By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From Seneca (circa 4 B.C. to 65 A.D.)

As my review of Latin literature continues, here are some tidbits from the Hispano-Roman philosopher Seneca:

I. From Epistle/Letter 114:

He observes that a lax writing style indicates the moral state of the writer:
"a lax style, if it be popular, shows that the mind (which is the source of the word) has lost its balance" (Loeb translation, Epistle 114.12).

It reminds me of the saying--you will know them by their fruits. People's words and actions reveal what is within. When we see art and music that are full of darkness and the bizarre, we are seeing minds that are also dark and bizarre. The shame is that many in the audience can identify with the darkness and irrationality of the artist or writer.

Seneca follows up at section 22:

"Therefore, I say, take care of the soul; for from the soul issue our thoughts, from the soul our words, from the soul our dispositions, our expressions, and our very gait. When the soul is sound and strong, the style too is vigorous, energetic, manly; but if the soul loses its balance, down comes all the rest in ruins" (Loeb translation).

Readers of the gospels will find these words very familiar (notice the dates for Seneca).

II. From Epistle 88 (all from the Loeb translation):

Seneca presents a sensible way to deal with the uncertainties of life:

"For just as I know that all things can happen, so I know, too, that they will not happen in every case. I am ready for favorable events in every case, but I am prepared for evil." Ep. 88.17

There is a sound, healthy core to this viewpoint. You are steady and ready, shocked, as your humanity requires, by the evil people do but never really surprised.

Seneca also gives a word of warning to legalists, utopians, and fanatics of every stripe:

"Wisdom is a large and spacious thing. It needs plenty of free room." Ep. 88.33.

I think that Seneca's point is similar to that of 20th century phenomenologists: we must clear our minds first and look at things with fresh eyes. He continues:

"And in order that these manifold and mighty subjects may have free entertainment in your soul, you must remove therefrom all superfluous things. Virtue will not surrender herself to these narrow bounds of ours; a great subject needs wide space in which to move. Let all other things be driven out, and let the breast be emptied to receive virtue." Ep. 88.35.

III. From Epistle 65:

The Stoic advice: Fortes sim adversus fortuita. "Let us be brave when facing chance events" (blogger's translation). Ep. 65.24

Here is good advice when listening to a discussion by very self-assured know-it-alls:

"[S]tate who seems to you to say what is truest, and not who says what is absolutely true. For to do that is as far beyond our ken as truth itself." Ep. 65.10 (Loeb trans.)

(Image under Creative Commons License at this link)