Quid ista circumspicis quae tibi possunt fortasse evenire sed possunt et non evenire? incendium dico, ruinam, alia quae nobis incidunt, non insidiantur: illa potius vide, illa vita quae nos observant, quae captant. rari sunt casus, etiamsi graves, naufragium facere, vehiculo everti: ab homine homini cotidianum periculum. adversus hoc te expedi, hoc intentis oculis intuere; nullum est malum frequentius, nullum pertinacius, nullum blandius. tempestas minatur antequam surgat, crepant aedificia antequam corruant, praenuntiat fumus incendium: subita est ex homine pernicies, et eo diligentius tegitur quo propius accedit. erras si istorum tibi qui occurrunt vultibus credis: hominum effigies habent, animos ferarum, nisi quod illarum perniciosus est primus incursus: quos transiere non quaerunt. numquam enim illas ad nocendum nisi necessitas incitat; aut fame aut timore coguntur ad pugnam: homini perdere hominem libet. tu tamen ita cogita quod ex homine periculum sit ut cogites quod sit hominis officium; alterum intuere ne laedaris, alterum ne laedas. commodis omnium laeteris, movearis incommodis, et memineris quae praestare debeas, quae cavere. sic vivendo quid consequaris? non te ne noceant, sed ne fallant. quantum potes autem in philosophiam recede: illa te sinu suo proteget, in huius sacrario eris aut tutus aut tutior. non arietant inter se nisi in eadem ambulantes via. ipsam autem philosophiam non debebis iactare; multis fuit periculi causa insolenter tractata et contumaciter: tibi vitia detrahat, non aliis exprobret. non abhorreat a publicis moribus nec hoc agat ut quidquid non facit damnare videatur. licet sapere sine pompa, sine invidia. vale.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 103)

Why are you keeping a lookout for things that may possibly happen to you, but may very well not happen? I am talking about fires, collapse of buildings, and other things that do come our way but are not intended to do us harm. Keep an eye, rather, on things that do have it in for us and lay traps for us, and avoid those. Although accidents like shipwreck and being thrown from a carriage are serious enough, they are infrequent. It’s the danger that one human can do to another that is a daily occurrence. Equip yourself against this and focus on this. No calamity is more common, none more persistent, none more insidious. Storms threaten before they surge, buildings creak before they collapse, and smoke gives warning of fire; but damage caused by human beings is immediate, and the closer it comes the more carefully it is hidden. It’s a mistake to trust the faces of the people you meet: they have the appearance of human beings but the character of wild animals, except that with animals it is the first attack that is the most dangerous. They don’t pass people by and then turn and pursue them. They are never provoked to do injury except under compulsion, when hunger or fear forces them to fight. One human being, on the other hand, positively likes to destroy another. Still, when you consider what dangers you may be in from other people, you should also be thinking about people’s responsibilities to one another. Keep an eye on one person to avoid being hurt by him, on another to avoid hurting him. You should show pleasure at everyone’s successes, feel for them when their affairs go wrong, remembering when you should be forthcoming and when you should be wary instead. By living like this, what will you gain? You will not necessarily escape harm, but you will avoid being caught unawares. Withdraw into philosophy as much as you can. Philosophy will protect you; you will be safe, or at least safer, in philosophy’s sanctuary. People only knock into one another when they are walking on the same path. But you should not brag about your philosophy. Many people have been put in danger by crassly boasting about it. You should use philosophy to remove your faults, not to criticize other people’s. You should not distance philosophy from the general way of the world, nor let it seem to be condemning everything that it refrains from doing itself. It’s possible to practice wisdom without parade and without incurring resentment. Farewell. (tr. Margaret Graver & Anthony A. Long)



Quid? illos otiosos vocas, quibus apud tonsorem multae horae transmittuntur, dum decerpitur, si quid proxima nocte succrevit, dum de singulis capillis in consilium itur, dum aut disiecta coma restituitur aut deficiens hinc atque illinc in frontem compellitur? quomodo irascuntur, si tonsor paulo neglegentior fuit, tamquam virum tonderet? quomodo excandescunt, si quid ex iuba sua decisum est, si quid extra ordinem iacuit, nisi omnia in anulos suos reciderunt? quis est istorum qui non malit rem publicam turbari quam comam suam? qui non sollicitior sit de capitis sui decore quam de salute? qui non comptior esse malit quam honestior? hos tu otiosos vocas inter pectinem speculumque occupatos?
(Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 12.3)

Tell me, do you call those people leisured who spend many hours at the barber’s while any overnight growth is trimmed away, solemn consultation is taken over each separate hair, and disheveled locks are rearranged or thinning hair is combed forward from both sides to cover the forehead? How angry they get if the barber has been a little too careless, as if he were cutting a real man’s hair! How they flare up if anything is wrongly cut off their precious mane, if a hair lies out of place, or if everything doesn’t fall back into its proper ringlets! Which of those people wouldn’t rather have their country thrown into disarray than their hair? Who isn’t more concerned about keeping his head neat rather than safe? Who wouldn’t rather be well groomed than well respected? You call leisured these people who are kept busy between the comb and the mirror? (tr. John W. Basore)


american tourists

Inde peregrinationes suscipiuntur vagae et invia litora pererrantur et modo mari se modo terra experitur semper praesentibus infesta levitas. “nunc Campaniam petamus.” iam delicata fastidio sunt: “inculta videantur, Bruttios et Lucaniae saltus persequamur.” aliquid tamen inter deserta amoeni requiritur, in quo luxuriosi oculi longo locorum horrentium squalore releventur: “Tarentum petatur laudatusque portus et hiberna caeli mitioris et regio vel antiquae satis opulenta turbae.” nimis diu a plausu et fragore aures vacaverunt, iuvat iam et humano sanguine frui: “iam flectamus cursum ad urbem.” aliud ex alio iter suscipitur et spectacula spectaculis mutantur. ut ait Lucretius: “hoc se quisque modo semper fugit.” sed quid prodest, si non effugit? sequitur se ipse et urget gravissimus comes. itaque scire debemus non locorum vitium esse quo laboramus, sed nostrum; infirmi sumus ad omne tolerandum, nec laboris patientes nec voluptatis nec nostri nec ullius rei diutius. hoc quosdam egit ad mortem, quod proposita saepe mutando in eadem revolvebantur et non reliquerant novitati locum. fastidio esse illis coepit vita et ipse mundus, et subit illud tabidarum deliciarum: “quousque eadem?”
(Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 2.13-15)

This is why men go touring on their travels and wander around the beach resorts; and their restlessness, ever hostile to present circumstances, tests itself now by sea, now on land. “Let’s make for Campania now.” Soon they are sated with fancy resorts. “Let’s go and see wild country, making for the moorland of Bruttium and Lucania.” But even in uninhabited places they miss some charm to give their pampered eyes relief from the stretches of neglect of rough terrain. “Let’s make for Tarentum, with its much-praised harbor and milder winter weather, and a hinterland wealthy enough even for a crowd of long ago.” “Now let’s turn about toward the city”: their ears have been deprived for too long of the din of applause, and now they are eager to enjoy human bloodshed. They embark on one journey after another and exchange one show for another. As Lucretius says: “This is how each man constantly is fleeing himself”, but what is the point of fleeing if he doesn’t escape himself? He is his own escort and drives himself on, the most burdensome of companions. So we ought to realize that we are suffering, not the fault of our surroundings, but our own fault; we are too weak to bear anything, enduring neither toil nor pleasure nor ourselves nor any thing for long. This condition has driven some people to death, because when they constantly changed their purpose, they returned to the same setup and had left no room for any novelty; they began to be sated with life and the world itself, and that old lament of spoiled indulgence came over them: “How long will we experience the same things?” (tr. John W. Basore)




Metus remitte, prospero regnum in statu est
domusque florens sorte felici viget.
sed tu beatis mitior rebus veni!
namque anxiam me cura sollicitat tui,
quod te ipse poenis gravibus infestus domas.
quem fata cogunt, ille cum venia est miser;
at si quis ultro se malis offert volens
seque ipse torquet, perdere est dignus bona
quis nescit uti. potius annorum memor
mentem relaxa: noctibus festis facem
attolle, curas Bacchus exoneret graves.
aetate fruere: mobili cursu fugit.
nunc facile pectus, grata nunc iuveni Venus:
exultet animus. cur toro viduo iaces?
tristem iuventam solve; nunc cursus rape,
effunde habenas, optimos vitae dies
effluere prohibe. propria descripsit deus
officia et aevum per suos ducit gradus:
laetitia iuvenem, frons decet tristis senem.
Quid te coërces et necas rectam indolem?
seges illa magnum fenus agricolae dabit
quaecumque laetis tenera luxuriat satis,
arborque celso vertice evincet nemus
quam non maligna caedit aut resecat manus:
ingenia melius recta se in laudes ferunt,
si nobilem animum vegeta libertas alit.
truculentus et silvester ac vitae inscius
tristem iuventam Venere deserta coles?
hoc esse munus credis indictum viris,
ut dura tolerent, cursibus domitent equos
et saeva bella Marte sanguineo gerant?
(Seneca Minor, Phaedra 436-465)


Have no fear, the kingdom prospers and the house is flourishing vigorously amidst good fortune. But you should meet your blessings with more geniality! I am troubled by anxious cares about you, because you subdue yourself like an enemy with heavy ordeals. A person coerced by fate may be forgiven for unhappiness; but if someone willingly volunteers for suffering and tortures himself, he deserves to lose the good things he is incapable of using. Instead, remember your years, and let your mind relax: raise a torch in nighttime celebrations, let Bacchus lighten your heavy cares. Enjoy your time of life: it runs swiftly away. Now your heart is free and easy, now your youth welcomes Venus. Let your spirit run riot! Why lie in a solitary bed? Unfetter your joyless youth. Now make all speed, let go the reins, and prevent the best days of life from slipping away. God has prescribed appropriate duties, and leads life through its proper stages: happiness suits the young, gloomy brows the old. Why inhibit yourself and strangle your natural disposition? That crop will pay the farmer great interest, whose plants when young grow lush and exultant; and that tree will overtop the grove with its towering crown, that is not cut or pruned back by a niggard hand: upright dispositions grow better to renown, if a lively freedom nourishes the noble spirit. As a truculent backwoodsman who knows nothing of life, will you pass your youth in gloom and abandon Venus? Do you think men have this obligation imposed on them, to endure hardships, tame horses by running them, and wage savage wars amid martial bloodshed? (tr. John G. Fitch)


Giovanni Battista Pittoni de Jongere, Il sacrificio di Polissena sulla tomba di Achille, ca. 1735 (2)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Il sacrificio di Polissena sulla tomba di Achille (ca. 1735)


PYR. Est regis alti spiritum regi dare.
AGA. cur dextra regi spiritum eripuit tua?
PYR. mortem misericors saepe pro vita dabit.
AGA. et nunc misericors virginem busto petis?
PYR. iamne immolari virgines credis nefas?
AGA. praeferre patriam liberis regem decet.
PYR. lex nulla capto parcit aut poenam impedit.
AGA. quod non vetat lex, hoc vetat fieri pudor.
PYR. quodcumque libuit facere victori licet.
AGA. minimum decet libere cui multum licet.
(Seneca Minor, Troades 327-336)


PYR. It is the act of a great king to grant life to a king.
AGA. Why then did your hand deprive the king of life?
PYR. Often a compassionate man will grant death rather than life.
AGA. And now as a compassionate man you seek a virgin for the tomb?
PYR. So nowadays you consider sacrifice of virgins a crime?
AGA. To put fatherland before children befits a king.
PYR. No law spares a prisoner, or forbids reprisal.
AGA. What law does not forbid, a sense of restraint forbids.
PYR. The victor has a right to do whatever he pleases.
AGA. He who has much right should please himself least.
(tr. John G. Fitch)




LYC. Animosne mersus inferis coniunx facit?
MEG. inferna tetigit, posset ut supera assequi.
LYC. telluris illum pondus immensae premit.
MEG. nullo premetur onere, qui caelum tulit.
LYC. cogere.
MEG. cogi qui potest nescit mori.
LYC. effare thalamis quod novis potius parem
regale munus.
MEG. aut tuam mortem aut meam.
LYC. moriere demens.
MEG. coniugi occurram meo.
LYC. sceptrone nostro potior est famulus tibi?
MEG. quot iste famulus tradidit reges neci!
LYC. cur ergo regi servit et patitur iugum?
MEG. imperia dura tolle: quid virtus erit?
LYC. obici feris monstrisque virtutem putas?
MEG. virtutis est domare quae cuncti pavent.
LYC. tenebrae loquentem magna Tartareae premunt.
MEG. non est ad astra mollis e terris via.
(Seneca Minor, Herc. Fur. 422-437)


LYC. You take courage from a husband sunk in the underworld?
MEG. He visited the underworld to gain the upper world.
LYC. He is crushed by the weight of the vast earth.
MEG. No burden will crush the one who carried the heavens.
LYC. You will be forced.
MEG. One who can be forced does not know how to die.
LYC. Say what kingly gift I should prepare instead for our new marriage.
MEG. Either your death or mine.
LYC. You will die, madwoman.
MEG. Then I shall find my husband.
LYC. And is a slave more to you than my sceptered power?
MEG. How many kings that “slave” has delivered to death!
LYC. Then why does he serve a king and endure subjection?
MEG. Take away harsh commands: what will valour be?
LYC. You think being thrown to beasts and monsters is valour?
MEG. Valour consists of subduing what everyone fears.
LYC. The darkness of Tartarus covers that great boaster.
MEG. The path from earth to the stars is not a smooth one.
(tr. John G. Fitch)



Ideo propera, Lucili mi, vivere, et singulos dies singulas vitas puta. Qui hoc modo se aptavit, cui vita sua cotidie fuit tota, securus est; in spem viventibus proximum quodque tempus elabitur, subitque aviditas et miserrimus ac miserrima omnia efficiens metus mortis. inde illud Maecenatis turpissimum votum, quo et debilitatem non recusat et deformitatem et novissime acutam crucem, dummodo inter haec mala spiritus prorogetur:
debilem facito manu, debilem pede coxo,
tuber adstrue gibberum, lubricos quate dentes:
vita dum superest, benest. hanc mihi, vel acuta
si sedeam cruce, sustine… [Maecenas fr. 4 Courtney]
quod miserrimum erat si incidisset optatur, et tamquam vita petitur supplici mora. contemptissimum putarem, si vivere vellet usque ad crucem: ‘tu vero’ inquit ‘me debilites licet, dum spiritus in corpore fracto et inutili maneat. depraves licet, dum monstroso et distorto temporis aliquid accedat. suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas.’ est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum, dum differat id, quod est in malis optimum, supplicii finem? est tanti habere animam, ut agam? quid huic optes nisi deos faciles? quid sibi vult ista carminis effeminati turpitudo? quid timoris dementissimi pactio? quid tam foeda vitae mendicatio?
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 101.10-13)

So make haste to live, my dear Lucilius and think of each single day as a single life. The man who has equipped himself like this, who has had a whole life each day, is free of care: for those who live in hope each coming instant slips away and greed advances on him with the fear of death, itself most wretched and making all things wretched. Hence that disgraceful prayer of Maecenas in which he does not jib at feebleness and ugliness and finally the sharpened stake, so long as his life is prolonged among these evils:
Make me feeble in hand, feeble with limping foot,
Impose a hunchbacked swelling, loosen my slippery teeth;
While there is life I am fine; keep it going for me
Even if I sit impaled on a sharpened stake.
He is wishing for what would be most wretched if it came upon him, and asking for a prolongation of his torment as if it were life. I would think him beneath contempt if he wanted to live on up to the moment of the stake. He says: ‘You can make me weak, so long as my breath persist in a broken and useless body; you can corrupt me, so long as some time is added to my repellent and distorted life; you may crucify me and put a sharpened stake beneath for me to sit on.’ Is it worth so much to drive in one’s own wound and hang stretched from a cross, so long as it postpones the best part of all misfortunes, the end of one’s torment? Is my living breath worth so much that I am ready to give it up? What would you wish for this fellow if not obliging gods? What is the meaning of this disgraceful and unmanly poem? What is the object bargained by this crazy fear? What the aim of such vile begging for life? (tr. Elaine Fantham)