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)



Nam, ut aiunt qui priscos mores urbis tradiderunt, brachia et crura cotidie abluebant, quae scilicet sordes opere collegerant, ceterum toti nundinis lavabantur. hoc loco dicet aliquis: ‘liquet mihi immundissimos fuisse’. quid putas illos oluisse? militiam, laborem, virum. postquam munda balnea inventa sunt, spurciores sunt.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 85.12)

It is stated by those who have reported to us the old-time ways of Rome that the Romans washed only their arms and legs daily—because those were the members which gathered dirt in their daily toil—and bathed all over only once a week. Here someone will retort: “Yes; pretty dirty fellows they evidently were! How they must have smelled!” But they smelled of the camp, the farm, and heroism. Now that spick- and-span bathing establishments have been devised, men are really fouler than of yore. (tr. Richard M. Gummere)




Cum videris forum multitudine refertum et saepta concursu omnis frequentiae plena et illum circum in quo maximam sui partem populus ostendit, hoc scito, istic tantundem esse vitiorum quantum hominum. inter istos quos togatos vides nulla pax est: alter in alterius exitium levi compendio ducitur; nulli nisi ex alterius iniuria quaestus est; felicem oderunt, infelicem contemnunt; maiorem gravantur, minori graves sunt; diversis stimulantur cupiditatibus; omnia perdita ob levem voluptatem praedamque cupiunt. non alia quam in ludo gladiatorio vita est cum isdem viventium pugnantiumque. ferarum iste conventus est, nisi quod illae inter se placidae sunt morsuque similium abstinent, hi mutua laceratione satiantur. hoc uno ab animalibus mutis differunt, quod illa mansuescunt alentibus, horum rabies ipsos a quibus est nutrita depascitur.
(Seneca Minor, De Ira 2.8)

When you see the forum packed with a mob, and the polling place filled with a swarming crowd, and that circus where the greatest part of the populace is on display, be sure that there are just as many vices on hand as there are people. Those you see in civilian dress are constantly warring among themselves. One man’s led to destroy another for a small gain; no one profits save from another’s harm; they hate the prosperous and despise the poor, resent the greater man and afflict the lesser. Goaded by a host of desires, they lust to win some trivially pleasurable prize from any and every depravity. It’s a way of life no different from a gladiatorial school: living and fighting with the same people. It’s a gathering of wild beasts—except that beasts live peacefully among themselves and don’t bite their own, whereas these get their fill by tearing each other to pieces. In this one respect they differ from animals incapable of speech: the latter behave gently toward their keepers, these in their frenzy bite the hand that feeds them. (tr. Robert A. Kaster)



Ἄγου δέ μ’, ὦ Ζεῦ, καὶ σύ γ’ ἡ Πεπρωμένη,
ὅποι ποθ’ ὑμῖν εἰμι διατεταγμένος·
ὡς ἕψομαί γ’ ἄοκνος· ἢν δέ γε μὴ θέλω,
κακὸς γενόμενος, οὐδὲν ἧττον ἕψομαι.
(Cleanthes, fr. 2 Powell)

Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny,
To wherever your decrees have assigned me.
I follow readily, but if I choose not,
Wretched though I am, I must follow still.
(tr. Nicholas P. White)

Et sic adloquamur Iovem, cuius gubernaculo moles ista derigitur, quemadmodum Cleanthes noster versibus disertissimis adloquitur, quos mihi in nostrum sermonem mutare permittitur Ciceronis, disertissimi viri, exemplo. si placuerint, boni consules; si displicuerint, scies me in hoc secutum Ciceronis exemplum:
Duc, o parens celsique dominator poli,
quocumque placuit; nulla parendi mora est.
adsum impiger. fac nolle, comitabor gemens
malusque patiar, facere quod licuit bono.
ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 107.10-11)

(…) and let us address Jupiter, the pilot of this vessel, as our Cleanthes addresses him in most eloquent verses, and as our most eloquent Cicero’s example allows me to adapt in our own language. If you like them, you will take it well, but if they don’t please you, you will know that in this I followed Cicero’s lead:
Lead me, father and lord of heaven’s lofty pole
Where’er you choose; I’ll not delay obedience;
Here I am, active. If I’m reluctant, I will follow groaning,
A bad man suffering what the good man chooses.
The Fates lead on the willing but drag behind the laggard.
(tr. Elaine Fantham)



Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est. quid? quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. in his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia quae erant dediscenda, si scires. i nunc et longam esse vitam nega.
(Seneca, Ep. ad Luc. 88.36-37)

To want to know more than is sufficient is a form of intemperance. Apart from which this kind of obsession with the liberal arts turns people into pedantic, irritating, tactless, self-satisfied bores, not learning what they need simply because they spend their time learning things they will never need. The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand works: I should feel sorry for him if he had merely read so many useless works. In these works he discusses such questions as Homer’s origin, who was Aeneas’ real mother, whether Anacreon’s manner of life was more that of a lecher or that of a drunkard, whether Sappho slept with anyone who asked her, and other things that would be better unlearned if one actually knew them! Don’t you go and tell me now that life is long enough for this sort of thing! (tr. Robin Campbell)


Quod dico, non videbitur durum, quamvis primo contra opinionem tuam pugnet, si te commodaveris mihi et cogitaveris plures esse res quam verba. ingens copia est rerum sine nomine, quas non propriis appellationibus notamus, sed alienis commodatisque: pedem et nostrum dicimus et lecti et veli et carminis, canem et venaticum et marinum et sidus; quia non sufficimus, ut singulis singula adsignemus, quotiens opus est, mutuamur. fortitudo est virtus pericula iusta contemnens aut scientia periculorum repellendorum, excipiendorum, provocandorum; dicimus tamen et gladiatorem fortem virum et servum nequam, quem in contemptum mortis temeritas impulit. parsimonia est scientia vitandi sumptus supervacuos aut ars re familiari moderate utendi; parcissimum tamen hominem vocamus pusilli animi et contracti, cum infinitum intersit inter modum et angustias. haec alia sunt natura, sed efficit inopia sermonis, ut et hunc et illum parcum vocemus, ut et ille fortis dicatur cum ratione fortuita despiciens et hic sine ratione in pericula excurrens. sic beneficium est et actio, ut diximus, benefica et ipsum, quod datur per illam actionem, ut pecunia, ut domus, ut praetexta; unum utrique nomen est, vis quidem ac potestas longe alia. (Seneca Minor, De Beneficiis 2.34)

You will come to see that what I am saying is not too bold, although at first it may not accord with your own ideas, if only you will give me your attention, and reflect that there are many things for which there are no words. There is a vast number of things that have no name, and the terms by which we designate them, instead of being their own, belong to other things from which they are borrowed. We say that we ourselves, a couch, a sail, and a poem, have a “foot,” and we apply the word “dog” to a hound, to a creature of the sea, and to a constellation; since there are not enough words to make it possible for us to assign a separate one to each separate thing, we borrow whenever it becomes necessary. Bravery is the virtue that scorns legitimate dangers, or knowing how to ward off, to meet, and to court dangers; yet we call both a gladiator and the worthless slave whose rashness has forced him into scorn of death a “brave” man. Frugality is knowing how to avoid unnecessary expenditure, or the art of applying moderation to the use of private means; yet we call a petty-minded and close-fisted man a very “frugal” person although there is an infinite difference between moderation and meanness. These are essentially different things, yet our poverty of language leads us to call each of the two types a “frugal” person, and likewise to say that both the man who by the exercise of reason scorns the blows of Fortune and the one who rushes into dangers unreasoningly are “brave.” So a “benefit,” as we have said, is both a beneficent act and likewise the object itself which is given by means of the aforesaid act, as money, a house, the robe of office; the two things bear the same name, but they are very different in their import and operation. (tr. John W. Basore)


Sedlec Ossuary - skulls

Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil,
velocis spatii meta novissima.
spem ponant avidi, solliciti metum:
tempus nos avidum devorat et chaos.
mors individua est, noxia corpori
nec parcens animae. Taenara et aspero
regnum sub domino limen et obsidens
custos non facili Cerberus ostio
rumores vacui verbaque inania
et par sollicito fabula somnio.
quaeris quo iaceas post obitum loco?
quo non nata iacent.

(Seneca, Troades 397-408)

After death is nothing, and death itself is nothing,
the finishing line of a swiftly run circuit.
Let the greedy lay down their hopes, the anxious their fears:
greedy time and Chaos devour us.
Death is indivisible, destructive to the body
and not sparing the soul. Taenarus, and the kingdom
under its harsh lord, and Cerberus guarding
the entrance with its unyielding gate
– hollow rumours, empty words,
a tale akin to a troubled dream.
You ask where you lie after death?
Where unborn things lie.

(tr. John G. Fitch)