing, which ought to have been a bond of love,/a becomes the source of discord and of hatred. A narrow path drives passers-by to blows; on a wide and open road even a multitude will not jostle. Because the things you strive for are trifles, and yet cannot be given to one without robbing another, they provoke those desiring the same things to struggle and strife.
You are indignant because your slave, your freedman, your wife, or your client answered you back; and then you complain that the state has been deprived of that liberty of which you have deprived your own household. Again, you call it obstinacy if a man keeps silent when he is questioned. But let him speak and let him keep silent and let him laugh! "In the presence of his master?" you ask. Yes, even in the presence of the head of the family. Why do you shout? Why do you rant? Why do you call for the whip in the midst of dinner, all because the slaves are talking, because there is not the silence of the desert in a room that holds a crowd big as a <Ess1-337>
ON ANGER, III. xxxv. 3-xxxvi. 1 mass-meeting? You do not have ears only for the purpose of listening to melodious sounds, soft and sweetly drawn and all in harmony; you should also lend ear to laughter and weeping, to soft words and bitter, to happiness and sorrow, to the voices of men and the roars and barking of animals. Poor fellow! why do you shudder at the shouting of a slave, at the rattling of bronze, or the banging of a door? Although you are so sensitive, you have to listen to thunder. And all this which I have said about the ears you may apply as well to the eyes, which if they are not well schooled suffer not less from squeamishness. They are offended by a spot, by dirt, by tarnished silver, and by a pool that isonot transparent to the bottom. These same eyes, forsooth, that cannot tolerate marble unless it is mottled and polished with recent rubbing, that cannot tolerate a table unless it is marked by many a vein, that at home would see under foot only pavements more costly than gold - these eyes when outside will behold, all unmoved, rough and muddy paths and dirty people, as are most of those they meet, and tenement walls crumbled and cracked and out of line. Why is it, then, that we are not offended on the street, yet are annoyed at home, except that in the one case we are in an unruffled and tolerant state of mind, and in the other are peevish and fault-finding? All our senses ought to be trained to endurance. They are naturally long-sufffering, if only the mind desists from weakening them.
Start Here This should be summoned to give an account of itself every day. Sextius had this habit, and when the day was over and he had retired to his nightly rest, he would put <Ess1-339>
ON ANGER, III. xxxvi. 1-xxxvii. 1 these questions to his soul: "What bad habit have you cured to- day? What fault have you resisted? In what respect are you better?" Anger will cease and become more controllable if it finds that it must appear before a judge every day. Can anything be more excellent than this practice of thoroughly sifting the whole day? And how delightful the sleep that follows this self- examination - how tranquil it is, how deep and untroubled, when the soul has either praised or admonished itself, and when this secret examiner and critic of self has given report of its own character! I avail myself of this privilege, and every day I plead my cause before the bar of self. When the light has been removed from sight, and my wife, long aware of my habit, has become silent, I scan the whole of my day and retrace all my deeds and words. I conceal nothing from myself, I omit nothing. For why should I shrink from any of my mistakes, when I may commune thus with myself?
"See that you never do that again; I will pardon you this time. In that dispute, you spoke too offensively; after this don't have encounters with ignorant people; those who have never learned do not want to learn. You reproved that man more frankly than you ought, and consequently you have, not so much mended him as offended him. In the future, consider not only the truth of what you say, but also whether the man to whom you are speaking can endure the truth. A good man accepts reproof gladly; the worse a man is the more bitterly he resents it." At a banquet the wit of certain people and some words aimed to sting you reached their mark. But remember to avoid the entertainments of the vulgar; <Ess1-341>
ON ANGER, III. xxxvii. 1-5 after drinking their licence becomes too lax, because they want any sense of propriety even when they are sober. You saw one of your friends in a rage because the porter had thrust him out when he was trying to enter the house of some pettifogger or rich man, and you yourself on your friend's account became angry with that lowest kind of a slave. Will you then become angry with a chained watchdog? He, too, after all his barking, will become gentle if you toss him food. Retire a little way and laugh! As it is, the fellow thinks himself a somebody because he guards a threshold beset by a throne of litigants; as it is, the gentleman who reclines within is blissful and blest and considers it the mark of a successful and powerful man to make it difficult to darken his door. He forgets that the hardest door of all to open is the prison's. Make up your mind that there are many things which you must bear. Is any one surprised that he is cold in winter? That he is sick at sea? That he is jolted about on the highroad? The mind will meet bravely everything for which it has been prepared. Because you were given a less honourable place at the table, you began to get angry at your host, at the writer of the invitation, at the man himself who was preferred above you. Madman! what difference does it make on what part of the couch you recline? Can a cushion add to either your honour or your disgrace? You did not look with fair eyes upon a certain man because he spoke ill of your talent. Do you accept this as a principle? Then Ennius, whose poetry you do not like, would hate you, and Hortensius, if you disapproved of his speeches, would proclaim animosity to you, and Cicero, if you made fun of his poetry, would be your <Ess1-343>
ANGER, III. xxxvii. 5-xxxtx. 3 enemy. But when you are a candidate, you are willing to put up calmly -with the votes! Some one, perhaps, has offered you an insult; was it any greater than the one Diogenes, the Stoic philosopher, suffered, who at the very time he was discoursing upon anger was spat upon by a shameless youth. Yet he bore this calmly and wisely. Really, I am not angry," he said, "but nevertheless am not sure but that I ought to be angry." Yet how much better the course of our own Cato! For when he was pleading a case, Lentulus, that factious and unruly man who lingers in the memory of our fathers, gathering as much thick saliva as he could, spat it full upon the middle of Cato's forehead. But he wiped it off his face and said, "To all who affirm that you have no cheek,/a Lentulus, I'll swear that they are mistaken." We have now succeeded, Novatus, in bringing composure to the mind; it either does not feel anger, or is superior to it. Let us now see how we may allay the anger of others. For we wish not merely to be healed ourselves, but also to heal. We shall not venture to soothe the first burst of anger with words. It is both deaf and mad; we must give it room. Remedies are effective when the malady subsides. We do not tamper with the eyes when they are swollen - for in their stiff condition we are likely to irritate them by moving them -nor with other affected parts while they are inflamed. Rest is the cure in the first stages of illness. "How little," you say, "is your remedy worth, if it quiets anger when it is subsiding of its own accord!" In the first place, it makes it subside all the more quickly; in the second, it prevents its recurrence; <Ess1-345>
ON ANGER, III. xxix. 3-xl. 2 it will baffle, also, even the first outburst which it makes no effort to soothe, for it will remove all the weapons of revenge; it will feign anger in order that, posing thus as a helper and comrade of our resentment, it may have more influence in counsel; it will contrive delays, and will postpone immediate punishment by looking about for a heavier one. It will employ every artifice to give respite to the madness. If the victim grows violent, it will enforce on him a sense of shame or fear that he cannot resist; if calmer, it will introduce conversation that is either interesting or novel, and will divert him by stirring his desire for knowledge. There is a story that once a physician had to cure the daughter of a king, and yet could not without using the knife. And so, while he was gently dressing her swollen breast, be inserted a lance concealed in a sponge. The girl would have fought against the remedy openly applied, but because sbe did not expect it, she endured the pain. Some matters are cured only by deception. To one man you will say, "See to it that you do not by your anger give pleasure to your foes"; to another, "See to it that you do not lose your greatness of mind and the reputation you have in the eyes of many for strength. By heavens, I myself am indignant and I angry beyond measure, but we must await our time.