Quid ergo est bonum? rerum scientia. quid malum est? rerum imperitia. ille prudens atque artifex pro tempore quaeque repellet aut eliget. sed nec quae repellit timet, nec miratur quae eligit, si modo magnus illi et invictus animus est. submitti te ac deprimi veto. laborem si non recuses, parum est: posce. “quid ergo?” inquis; “labor frivolus et supervacuus et quem humiles causae evocaverunt non est malus?” non magis quam ille, qui pulchris rebus impenditur, quoniam animi est ipsa tolerantia, quae se ad dura et aspera hortatur ac dicit: “quid cessas? non est viri timere sudorem.” huc et illud accedat, ut perfecta virtus sit, aequalitas ac tenor vitae per omnia consonans sibi, quod non potest esse, nisi rerum scientia contingit et ars, per quam humana ac divina noscantur. hoc est summum bonum. quod si occupas, incipis deorum socius esse, non supplex. “quomodo” inquis “isto pervenitur?” non per Poeninum Graiumve montem nec per deserta Candaviae, nec Syrtes tibi nec Scylla aut Charybdis adeundae sunt, quae tamen omnia transisti procuratiunculae pretio: tutum iter est, iucundum est, ad quod natura te instruxit. dedit tibi illa, quae si non deserueris, par deo surges. parem autem te deo pecunia non faciet: deus nihil habet. praetexta non faciet: deus nudus est. fama non faciet nec ostentatio tui et in populos nominis dimissa notitia: nemo novit deum, multi de illo male existimant, et impune. non turba servorum lecticam tuam per itinera urbana ac peregrina portantium: deus ille maximus potentissimusque ipse vehit omnia. ne forma quidem et vires beatum te facere possunt: nihil horum patitur vetustatem. quaerendum est, quod non fiat in dies eius, quoi non possit obstari. quid hoc est? animus, sed hic rectus, bonus, magnus. quid aliud voces hunc quam deum in corpore humano hospitantem? hic animus tam in equitem Romanum quam in libertinum, quam in servum potest cadere. quid est enim eques Romanus aut libertinus aut servus? nomina ex ambitione aut iniuria nata. subsilire in caelum ex angulo licet. exsurge modo
“et te quoque dignum
finges autem non auro vel argento: non potest ex hac materia imago deo exprimi similis; cogita illos, cum propitii essent, fictiles fuisse. vale.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 31.6-11)
What, then, is good? Knowledge of the facts. What is bad? Ignorance of the facts. The man who is truly wise and skilled will exercise avoidance or choice in accordance with circumstances; but he does not fear the things he avoids nor admire the things he chooses, not if he has a great and unconquerable spirit. I forbid you to abase yourself; I forbid you to be downcast. Not refusing labor is too little: ask for it. “But what if the work is demeaning?” you say. “What if it is unnecessary or is demanded for frivolous reasons? Isn’t such work bad?” No more so than labor expended on attractive objects. Your very endurance shows spirit, when you urge yourself on toward difficult tasks, saying, “Why the delay? A real man is not afraid of sweat.” Besides, complete virtue consists in the evenness and steadiness of a life that is in harmony with itself through all events, which cannot come about unless one has knowledge and the skill of discerning things human and divine. This is the highest good; if you obtain it, you begin to be an associate of the gods and not a suppliant. You ask, “How do I get there?” You need not scale the Alps, at either the Pennine or the Graian Pass, or navigate the Syrtaean shoals, or traverse the mountain fastness of Illyria; you need not approach the straits where Scylla and Charybdis are; and yet you passed through all of these for no more reward than your paltry governorship. No, the road is both safe and pleasant, and is one for which you have been equipped by nature. Nature has given you certain gifts, and if you do not abandon them, you will mount up equal to a god. Money will not make you equal to a god: God owns nothing. A tunic bordered with purple will not do it; God is naked. Fame will not do it, and neither will self-display and spreading one’s name far and wide: no one has personal acquaintance with God, and many think ill of him with impunity. Nor will a troop of slaves bearing your sedan chair through the streets, in the city and abroad: God, the greatest and most powerful god, is himself the bearer of everything. Not even beauty and strength can confer blessedness on you; neither endures the onset of age. You must devote your efforts to that which does not deteriorate over time, and which no obstacle can bar. What is that? It is the mind—but specifically this mind, which is upright, great, and good. What else would you call it but God dwelling in a human body? This mind can be found just as well in a freedman or even a slave as in a Roman of equestrian status. For what is a Roman equestrian, or a freedman, or a slave? Those are names born of ambition or of unfair treatment. One may leap up to heaven even from a chimney corner. Rise, then,
“and shape yourself as well into a likeness
worthy of godhead.” [Vergil, Aen. 8.364-365]
But you will not make that likeness from gold or silver: from such materials no likeness can be made that truly resembles God. Bear in mind that in the days when the gods were well disposed, their images were of clay. Farewell. (tr. Margaret Graver & Anthony A. Long)