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If my purpose on this occasion
were to speak in behalf of concord,
I should have a great deal to say,
not only about human experiences but celestial also,
to the effect that these divine and grand creations,
as it happens, require concord and friendship;
otherwise there is danger of ruin and destruction
for this beautiful work of the creator, the universe.
Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 48:14.
For freedom is not acquired
by satisfying yourself with what you desire,
but by destroying your desire.
Epictetus, Discourses 4:1:176
Zeno was a Phoenician from Citium on Cyprus. He died about 260 BC at the age of 72 or 90. His fortune of a thousand talents was lost in a shipwreck on the Attic coast about 314 BC. His merchant father had brought him many books about Socrates when he was a boy. He was reading Xenophon's Memoirs of Socrates in Athens when he asked where men like that were to be found. Someone pointed to the Cynic philosopher Crates, who lived like a beggar with the woman Hipparchia, another philosopher. Zeno was a pupil of Crates and attended the lectures of Xenocrates and Stilpo for ten years. An oracle told him to take on the complexion of the dead, and so he studied the ancient authors. However, his natural modesty did not allow him to practice the ascetic shamelessness of the Cynics. When Crates tried to drag him away from Stilpo by pulling his cloak, Zeno said that the proper way to seize a philosopher is by the ears and to drag one by persuasion; violence may take his body, but his mind would still be with Stilpo. Zeno once pointed out to a youth talking nonsense that we have two ears and only one mouth so that we may listen more and talk less.
Zeno began to teach pacing back and forth in a colonnade, and thus his school of philosophy became known as the Stoics from the Greek word for porch (stoa). Athens honored him with the keys to the city, a gold crown, and a bronze statue. Antigonus Gonatas liked his lectures and invited him to his court; but Zeno, writing he could not go at the age of eighty, sent two of his companions instead. He said a friend is another I. When he was punishing a slave for stealing, the slave pleaded that it was his fate to steal; Zeno agreed and said it was his fate to be beaten too. Zeno could endure and practiced frugality, eating uncooked food and wearing a thin cloak.
The Stoics considered the first impulse of all animals to be self-preservation; pleasure only comes as a by-product. Zeno wrote that the purpose of life is agreement with nature, for our individual natures are part of the whole universe. Right reason pervades all things, and the law common to all forbids what is contrary to nature. The virtue of the happy person in the smooth flow of life is when all actions promote the harmony of the spirit living in the individual with the will of the one who orders the universe. Virtue is valuable for its own sake as a harmonious disposition and not from hope or fear of external motives. Virtue is the state of mind that makes life harmonious. A rational being may be perverted, however, by the deception of external pursuits or by the influence of associates.
The Stoics argued that virtue can be taught, because bad people do sometimes become good. The primary virtues are wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. Particular virtues are magnanimity, continence, endurance, presence of mind, and good counsel. Wisdom is defined as knowledge of good and evil, courage as knowledge of what one ought to choose. Magnanimity is what enables one to rise above anything that happens; continence is the disposition and habit in accord with reason that is never overcome by pleasure; endurance is the knowledge of what to hold on to; presence of mind is finding out what is best to be done at any moment; and good counsel is knowing what we need to do and how to do it for the best. The corresponding vices come from ignorance. Goods can be external or mental.
For the Stoics all good is expedient, binding toward unity, profitable, useful, serviceable, beautiful, beneficial, desirable, and just or right in that it brings people together. What most people consider to be external values such as life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, a good reputation, and noble birth and their opposites to the Stoic are neutral and thus neither good nor evil, though they may be "preferred." What is good benefits and does not injure, but those things which can be used either for good or bad are not goods in themselves. However, Poseidonius (c. 135-50 BC), who taught at Rhodes, did maintain that these values are good too. Chrysippus (c. 286-206 BC) denied that pleasure is a good, because some pleasures are disgraceful. For most Stoics these things are indifferent, though those valued may be preferred and others rejected. Harmony in life's process is what determines duty or what one ought to do. Appropriate acts are those guided by reason such as honoring the gods, parents, brothers, and country and communicating with friends. Taking care of one's health is considered an unconditional duty; other duties depend on circumstances.
Falsehood can lead to perversion and the passions or emotions, which Zeno defined as unnatural movements in the soul or as excessive impulses. Zeno classified the emotions into the categories of grief, fear, desire, and pleasure. Chrysippus wrote that emotions are judgments; avarice, for example, is based on the supposition that money is a good. Grief or pain they held to be a mental contraction expressed as pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, heavy grief, annoyance, distress, anguish, and distraction. Fear is an expectation of evil and can be terror, nervous shrinking (from action), shame, consternation, panic, and mental agony. Desire or the craving of an irrational appetite ranges as want, hatred, contentiousness, anger, love, wrath, and resentment. Pleasure is an irrational elation at getting what one wants and includes ravishment, malevolent joy, delight, and transports of delight that can melt away virtue.
The three emotions that are considered good by the Stoics are joy, caution, and wishing, which are the rational counterparts of pleasure, fear, and desire. The wise person is passionless and does not fall into the weakness of the emotions, although a bad person can be apathetic in being callous and relentless. The wise are free of vanity, being indifferent to good or bad reports, genuinely earnest in self-improvement, and free from pretense and business cares. They are not liable to madness nor to grief. Stoics were willing to participate in politics in order to restrain vice and promote virtue, and they married and raised children. They believed that the wise are free and the bad are slaves of their vices. They also condemned the subordination of traditional slavery. They believed only the wise and good are fit to be magistrates, judges, and orators. The wise do not hurt others or themselves. The wise pray to the gods for good things, and they believed that friendship, which is a common use in treating friends as oneself, can only exist between the wise and good. The unwise are mad, which comes from folly. Wisdom comes from understanding and good counsel, moderation from good discipline and orderliness, and courage from constancy and vigor.
Stoics held that a wise person might make one's own exit from life for the sake of one's country and friends or if suffering from intolerable pain, mutilation, or an incurable disease. Zeno in his Republic and Chrysippus in his treatise On Government both favored a community of wives with the free choice of partners, sharing paternal affection for all the children alike and, they believed, ending the jealousies arising from adultery. They both recommended a mixed government of democracy, kingship, and aristocracy (rule by the virtuous). God they identified with reason, fate, Zeus, and many other names. Zeno maintained the unity of the world, and the Stoics considered the world a living being endowed with a soul, as indicated by the individual souls making it up. For the Stoics, God is a living being, immortal, rational, perfect, intelligent, happy, with no evil, and taking providential care of the whole world but not having a human shape. The various Greek gods and goddesses represent peculiar attributes of God. Zeno's successor was considered by most to be Cleanthes, who lived to be nearly ninety, dying in 232 BC. Chrysippus studied with Cleanthes and wrote extensively.
The Hellenistic times were hard with many wars, occasional famines, and increasing slavery. 30,000 slaves toiled in Athens' silver mines at Laurion, and the gold mines of the Ptolemies worked by slaves were notorious. Slave revolts were becoming more frequent and larger, and Poseidonius warned that the ill treatment of slaves by their masters endangered the whole community. City states had lost power to larger kingdoms; wealth and power had become concentrated in fewer hands; and philosophers had responded by turning inward for personal happiness. Utopian visions were written by Euhemerus, who lived at the court of Macedonian king Cassander about 300 BC and suggested in his fanciful Sacred History that the gods had once lived on Earth, and by Iambulus, a Nabatean who wrote about a city of the sun found near Ethiopia, where people lived communally with dignified free labor and no class distinctions.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born about 4 BC in Spain. His father was a lawyer and procurator, who wrote books on rhetoric. The child was raised by an aunt in Rome. Suffering bad health (possibly the asthma that affected his later years), young Seneca lived for a while in Egypt, where his aunt's husband was prefect. Seneca served as quaestor during the reign of Tiberius. Seneca's skill as an orator almost led the envious Caligula to have him killed; but the Emperor was persuaded the sickly intellectual would die soon. When Claudius became emperor, Seneca was accused by the empress Messalina of adultery with Julia, daughter of Germanicus, and was banished to Corsica.
Eight years later in 49 CE Seneca was recalled to Rome by the new empress Agrippina to tutor her son Nero; the next year he was appointed praetor. When Nero became emperor, Seneca served as his chief advisor for civilian affairs. Many attribute the good government of Nero's first five years to the influence of Seneca, though in 59 he wrote the letter to the Senate justifying the murder of Nero's mother Agrippina. According to Tacitus the senator Suillius asked by what philosophy Seneca acquired 300,000,000 sesterces in four years of imperial friendship; then he suggested it was by huge rates of interest and legacies.
Seneca tried to restrain Nero from eliminating contenders, saying, "No matter how many you slay, you cannot kill your successor."1 Seneca was attacked for his enormous wealth and extravagant estate. Since Seneca criticized Nero's amusements in charioteering and singing, they argued the Emperor no longer needed a tutor. Seneca thanked the Emperor for the wealth he had bestowed upon him and offered to give up his property to imperial agents. When the military advisor Burrus died in 62 CE, apparently unable to control Nero's crimes, Seneca decided to request retirement. Nero expressed gratitude to his tutor and hoped for his continued counsel, fearing his retirement would make him seem mean. Seneca dismissed his entourage and stayed home studying philosophy, escaping poison by living on fresh fruit and running water. He was soon implicated in the Piso conspiracy and was ordered to commit suicide, which he did in the year 65. His wife also attempted suicide then, but she was rescued.
Seneca's writings helped to make Stoicism a popular Roman philosophy. "On Providence" answers the question of his friend Lucilius why many evils happen to good people if the world is governed by providence. Seneca accepted the Stoic idea that the orderly universe could not persist without some caretaker. Seneca believed the gods are best to the best people, and Nature never allows the good to be harmed by the good, for a friendship between the gods and the good is forged by virtue. Fathers restrain their sons with severe discipline in order to prepare them for the world because they love them. Though misfortunes may happen to good people, evil cannot. The evils God keeps away from the good are sin, crime, greed, lust, and avarice. God protects and defends the good but not necessarily their baggage. Good is found within and does not need good fortune. The mind and courage were given to withstand what is sad, dreadful, and hard to bear. Good people become more capable by maintaining poise and assimilating all that occurs. They regard all adversity as exercise to gain strength. They turn every hardship and difficulty into advantage. Disaster is virtue's opportunity. What matters is not what you bear but how you bear it. A soft and easy life tends to produce weak people.
One should never feel sorry for the good because, although they may be called unhappy, they can never actually be unhappy. Seneca asked if the dictator Sulla was happy because his way to the forum was cleared by the sword. Struggling to hold on to things can bring pain; it is better not to cling to them. Seneca wrote that he does not submit against his will; he is God's follower, not his slave, because he knows all things proceed according to eternal laws. Everything must be given up eventually, and dying is short and easy.
After Seneca went into exile to Corsica in 41 CE, he wrote for his mother "Consolation to Helvia." He knew of no one who was the object of grief writing to console, and he hesitated to exacerbate her sorrow. However, he believed the treatment would be worth the pain of opening the wounds. Seneca assured his mother that he was happy and could not be made unhappy because Nature requires no extra equipment for happiness. The wise are neither elated by prosperity nor depressed by adversity but rely on themselves for satisfaction. Though he acknowledged that emotions are not always under control and that distraction only tends to cheat them for a while, grief overcome by reason can be appeased forever. For the primal source of the mind is the heavenly spirit. Seneca argued that exile is not bad, as many peoples have changed their homes. Marcus Brutus had noted that exiles carry their virtues with them. Seneca observed that Nature fashioned Caligula to show the height of vice when it is combined with power, and he ridiculed his extravagance in spending a million on hard-to-get foods for one meal. It is absurd to believe that one's financial balance is more important than mental balance. There can never be enough for the greedy, but Nature is satisfied with little. The mind can never be exiled, because it is divine and free to explore all time and space.
Seneca wrote "On Firmness" to his young Epicurean friend Serenus. Seneca argued that the wise can not truly be injured. Fortune may snatch away what she has given; but she does not give virtue, and it can never be taken away. Instead of shrinking from difficult circumstances, the wise consider even injury profitable as making trials of virtue and proving one's self. The wise may be wounded, but injuries received may be overcome, arrested, and healed. Verbal insults are even less difficult, and the wise regard them with a smile; for true criticisms are beneficial, and false ones are irrelevant.
Seneca wrote his long essay On Anger to his older brother Novatus, later known as Gallio when he governed Achaea starting in 52 CE. Seneca called anger the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions, and he noted it has been called temporary insanity. Because it causes numerous crimes and wars, no plague has harmed the human race as much. Aristotle defined anger as the desire to repay suffering. No creature is more loving than humans, but Seneca asked what is more cruel than anger. Humans were born to help each other, but in anger they destroy each other. He referred to Plato's analysis that both punishment and anger are not consistent with good because one injures, and the other takes pleasure in injuring. Reason remains the mistress as long as she keeps apart from the passions; but if she mingles with them, she becomes contaminated and cannot hold them back. Passion and reason are not separate and transform the mind toward the better or the worse. If reason surrenders to anger, how can it free itself? Seneca criticized Aristotle's view that anger can be useful as a soldier. For Seneca following the leadership of reason is not anger, which he describes as willfulness. In the analogy anger would be disobedient soldiers.
Seneca found no reason for hating wrong-doers since error causes their mistakes. Does one hate the members of one's own body when undergoing surgery? Anger can be replaced by the desire to heal. Seneca observed that anger is unbalanced and usually goes farther than it should,
For it indulges its own impulses, is capricious in judgment,
refuses to listen to evidence, grants no opportunity for defense,
maintains whatever position it has seized,
and is never willing to surrender its judgment
even if it is wrong.2
Reason, however, postpones action in order to listen to both sides and sift out the truth. Seneca described three stages of anger as: 1) a menace prompts passion involuntarily; 2) an act of volition assumes it is right to revenge one's hurt or punish another; and 3) one wishes to take vengeance whether it is right or not. Although the first reaction cannot be controlled, the other two stages can be banished by judgment.
Some argued that anger is expedient because it escapes contempt and terrifies the wicked. Seneca replied that powerful anger may cause one to be feared, which is worse than being scorned, and powerless anger exposes one to ridicule. Seneca found that it is easier to be virtuous but costly to indulge in vices. He suggested not falling into anger; but if one does, to do no wrong. Anger is best corrected by delay. Arrogance and ignorance make us prone to anger. Anger is especially dangerous because more than any other vice it can affect a whole state. Nothing is worse than the enmity anger breeds, as nothing is more deadly than war. Seneca urged us to fight against ourselves, to conquer anger so that it will not conquer us. He suggested keeping it hidden in the depths of the heart so that it should not drive but can be driven. If the countenance is unruffled, the voice gentle, and the step slow, gradually the inner person will conform. Let us remember that even the wisest have faults, and let us forgive the foolish. For Seneca the greatest punishment for wrong-doing is having done it because of the torture of remorse. Vengeance exposes the doer to more injuries. Seneca asked us to find time to love and not waste time on evil things. He then gave numerous examples of anger, pointing out that in most cases it is the result of attaching great value to petty things.
In "On the Shortness of Life" Seneca addressed Paulinus, who was in charge of Rome's grain supply. Seneca recommended leisure for the practice of philosophy by being detached from involvement rather than wasting one's time pursuing fortunes and pleasures that do not last. He considered spending time in drinking and lust as the sorriest abuse of time, for he thought avarice, wrath, and unjust hatreds were more manly sins. For Seneca only philosophers really live and can explore the wisdom of past philosophers. He suggested that Paulinus take time for himself as he had given much of his life to the state. It is better to know the balance sheet of one's life than of the public grain supply.
"On Tranquillity of Mind" was written to Serenus, Nero's prefect of police. He had asked Seneca how he could stop his mental vacillations that prevent tranquility. Seneca observed that mental balance is disturbed by unrealized desires and the inability either to control or yield to passions. Although Seneca recommended quiet retirement, he also valued willingness to be of service to individuals and humanity with one's intelligence and counsel. Stoics claim the whole world as their fatherland and thus afford virtue a broad scope. Seneca advised choosing friends who are free from passions because we are affected by those nearest. Thrift leads to contentment; even the poor can be wealthy by being thrifty, whereas without thrift even riches will fail to satisfy. One should avoid laboring for empty ends or without motivation. Seneca suggested cutting down on gadding about and making the rounds. Instead of being stuck in a rigid program, being adaptable is helpful.
When Emperor Nero was eighteen, he signed his first death warrant, commenting that he wished he had never learned to write. At that time Seneca wrote "On Clemency" to recommend mercy to the Emperor so that he could enjoy a clear conscience. Seneca considered this the most humane of the virtues. A high spirit is distinguished by composure, serenity, and the lofty disregard of insult and injury. Gentleness enhances the security of kings. Although frequent punishment may crush a few, it provokes the hatred of all. A stern king by destroying enemies may only multiply them. Although his temper flared in youth, Augustus learned clemency and gained a great reputation over the years. Seneca commended the early reign of the young Nero during which he could boast of not shedding blood anywhere in the world. Perhaps the greatest problem with cruelty is that one must keep to the same road, as crimes need more crimes to protect them.
Seneca praised the ruler whose solicitude is all-embracing, who fosters every part of the commonwealth as a member of himself, who inclines to milder courses than punishment, who is reluctant to use harsh remedies, whose spirit is free of hostility and cruelty, who wields power with even temper in order to satisfy his subjects, who makes his prosperity a public asset, who offers easy access and is affable in conversation, whose amiability wins affection, who is sympathetic to reasonable requests but not impatient with the unreasonable - such a person is loved, defended, and cherished by the whole state. Humans require skillful handling without passions like anger. Just as we treat diseases without getting angry, so human problems can also be treated gently. One must learn that wishing to be feared is as bad as being in fear. Seneca asked why anyone would lead such a life when one can be harmless to all. Only the king who provides security to others is secure. Most of books two and three of "On Clemency" are lost, but Seneca concluded the first book by comparing the prince who saves the lives of fellow citizens in the exercise of duty as a godlike power, while to kill multitudes without discrimination is like the power of fire and ruin.
Seneca wrote "On the Happy Life" to his brother Gallio. Seneca accepted the Stoic premise that the happy life is in harmony with its own nature. It is attained with a sound mind that is courageous and energetic, careful of one's body but without anxiety, and attentive to all the advantages of life without being too attached to any. The happy person is free from fear and desire by the gift of reason. Concord and unity result from virtues, while discord comes from the vices. Asked why he had so much wealth when he discounted the value of money, Seneca replied that he was not equal to the best, though he was better than the wicked. He was content to be reducing his vices. While acknowledging that philosophers do not always practice what they preach, Seneca held that they practice much of what their virtuous minds conceive. Seneca thought it noble to aim at high things. He hoped to do nothing for opinion but everything for conscience, endeavoring to be guilty of nothing that impaired human liberty.
Seneca found more expression for virtue with riches than in poverty; for being poor requires only endurance, but riches need moderation, liberality, diligence, orderliness, and grandeur. Because he was willing to give up his riches, Seneca believed he was not owned by them as some people are. Why condemn wisdom to poverty? Seneca believed that wealth acquired without harming anyone or base dealing is honorable. Although he was known for his generosity, Seneca's critics were skeptical of the means he used to gain such immense wealth in such a short time by using his imperial favor. Seneca argued that the wise can use wealth by sharing it with the worthy. Yet he held that riches themselves are not a good, because though desirable they cannot make one good.
Seneca's longest work, On Benefits, discusses ingratitude as the most common vice. Great souls seek to do benefits; they search for good persons even after discovering bad people. The most important part of a benefit is the good will that bestows it; the ignorant regard only what meets the eye. A benefit is a virtuous act that no power can undo. The most important benefits are the necessary; the useful are second; the pleasurable, especially things that endure, are third. The best benefits anticipate one's desire; next is to indulge a request. Seneca concluded this work by noting that it is not the proof of a fine spirit to give a benefit and lose it, but rather to lose and still to give.
During the last three years of his life Seneca could concentrate on philosophy and wrote more than a hundred letters to Lucilius, the procurator in Sicily. Seneca's short discussions of philosophical issues later inspired the essay form used so well by Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and Emerson. Seneca wrote that a friend must be trusted, but before that you must judge. Philosophy promises the feeling of fellowship and of belonging to the human community. For Seneca the motto of living in conformity with nature did not mean torturing one's body nor rejecting simple standards of cleanliness nor adopting a hideous diet. Philosophy calls for a simple life, not a crude life of penance. He found a compromise between the ideal and popular morality in a life that can be admired and understood. Seneca found that part of the joy of learning is that it enabled him to teach so as to benefit others besides himself. In his 7th Letter Seneca warned against watching the butchery and slaughter of the shows in the arena. He suggested retiring into yourself as much as possible and associating with people who are likely to improve you.
Seneca wrote for later generations helpful recommendations that he hoped would be like successful medicine to lessen sores. Seneca delighted in quoting Epicurus in many letters, though he believed the Stoic sages feel their troubles but overcome them while the Epicureans do not even feel them. He felt the wise can do without friends although they do not desire to do without them. Seneca's teacher Hecato recommended the best love philter: "If you wish to be loved, love."3 Although philosophy is not a popular occupation, Seneca believed that it molds and builds character, orders life, regulates conduct, shows what to do and what not to do, and keeps one on a correct course without fear or worry. The duty and proof of wisdom is that word and deed should be in accord. It may take time but terrors may be quieted, incitements quelled, illusions dispelled, extravagance checked, and greed reprimanded. In Letter 41 Seneca mentioned the divine spirit that is near you, with you, and inside you. This divine spirit resides within us, guards us, and watches us. As we treat it, so it will treat us. No one is good without God, and no one can rise above fortune without help from God. This is what prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors.
In the 47th Letter Seneca was glad to hear that Lucilius lived on friendly terms with his slaves as an enlightened person should. Seneca laughed at those who thought it degrading to eat with a slave but would fill their bellies and then vomit everything up. Though he did not question having slaves, Seneca recommended being kind and courteous to them. He observed that many people are slaves to sex or money or ambition, and all are slaves to hope or fear. He believed it is better to have slaves respect you than fear you. To be respected truly is to be loved; love and fear do not mix. Seneca believed discipline should be verbal, as correctional beatings are for animals only. Seneca felt the concern of a friend as his own, writing,
Friendship creates a community of interest
between us in everything.
We have neither successes nor setbacks as individuals;
our lives have a common end.
No one can lead a happy life
if he thinks only of himself
and turns everything to his own purposes.
You should live for the other person
if you wish to live for yourself.4
Seneca advised against quibbling since straightforwardness and simplicity are in harmony with goodness. Seneca found greater power and value in that which creates (God) than in matter. In humans the body should serve this better spirit. Seneca held that the supreme good is virtue alone. People make mistakes because they consider the parts of life but not life as a whole. The greater part of progress is the desire to make progress. Those who wish to be happy should conclude that the good consists only in what is honorable. God relates to the soul; but sensual goods are only opinions. Seneca justified suicide, writing that the wise live as long as they should, not as long as they can; quality of life is more important than quantity. Dying well is more important than dying early or late if it means escaping living ill. Yet Seneca believed in learning as long as one is ignorant; even the old can learn. Reason perfects humans and makes them blessed. Virtue is the sole good, and there is no good without it.
Seneca observed that so-called pleasures, when they go beyond reasonable limits, become punishments. In Letter 88 he discussed from the ethical viewpoint liberal studies that are supposed to make a person free. Seneca believed that the pursuit of wisdom leads to freedom but questioned whether literary scholarship leads to virtue. As to music he preferred bringing harmony to his mind by getting his thoughts in tune. He wanted to learn how to avoid uttering plaintive notes when things went against him in life. He asked what was the use of mastering a horse if one is carried away by unbridled emotions, or of overcoming an opponent in wrestling or boxing if one is overcome by temper. Liberal studies alone do not improve character, but they may prepare the mind to acquire moral values. In the 89th Letter Seneca focused on the moral part of philosophy and divided it into three sections. First, theory assigns everything its proper place and assesses value; second is to control impulses; and third is to harmonize action resulting from impulses in order to attain consistency with the values. He recommended studying not to increase knowledge, but to improve it.
Seneca believed life is a gift of the immortal gods, but living well is the gift of philosophy that is bestowed by the gods. Philosophy does not construct arms for use in war, but it is a voice for peace, calling all humans to live in harmony. Seneca seemed to be criticizing Epicureans when he wrote that his philosophy did not take the citizen out of public life nor gods out of the world nor hand morality over to pleasure; he held that nothing is good unless it is honorable. Virtue for Seneca is all important, and it only comes to character by schooling, training, and continuing practice. Even the best people must cultivate virtue. Things can be made easier by viewing them with equanimity. Disasters, losses, and injuries have no more power against virtue than a cloud against the sun.
In discussing refraining from bloodshed in Letter 95, Seneca thought it a little thing not to harm those you ought to help. Yet to treat others with kindness is worthy of great praise. Seneca believed that all that is part of God and humanity is one - parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and for the same end, engendering in us mutual friendship and establishing fairness and justice. Like Socrates, Seneca held it is more wretched to commit injury than to suffer it. Since our birth is common, let us possess things in common. Freedom cannot be won without sacrifices. If you value freedom highly, everything else must be valued as little.
In Letter 105 Seneca observed that to be feared is to fear. No one can strike terror into others and still enjoy peace of mind. Not wronging others is a good start toward peace of mind. People without self-restraint lead disordered lives, experiencing fear equal to the injuries they do others because of conscience demanding answers. To expect punishment is to suffer it, and to deserve it is to expect it. Those with bad consciences may find circumstances of impunity but never freedom from anxiety. Even in his time Seneca noted that philosophy was degenerating from the study of wisdom to philology, the study of words. Seneca found that we are naturally attracted by wealth, pleasures, good looks, political advancement, and other enticing prospects, and we are repelled by exertion, death, pain, and limitations. He concluded that we need to train ourselves not to crave the former while not being afraid of the latter. He suggested retreating from attractive things and rousing ourselves to meet what attacks us. He compared this to leaning forward while walking uphill and leaning back when coming down. In his last letter Seneca explained that the Epicureans by making pleasure their ideal hold that good resides in the senses; but the Stoics find good in the intellect that is able to judge good and bad according to virtue and honor.
Dio Chrysostom was born in Prusa of Bithynia about 40 CE and died about 120. Dio became a sophist and criticized philosophers such as Musonius until he was converted by him in Rome. In 82 Dio was banished by Domitian from Rome, Italy, and Bithynia for advising a conspiring relative of the Emperor. He lived like a poor Cynic traveling and doing manual labor. People often asked him questions, and he began to speak about human duties and what is beneficial. Chrysostom means "golden mouth." In Viminacium on the Danube, Dio wrote a history of the Getae, but it is not extant. Dio visited military camps in his rags. According to Philostratus, when he saw troops beginning to mutiny after Domitian's assassination, Dio leaped on an altar and stripped off his rags like Odysseus as he quoted Homer. Then he energetically indicted the tyrant but persuaded the soldiers it would be wiser to act according to the will of the Roman people.
Dio's exile was ended, and the next summer he made an oration at Olympia. At Rome he was well received by Emperor Nerva. Dio Chrysostom gained royal favors for his native Prusa and returned there. He headed an embassy from Prusa to thank the Emperor, but Nerva had died. Dio became a close friend of Emperor Trajan, who said he loved him as himself even though he did not understand what he was saying. Dio traveled before returning to Prusa to beautify the city, where he became involved in an urban renewal lawsuit in 111 CE. No more was heard of him after that.
Some of Dio Chrysostom's four discourses On Kingship may have been presented at birthday celebrations of Trajan. In the first Dio wrote that although music may arouse the martial spirit, it is more difficult for it to make the soul just and prudent; he believed only the spoken word of the wise can do that. A king should not use power to become licentious and profligate, arrogant, and lawless; but he should devote his attention to guiding and shepherding his people. The just and good person has the greatest faith in the just and good gods. Next a good king honors and loves the good, while caring for all. His greatest pleasure may come from conferring benefits. Dio favored preparing for war so as to be able to live in peace. Yet the greatest defense of a king is found in the loyal hearts of those watching out for his welfare.
In the third discourse Dio praised Trajan but argued that he was not flattering him, claiming he was the only one bold enough to risk his life in telling the truth to Domitian when others thought falsehood necessary. Flattery he considered outrageous because it gives to vice the rewards of virtue. Such a perverter of truth lies to the very persons who know best one is lying. Unless the object of flattery is a fool, one appears more odious than pleasing. When flatterers are discovered, they are hated and mocked. It is reasonable for a ruler to steel oneself against pleasure because life is short and filled mostly with remembrance of the past and expectation of the future. Dio asked whether the wicked or the virtuous find more joy in remembering the past or are more encouraged about the future. The wise realize that labor brings health and a good reputation while luxurious ease results in the opposite and makes labor appear more difficult while blunting pleasures.
The fourth discourse is a dialog between the Macedonian conqueror Alexander and the Cynic philosopher Diogenes. Diogenes argues that this powerful king is his own bitterest foe as long as he is bad and foolish. Diogenes asks if he realizes it is a sign of fear to carry a weapon. Thus he encourages him to trust acting justly, not arms. He should not try to become king before he attains wisdom. He will never be a king until he has made his spirit commanding, free, and royal instead of slavish, illiberal, and vicious. Diogenes then describes the three most common lives as self-indulgence in pleasures, acquisitive greed, and ambition for glory.
In his 6th discourse Dio described the simple and free life of Diogenes, the only independent person in the world, comparing this to the misery of the king of Persia. He continued this theme in his 8th discourse on virtue, arguing that a noble person battles hardships as one's greatest antagonists. The strongest person is the one who can stay farthest from pleasures. Like Diogenes, during his exile Dio found that the pleasure of eating and drinking is increased when one is hungry or thirsty and that simple food and water can be most delightful. One can condition oneself to cold and heat as other animals do. Dio wrote how Diogenes at the Isthmian games questioned the value of being proclaimed the fastest runner. In Dio's 10th discourse Diogenes encounters a man looking for his lost slave and wanting to consult a god; he persuades him to give up both pursuits. He can simplify his life without a bad slave, and he should first aim to know himself before consulting an oracle.
Dio believed that as courage, justice, and temperance increased, there would be less surplus wealth and luxuries. He observed that most people consider freedom the greatest blessing and that slavery is a shameful condition. Yet they have little knowledge of what freedom and slavery are, and they do little to escape slavery and to gain freedom. We are permitted to do what is just and beneficial because doing the opposite results in suffering and punishment. Thus freedom is knowing what is allowed, and slavery is ignorance of what is just and good. In discussing distress Dio pointed out that an intelligent person is free by not feeling pain because of troubles and stress. Nothing by itself must cause fear, but it results from false opinion and our own weakness. There is uncertainty in everything. All who have come before us are dead, and we may die any day. Perhaps the greatest achievement would be to live one day free of worry, fear, and similar emotions.
In his discourse on coveting, Dio associated this vice with greed, citing a passage from Euripides' Phoenician Women that greed destroys the prosperity of families and overthrows states, that human law requires us to honor equality in order to establish common friendship and peace for all. Yet quarrels, strife, and foreign wars are due to desire for more but result in each side being deprived even of what is sufficient. What is more important than life? Yet men destroy even that for money, often causing their own countries to be laid waste. Wealth moderately put to use does not injure but makes life easier and frees it from want; but if it becomes excessive, it causes far more worries and troubles than pleasures. Dio wrote that the great majority feed in their hearts an entire army of desires and try to accumulate property far beyond their needs. In outlining education for public speaking, Dio most highly recommended reading the works of Homer, Menander, Euripides, Thucydides, Demosthenes, and Socratics like Xenophon. In writing about retirement Dio noted that the mind should be trained never to turn aside or withdraw from its proper work, or one will not be able to rise above one's surroundings to accomplish things.
Dio Chrysostom questioned whether it is right to go to war with those who have not done a wrongful act. If they have done something wrong, he asked, how serious is it? Philosophers take a long-range perspective and are not influenced by anger, contentiousness, and bribery, but act justly. Dio believed that guardian spirits are good and that the wise are fortunate and happy because they are guided by them; but the unhappy are so, not because their guardian spirit is bad, but because they neglect the good spirit.
Philostratus in his Lives of the Sophists wrote that Dio often reproached licentious cities, but he managed to do so without being ungracious like one who restrains an unruly horse with the bridle rather than the whip. At Rhodes, Dio criticized their assembly for voting statues to honor men and then chiseling off the names of old statues to add the new name. He spoke in the theater at Alexandria criticizing their usual entertainment. He said the gods control all blessings and distribute them to those who are ready to receive, like the water from the Nile that comes from a divine source above; but evils like the filthy canals in the city are their own creation. Human folly and love of luxury and ambition make life vexatious and full of deceit, wickedness, pain, and other ills. The one cure from the gods is education; for persons who use reason consistently will be healthy and happy.
At the Cilician capital of Tarsus, Dio suggested that the gods no longer love the wanton, senseless, and unrestrained, who are inclined toward insolence, laziness, and luxury. They should not rely on speakers who praise them, for they only deceive and vainly excite them like foolish children. Rather they should welcome the one who will point out their faults and can make them think. Dio compared those who said that practically everyone has changed to those who do not take care of themselves in an epidemic because nearly all are sick. People are walking around asleep dreaming instead of being guided by reason. Dio is like the physician who touches the sore spot; he makes it smart, but his medicine is mild considering the seriousness of their case. In relation to other cities Dio asked them to behave with consideration according to their honor and not in a spirit of hostility and hatred. If they do so, everyone will follow their leadership willingly with admiration and affection. Superiority in virtue and kindness are their true blessings and are worthy of emulation. Dio noted how the rivalry between Athens and Sparta caused them both to lose their good reputations and then their power and wealth until finally they were subjected by their foes. This is like fellow slaves quarreling with each other over glory and pre-eminence. Yet the greatest things the philosophers pursue seriously are always within our control.
In speaking to his native country in Borysthenes, Dio promoted the philosophical theory of a noble and benevolent fellowship of gods and humans which gives a share of citizenship to all living beings who have reason and intellect. He believed this code better and more just than that of Sparta which denied citizenship to the Helots. He recounted a Zoroastrian myth in which the gods are led by the one best endowed with truth.
Dio spoke to the Nicomedians urging them to find concord with their neighbor Nicaea. Although concord is so much better than war, people have often chosen wars not because they are deluded that fighting is better than keeping the peace, but because some are striving for royal power, some for liberty, some for territory, and some for control of the sea. These two cities are struggling for primacy; but if they are concerned for the welfare of all Bithynia, they will be no less displeased over wrongs inflicted upon others than those inflicted upon themselves; also if anyone flees to them for succor, they will aid them promptly and impartially. This conduct will yield them primacy, not quarreling with Nicaeans over titles. By joining forces they will control other cities that might wrong them; but now other cities take advantage of their strife, giving primacy to them. Together the two cities would double their resources, and lawbreakers could not escape justice by fleeing from one city to the other. They should not listen to those who malign them to each other for selfish purposes, and so they should avoid being irritated for petty reasons. Dio believed that once concord is achieved, the gods will help it to endure.
Dio also spoke against the internal strife in Nicaea, suggesting that the gods desire nothing more than virtue, orderly government, and honor for good citizens. He prayed that the gods might cast out strife and jealousy and implant love and unity. In his own city of Prusa, Dio argued for concord with their neighbor Apameia, as he believed it is never profitable even for the greatest city to indulge in hostile strife with the humblest village. When the opposing city is not small, the hostility will inevitably cause pain and do harm. Dio reminded them that the Apameians need Prusa's timber and that Prusa has no other harbor for trade except that of Apameia. Dio believed unwillingness to yield or make concessions, which some imagine are not manly, is rather senseless and stupid. Dio felt patriotic feelings toward Prusa, but he also recognized the democratic right of others to disagree with him, confident he could persuade them to change. Immunity from criticism is more likely to be given to dictators than to benefactors. Dio described the disadvantage of enmity and the benefits of concord and friendship.
Furthermore, any enmity towards any people
is an irksome, grievous thing.
For there is no enemy so weak as not on occasion
to hurt even the man who appears to be very strong,
or to display his hatred by either saying some painful word
or doing some injurious act.
For the fruit of hatred is never, so to speak, sweet or beneficial,
but of all things most unpleasant and bitter,
nor is any burden so hard to bear or so fatiguing as enmity.
For example, while it always interferes
with strokes of good fortune,
it increases disasters,
and while for him who suffers from something else
it doubles the pain,
it does not permit those who are enjoying good fortune
to rejoice in fitting measure.
For it is inevitable, I suppose,
that the masses should be harmed by one another,
and, on the other hand, be despised
and held in low esteem by the others,
not only as having antagonists to begin with,
but also as being themselves foolish and contentious.
However, there is nothing finer or more godlike
than friendship and concord,
whether between man and man or between city and city.
For who are they who acquire
the good things of life more becomingly,
when it is their friends who assist in supplying them?
Who escape the bad things more easily
than those who have friends as allies?
Who are less affected by distress
than those who have persons to share their suffering
and to help them bear it?
To whom is good fortune sweeter
than to those who gladden by their success
not only themselves but others too?5
After bringing concessions for Prusa from Trajan, Dio Chrysostom promoted such improvements to the city as colonnades and fountains but also fortifications, harbors, and shipyards. He even aimed to bring together many inhabitants in a federation of cities with Prusa as the head. According to Dio all in the assembly approved his plan and supported it financially.
In old age probably at Rome Dio delivered his Euboean Discourse in which he told the story of simple hunters who generously aided a shipwrecked traveler. He described the happiness of their rural life and noted that the poor often are more helpful to those in need than the rich, whose aid usually is a loan which must be returned with interest. Dio then turned to the difficulty the poor had surviving in cities, where only the water was free; even firewood had to be bought. He was concerned that many jobs for those without wealth were sedentary and unhealthy. He was also critical of corrupt professions such as entertainers and lawyers.
Dio's strongest arguments were against prostitution as shameful and brutal lust. Brothel-keepers unite individuals without love and affection for the sake of filthy lucre. Women and children captured in war or purchased as slaves are exposed to shameful ends in dirty booths. Dio believed this sordid trade should be forbidden and not legal. This adultery committed with outcasts can lead to assaults on the chastity of women and boys of good families. To the argument that unbarred brothels at low prices would protect free and respected wives from bribes and gifts, he argued that men become weary of what is cheap and desire what is forbidden. Where intrigues with married women are carried on with respectability, the maidenhood of unmarried girls will be in danger. When the seduction of women becomes easy, some men will turn to corrupting boys. Although Dio Chrysostom never mentioned Christians, his preaching in many ways was a classical parallel of that new morality.
Plutarch was born about 46 CE in Boeotia at Chaeronea, which is midway between Thebes and Delphi. His father was also a philosopher and biographer, and Plutarch was given a good education. In 66-67 he studied mathematics and philosophy at Athens with the Peripatetic philosopher Ammonius, though as a Platonist Plutarch was later more closely associated with the Academy. He often lectured at Rome between 75 and 90. At Chaeronea he held municipal posts such as building commissioner and chief magistrate. He traveled in Greece, to Sardis, Alexandria, and on public business to Rome. Plutarch lectured and taught adults philosophy and ethics at Chaeronea. About 95 he became one of the two permanent priests at Delphi, and he had a second home there. He was married and mentioned four sons when his infant daughter died. Plutarch probably died about 120.
Plutarch is best known for writing biographies, of which 48 survive, including 22 pairs of parallel Greek and Roman lives down to the end of the civil war with Antony's death in 30 BC. His motive for undertaking these was the ethical improvement of others; but he soon found history to be a mirror from which he learned to adjust and regulate his own conduct. Extant also are 78 ethika or moral essays, though this designation was originally for the largest group, not all of his other varied writings. Some of these were not written by him but were given his name. The influence of Plutarch's writing has been great. Marcus Aurelius took his biographies with him campaigning against the Marcomanni. Writing in Greek, his work became schoolbooks in the eastern empire for centuries. Byzantine scholars introduced them into Italy during the Renaissance. An excellent French translation by Jacques Amyot of the Lives in 1559 and the Moralia in 1572 led to North's English Parallel Lives in 1579 and Philemon Holland's English Moralia in 1603.
In writing on "Moral Virtue" Plutarch reviewed the theories of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. He agreed with Plato that in the psyche there is clearly a difference between what judges and what suffers passions and that the latter obeys the former and yields, while the rational element is what is obeyed or resisted. The one who has the worst part obedient to the better has power over oneself and is better than the one who allows the brutish and unreasonable part of the soul to get its way. The reason as divine and heavenly should naturally command and rule that which is sensual. In "Virtue and Vice" Plutarch wrote that people enjoy wealth, power, and reputation better and bear poverty, exile, and old age more gently according to the serenity of their character. Vice makes every activity more troublesome. Yet a courageous soul is calm and joyful. Learn what is honorable and good, and you will be content with your lot. In "Can Vice Cause Unhappiness?" Plutarch held that vice makes everyone completely miserable without needing instruments or ministers. No misfortune is really bad without the aid of vice. Yet vice can ruin the fortunate with lust, anger, superstitious fears, and so on.
Plutarch sent an essay "On Listening" to a young man just old enough to wear adult clothes, warning him that undisciplined youths wanting freedom often set over themselves more tyrannical masters than teachers or trainers, namely desires. Now is the time to replace the rules they have been under with the divine leadership of reason; for only those who follow reason can be considered free. Listening is more important than speaking, because we listen more than we speak. One is apt listening to others to notice faults such as sloppy thinking, hollow phrases, clichés, applause seeking, and so on more than when one is speaking oneself. Plutarch recommended the study of poetry as a search for truth with the critical awareness of what is false from fables that may be taken allegorically. He suggested that unjustifiable writings be corrected or balanced by other passages. He believed poetry can prepare students for philosophy.
Plutarch wrote that the virtues of men and women are the same, and he gave numerous examples of courageous women from various cities and heroic individual actions by women. In a long essay "On the Malice of Herodotus" he criticized the pioneer historian from an ethical point of view for characterizing people in abusive ways. Plutarch wrote in defense of Boeotians, Corinthians, and other Greeks.
Plutarch gave many examples in his essay "How to Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend." Self-love can open the domain of friendship to the flatterer. Truth and knowing oneself are the best defenses against the deception of flattery. Flatterers imitate the pleasant and attractive aspects of friendship by putting on a cheerful face and never being negative. They may even imitate frankness by criticizing activities and ways of life he or she sees the subject disliking while praising extravagantly what the other likes. The flatterer has no constancy nor authentic likes and dislikes but acts like a vanity mirror. Like an understudy, the flatterer, while imitating the other person, keeps inferior and defective in everything except what is bad. A true friend will not be afraid to upset one when it does good but should not let the upset destroy the friendship, using it like a sharp medicine to protect the patient. Plutarch asked if it is not flattery that diverts tyrants into utterly scandalous behavior.
Flatterers do not defer to virtue or age but rather to wealth and reputation. They wait for some emotion they can fatten up, like a tumor that inflames the mind. They encourage the angry to lash out, the spendthrift to buy, the cowardly to run away, and the suspicious to be cautious. A friend is straightforward, uncomplicated, and sincere; but the flatterer always conforms to the other person in opinions, pleasures, and passions.
For a friend is there as a colleague not a co-rogue,
to consult with not to conspire with,
for support in spreading facts not fictions
and yes, even to share his adversity not his perversity.6
Plutarch warned against using candor to a friend when many people are there. It was said that Pythagoras once reproached a pupil harshly in front of others, and the young man hanged himself. Pythagoras never again told anyone off in the presence of others. Most disgraceful is to expose a husband where his wife can hear, a father where his children can see, someone in love before the beloved, or a teacher in front of the pupils. Such people may completely forget themselves when censured before those whose good opinion they want to maintain.
In "On Being Aware of Moral Progress" Plutarch noted that frenzied and agitated dreams can tell us that our mind does not yet have its own regulator but is still being formed by opinions and rules which are unraveled by the emotions. Detachment is an exalted and divine state, and progress toward it is a taming of the emotions. Thus it is important for us to examine our emotions and assess their differences. If our desires and fears and rages are less intense than they were before because we are using reason to decrease their violence so that our sense of disgrace is sharper than our fear, we prefer to emulate rather than envy; we value a good reputation more than money; our actions are slow rather than hasty; and we are astounded rather than contemptuous of arguments; then we may assume progress in that the vices now engage more respectable emotions.
In "How to Profit by One's Enemies" Plutarch observed that as states must have good order and government to counter border warfare so individuals may be stimulated by enmities to practice soberness and guard against bad habits. He suggested you could distress the person who hates you, not by reviling but by showing self-control, being truthful, and treating everyone with kindness and justice. If you do criticize, make sure you are not guilty of those things, because nothing is more disgraceful than that hypocrisy. He agreed with Antisthenes that if one is not admonished by true friends, one needs ardent enemies to turn one from error. Insults and abusive attacks can also help one to discipline the temper and learn patience. Plutarch warned against residues of envy, hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness that may be introduced by enmity, just as laws made during war under bad conditions may injure people if they are not abolished after the emergency.
Plutarch in "On Having Many Friends" described the coin of friendship as goodwill and graciousness combined with virtue, and he considered this rare. True friendship is good because of virtue, pleasant because of intimacy, and necessary because of usefulness. He found it as difficult to put aside an unsatisfactory friend as it is to get rid of harmful food once it has been eaten. He recommended not accepting friendship from acquaintances too readily but to seek after those who are worthy. Too many friends causes separation as it does not allow blending of goodwill in intimacy, because one's attention is constantly being transferred to another. Friendship seeks intimacy with a steady character, which is hard to find.
Plutarch gave advice about keeping well, suggesting that good and constant habits will make life pleasant. He warned against excess in eating and drinking and against all self-indulgence. Increase in civil discord and the rule of despots may be blamed on luxury and extravagance. He recommended appropriate exercise for scholars and deep massage with oil. He concluded that health provides the best opportunity for obtaining and using virtue in words and action. He also advised cooperation and intellectual companionship to brides and grooms.
Plutarch's concept translated "Superstition" literally means "dread of deities," and he described it as an emotional idea that produces fear of gods causing pain and injury. Even an unmoved atheist is better off than the perverted mind of the superstitious person. Plutarch believed atheism is based on erroneous reasoning, but superstition is an emotion based on erroneous reasoning. By denying all spirits atheism can look for other causes of events. Superstitious fear renders one impotent and helpless, because it can relate to anything as "afflictions of God" or "attacks by an evil spirit." Atheism does not cause superstition, but superstitious beliefs can lead to atheism. Plutarch concluded that true religion lies in between the extremes of superstitious belief and hardened atheism.
Like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, Plutarch also wrote on anger. In his "On the Avoidance of Anger" Sulla asks Fundanus to explain how he has been able to tame his temper so that it is now moderate and obedient to reason. Fundanus admits that anger makes the inside full of chaos, smoke, and noise so that the mind cannot see or hear what is beneficial. When rational discrimination immediately bears down on an outburst, it not only remedies the current situation but also strengthens the mind's detachment and energy for the future. He recommends not listening to or obeying a tyrannical temper by keeping quiet as if the angry emotion were a disease. Anger arises from mental pain and suffering because of weakness; he disagrees with the notion that it is the mind's tendons. Just as Philip destroyed Olynthus and could not rebuild it, anger too is good at demolition and ruination; but construction, preservation, mercy, and patience require gentleness, forgiveness, and the moderating of passion. Fundanus also disagreed with the poet who wrote that respect follows fear, arguing that it is the reverse. Respect engenders the fear that leads to self-restraint, while flogging does not instill remorse but the intention to get away with misdeeds in the future.
Plutarch has Fundanus describe how he tries to quell his anger in punishing by allowing the defendants the right to justify themselves and by listening to them. This gives time to check the emotion and let it dissolve while rationality finds a fitting punishment. He observed that anger is often triggered by the belief that one has been slighted and ignored. Thus angry feelings are increased by self-regard and discontent, usually accompanied by a luxurious and enervating way of life. Anger can ruin marriage and friendship. When anger is absent, even drunkenness can be tolerated, though drinking and anger can produce cruelty and madness. In our lighter moments anger imposes enmity on affability, disputing on debate, arrogance on authority, envy on success, and hostility on failure. Anger even accepts harm to oneself while destroying another, as its most disagreeable element is the desire to hurt someone else. Turning our thoughts inward to see how we are like that too may change righteous indignation to tolerance.
Similarly in writing "On Contentment" Plutarch asked why be so quick to spot someone else's weakness while overlooking your own? Also people may obsessively contemplate their own faults while failing to apply one's mind to good things. Instead of being upset about what one has lost, why not feel happy about what one has kept? He warned against the usual practice of envying those who are better off, as prisoners envy the freed, the freed those who have always been free; these envy citizens, who envy the rich, who envy provincial commanders, who envy kings, who envy the gods. Clearly contentment is not based on one's position in society. Plutarch suggested treating the mind like a painting, giving prominence to bright and vivid colors while allowing the gloomy hues to fade into the obscurity of the background.
Plutarch took the Stoic position that fortune may deprive us of wealth and relationships; but it cannot make a good person bad, cowardly, mean-spirited, petty, or spiteful, and it cannot deprive us of a helpful attitude toward life. The wise calm most physical matters because their self-control, responsible regimen, and moderate exercise tend to prevent illness. Plutarch reminded us that it is always in our power not to lie, mislead, steal, or intrigue. These are important to happiness because while reason eradicates other discomforts, reason itself may create remorse when the conscience is pricked. Good deeds leave behind in the intelligent person's mind a pleasant and fresh impression. Plutarch believed the world is a sacred temple suitable for divinity, and life is an initiation into its natural wonders. Thus he suggested we celebrate them everyday in joy and contentment.
Plutarch explained why some become preoccupied with other people's lives in "On Being a Busybody."
Yet there are some who cannot bear to face their own lives,
regarding these as a most unlovely spectacle,
or to reflect and revolve upon themselves,
like a light, the power of reason,
but their souls, being full of all manner of vices,
shuddering and frightened at what is within,
leap outwards and prowl about other people's concerns
and there batten and make fat their own malice.7
He explained the origin of the word "sycophant" as one who informed against those exporting prohibited figs, and he warned busybodies that they may be similarly hated.
In "On the Love of Wealth" Plutarch noted that this desire is not satiated like hunger and thirst; for neither gold nor silver relieves the craving for money, and the greed for gain is not stopped by acquiring new gains. A person absorbed in getting money, lamenting expenditures, and doing base and painful things to acquire more money even though one has houses, land, herds, slaves, and much clothing has the trouble Plutarch called "mental poverty." Avarice is an oppressive and vexing mistress, because it compels us to make money but forbids us spending it; it arouses the desire but cheats us of the pleasure. He concluded that mastery of self is needed whether one dines alone or gives a sumptuous feast.
In his essay "On the Slowness of the Gods to Punish" Plutarch noted that a horse is best trained by immediately punishing its mistakes; but if there is a long delay, it does no good. Yet divine retribution seems to take a long time and may even affect future generations. Yet on the human side it can be argued that some delay in punishing can teach us to avoid anger so that reprimanding may be more rational. Perhaps God is taking a careful look at sick minds to see if they are inclined to remorse. It can be argued that every sinner's mind ponders how to get rid of the memory of its crimes in order to cleanse its conscience and make a fresh start in life. Plutarch closed this essay with a fabulous tale about Thespesius, who went out of his body and observed souls in the other world. Those who had spent their lives in undetected iniquity, covering themselves with the semblance of goodness, were harassed and tormented until they turned themselves inside out. The last thing he saw was souls being prepared for rebirth.
Plutarch gave a very dramatic account of the patriotic plot that liberated Thebes from Spartan rule in December 379 BC in a fascinating dialog called "On the Daimonion of Socrates." The conspirators meet at the house of Simmias, a friend of Socrates, and discuss the Spartan excavation of the Alcmena tomb. An ancient script was deciphered by Egyptian priests as a message that God advises the Greeks to stop fighting but compete in philosophy and to give up their weapons and settle their disputes by means of the Muses and discussion. Pythagorean ideas are criticized by Galaxidorus, who denounces religious mysticism in favor of the rationalism of Socrates. Yet Theocritus replies that Socrates had a daimonion (which might be translated as a "guardian angel"). Then the Theban hero Epaminondas arrives with the Pythagorean Theanor. The latter wants to repay the former for attending to the funeral of the Pythagorean Lysis; but Epaminondas refuses the gift because of his philosophic discipline of poverty.
Meanwhile Hipposthenidas tries to call off the plot because he fears it is discovered; but his messenger is delayed and called back. Simmias admires Socrates for being able to receive guidance from the angel directly in waking consciousness. Simmias relates the story of Timarchus, whose soul left his body and traveled to the other world, where he observed the process of reincarnation. Disobedient souls are restrained by a kind of bridle, which people experience as remorse for sins or lawless and indulgent pleasures. Finally the Thebans carry out their plan to make the Spartans drunk so that they can kill them and recover their city.
When Plutarch wrote to his wife to console her for the death of their infant daughter, they already had four sons and grandchildren. He commended her for not indulging in excessive grief, which can be an enemy of affection and love and can lead to an insatiable desire to grieve if it becomes a habit. Mental distress subsides when it is dispersed in physical calm. He reminded her that since the soul cannot be destroyed, life in the physical body could be compared to the behavior of caged birds. In "On the Use of Reason by 'Irrational' Animals" Plutarch had one of the transformed pigs in the Odyssey debate with Odysseus whether humans or animals had more virtue and contentment.
In his essay "Philosophers and Men in Power" Plutarch argued that philosophers by associating with rulers can make them more just, moderate, and eager to do good. They will be a public blessing by dispensing justice and making the orderly and good prosper. Writing "To an Uneducated Ruler" he asked who shall rule the ruler and gave Pindar's answer, the law, which he interpreted as reason found within. The ruler should be more afraid of doing evil than of suffering it, because the former causes the latter. The danger is that those who can do what they wish will do what they should not. Power gives wickedness speed, making anger murder, erotic love adultery, and coveting confiscation. Suspicion may cause those slandered to be executed. Power quickly reveals the corruption in souls, like water poured into a leaky container immediately spills out as acts of desire, anger, falsehood, and bad taste.
Plutarch shared his "Precepts of Statecraft." He began by recommending policy be based on judgment and reason, not impulse or contentiousness. Politicians must apply themselves to understanding the character of the citizens, and after gaining their confidence they can try to train their character gently toward what is better by treating them mildly. Being on the public stage, one must first educate and order one's own character, for it is difficult to change the multitude. Virtue though is not the only important thing; oratory is its co-worker. One's speech should be unaffected, high-minded, frank, foreseeing, and thoughtfully concerned for others. One should be careful about assisting friends only after the main public interests are safe and of course should not do so in corrupt ways. Plutarch believed that refusing to make peace with a personal enemy for things we ought to give up even for a friend is uncivilized and beastly.
Politicians in assembly should not all express the same opinion as if by a previous agreement but should express different opinions and draw people along by persuasion to the public advantage. Plutarch also knew the value of having friends in high places, and he stated that the Romans are eager to promote the political interests of their friends. Ordinary citizens may be soothed by granting them equality, and the powerful can be given concessions within the bounds of local government, solving problems as though they were diseases in the body politic. One may conciliate superiors, honor equals, and add prestige to the inferior, while being friendly to all. One should compete with every official in zeal, forethought for the common good, and wisdom. He urged us to moderate our ambition, because honor is within ourselves. The main thing is to instill concord and friendship while removing strife, discord, and enmity. Private troubles can become public ones and small troubles great ones if they are overlooked and do not receive counsel and treatment from the beginning. Thus the politician should attend to offenses, like diseases in a person that might spread quickly if one does not take hold of them, treat them, and cure them.
Plutarch's two short essays on "The Eating of Flesh" argued against that practice. Meat is usually unnecessary now that food is more plentiful than in primitive times. Humans are not naturally carnivorous and lack the appropriate teeth, claws, and stomach to digest flesh. Humans don't eat lions and wolves that are killed in self-defense but tame animals that harm no one. He believed that meat, like wine, may strengthen the body; but they weaken the soul, especially when consumed to satiety. He wrote, "We shall eat flesh, but from hunger, not as a luxury. We shall kill an animal, but in pity and sorrow, not degrading or torturing it, which is the current practice in many cases."8 The killing of animals has aroused violent instincts and led to wars and the murder of humans. Another argument against the practice is the migration of souls from body to body.
Plutarch also wrote extensively on the religion of Isis and Osiris, oracles such as the one at Delphi, and the various philosophical schools. He noted that the Stoics Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus wrote about government, but none of them were involved in political, diplomatic, or military activities. He found numerous inconsistencies in the writings of Chrysippus. He criticized the hedonists in the long essay "That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible." In addition to his biographical contributions and as a Platonist philosopher and teacher, Plutarch wrote much to apply ethical values to various aspects of life in his synthesis of classical philosophy and religion.
Epictetus was born to a slave woman in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia about 50 CE; his name means "newly acquired." His master Epaphroditus was Nero's secretary and allowed him to study with the prominent Stoic teacher Musonius Rufus in Rome. Origen quoted an account by Celsus describing how his master twisted his leg. Epictetus smiled and informed him it would break; after it broke, he merely reminded his master that he had told him it would. He was lame for the rest of his life. Epictetus gained his freedom and began teaching philosophy some time before Domitian banished philosophers from Rome and Italy in 89. Then Epictetus went to Nicopolis, a town in Epirus founded by Augustus to celebrate his victory at Actium. There he taught while living simply in a house with a mat, a pallet, and an earthenware lamp, which replaced the iron one that was stolen. In his old age when friends of his were going to expose their baby, Epictetus married in order to bring up the child. He emulated Socrates and did not write anything; but his pupil Flavius Arrianus (the historian Arrian) published his notes in eight books of Discourses, the first four of which survive, and a compendium Handbook (Encheiridion). Epictetus probably died late in the reign of Hadrian which ended in 138.
Epictetus focused on the rational faculty, which is the only faculty we have received that examines itself and all other faculties. It is best and supreme over all and is the only thing which the gods have put in our power. All other things are not under our power. Thus we must make the best use we can of what is within our power while using the rest according to nature as it pleases God. I must die, and I may have to be put in chains or go into exile; but Epictetus questioned whether I must lament. No one can hinder me from smiling and being cheerful and content. You may fetter my leg, he said, but not even Zeus can overpower my will. In deciding what to do, each person knowing oneself must decide how much one is worth and at what price one should sell oneself; for all sell themselves at various prices.
We have a body in common with the animals and intelligence in common with the gods. Many incline toward the miserable and mortal kinship, a few to what is divine and happy. Everyone uses things according to their opinions; the few formed for fidelity and modesty have no ignoble thoughts about themselves. Yet most neglect what is better and attach themselves to things related to their wretched flesh, like treacherous wolves, lions, and foxes. Virtue produces tranquility. The work of improvement enables one to achieve what one desires and not fall into that which one would avoid. Epictetus praised providence based on seeing and gratitude. God has made humans spectators of God and its works, yet not only spectators but interpreters as well. God has given us the ability to bear everything that happens without being depressed or broken. Epictetus aimed to reveal powers for greatness and courage, while expecting others to show fault-finding and accusations.
Instead of identifying as an Athenian or Corinthian, Epictetus encouraged people to think of themselves as citizens of the world. In observing the intelligent administration of the world one realizes the greatest and most comprehensive community is of people and God. By having communion with God one may not only call oneself a cosmopolitan but also a son of God. With this divine kinship why should we grieve or flatter or envy? A person is not made miserable through the means of another. We are only responsible for what is in our power, the proper use of appearances. Why then draw on ourselves things for which we are not responsible and so give trouble to ourselves? When someone asked Epictetus to persuade his brother to stop being angry with him, he pointed out that philosophy does not secure external things. The art of living is each person's life. His brother's anger is external to him; but if he would send his brother, Epictetus would talk to him about it. He asked why we are angry with many, and one might say because they are thieves and robbers. This means they are mistaken about good and evil. Then should we be angry with them or pity them? Show them their error, and they may desist from their errors.
Epictetus defined education as learning how to adapt intelligence to particular things according to nature, then to distinguish what things are in our power. In our power are will and all acts depending on will. Things not in our power are the body, possessions, relatives, country, and all with whom we live in society. Thus we should transfer the concept of the good to what is within our power. To look after my own interest may lead to taking the land of a neighbor, which is the origin of wars, civil commotion, tyrannies, and conspiracies. It is circumstances which reveal what people are. Therefore when a difficulty falls on you, remember that God is training you. Keep by all means what is your own, and do not desire what belongs to others. Fidelity and virtuous shame are yours. Who can take them from you? Who will hinder you using them? But when you act by seeking what is not your own, you lose what is your own. The law of life is to act according to nature. We should realize that consequences will not escape us.
Nothing else can conquer will except will itself, and opinion conquers itself and is not conquered by another. Since the law of nature is that the superior overpowers the inferior, why not use the superior principles? Epictetus admitted that the man who stole his lamp was superior in wakefulness; but he bought the lamp at the price of becoming a thief. Epictetus explained that caution should be used in things that are dependent on the will, but we may employ confidence in those things not within our power. Yet many do the reverse and attempt to avoid what is not within their power, resulting in fear and being disturbed. We can be confident about death, because it is inevitable; but we can be cautious about the fear of death since that is within our power.
Many think that only the free should be educated; but philosophers believe that only the educated are free. God does not allow those not educated to be free. No one in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free; but the one who is free of those is delivered from servitude. If you run after externals, you must ramble up and down in obedience to the will of your master, who is the one who has power over the things you seek to gain or avoid. Epictetus argued that divination is useless, because it does not explain anything about good or evil.
When one known for adultery came to him, Epictetus noted that laying aside fidelity to make designs on a neighbor's wife destroys a person of fidelity, modesty, and sanctity. One is also overthrowing neighborhood, friendship, and community, for who will trust that person? Modest actions preserve the modest person; immodest actions destroy that. The same is true with fidelity. Shamelessness strengthens the shameless person, faithlessness the faithless, abusive words the abusive person, anger the person with an angry temper, and unequal giving and receiving makes the avaricious even more so. This is why philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied with learning only, but they urge us to add study and practice. For we often have long been accustomed to doing contrary things. Just as the adulterer loses modesty and temperance, so the angry person loses temper, and the coward fortitude. No one is bad without suffering some loss and damage; though if you look at money only, they may gain in that. Epictetus asked why he should respond to an unjust act with an unjust act since that would be hurting himself because the other had hurt himself.
Philosophers weigh and test rules of behavior by examining and confirming them; then when they are known, the wise and good use them. Epictetus suggested that the way to cast away sadness, fear, desire, envy, malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, and intemperance is by looking only to God with your affection and consecrating yourself to divine commands. Any other way compels one to be overcome by stronger things, and then one will never be able to find tranquility. In struggling against appearances he observed that the affections of the soul easily become habits. So being angry feeds the fire of that habit. Being overcome by sexual intercourse increases incontinence. Corresponding acts strengthen those habits. If you wish not to be angry, count the days on which you have not been angry. The habit will weaken as you experience more peaceful days; when you reach thirty days or more, the habit may be completely destroyed. Epictetus commended himself for abstaining when a woman stripped and lay down next to him and even tempted him with fondling. He exhorted us to be willing to appear beautiful to God in purity with our own pure self and God.
In regard to friendship Epictetus believed that only those who understand the good can also know how to love. How can those unable to distinguish good from bad possess the power to love? Thus true loving is only in the power of the wise. Everyone is attached to their own interest, for wherever the "I" and "Mine" are placed, the animal inclines. If it is in the flesh, then that is the ruling power; if in the will, then it is there; and if in externals, it is there. Only when I am where my will is, may I be a friend as I should be; for then my interest will be to maintain fidelity, modesty, patience, abstinence, and cooperation. If I separate myself from honesty, Epictetus concluded, then the doctrine of Epicurus, that honesty is only what opinion holds, becomes strong. Can there be friendship without honest communication?
Give thanks to God for things like wine and oil that you receive, but remember that God gives you something better, the ability to use them, prove them, and estimate the value of each. Eyes see, but whether we should look upon the wife of someone else and in what manner is decided by the will. Whether we believe what is said or not and whether we are moved by it or not are also in the faculty of the will. The will makes use of everything else and can even destroy the whole person. Can anything be stronger than this? Why then are the things subject to restraint often stronger than what is not? Those who do not know who they are nor for what purpose they exist, what the world is, with whom they are associated, what things are good and bad, beautiful and ugly, who do not understand discourse nor demonstration nor what is true or false and cannot distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature nor turn away nor move upward nor intend nor assent nor dissent nor suspend judgment. Such people go around blind thinking they are somebody when they are nobody. Every error is a contradiction, because those who err do not wish to do so; but they do not do what they wish to do. Thieves seek their own interest, but do they achieve it? Show the rational faculty a contradiction, and it will withdraw from it. If you do not show it, blame yourself instead of the one not persuaded.
Just as it is the nature of every soul to assent to the true, dissent from the false, and withhold judgment from what is uncertain, so it is its nature to move toward the good, turn away from the evil, and feel neutral toward what is neither good nor evil. Yet we often make judgments about things that lie outside the province of moral purpose and so weep and sigh. Misfortune, strife, disagreement, fault-finding, accusing, and impiety are all such judgments. Epictetus recommended that the arrogant practice submission when you are reviled and not being disturbed when you are insulted. Then you will make progress so that even if someone hits you, you will not react. Neighbors may be bad for themselves; but for me they can be good, because they exercise my good disposition and fair-mindedness. Epictetus called this the "magic wand of Hermes," which turns what it touches into gold. Bring whatever you will, and I will turn it into a good. Disease, death, poverty, reviling, danger to one's life in court - all these become helpful when treated as challenges to the good will.
Let not someone else acting contrary to nature become an evil for you; for you are born not to be humiliated nor to suffer misfortune but to share good fortune. God made all humanity to be happy and serene, giving us resources, some our own and others not our own. What is subject to hindrance, deprivation, and compulsion are not our own; but those which cannot be hindered are our own. God gives us the ability to distinguish the true nature of the good and evil. Epictetus recommended we become affectionate as a person of noble spirit who is fortunate; for it is against nature to be abject or broken in spirit or depend on something other than yourself or to blame either God or other people. Yet in loving others remember they are mortal, as generals riding in triumph are reminded by one standing behind. They are not one of your possessions but have been given to you temporarily like figs or clusters of grapes in certain seasons. To want such fruit in the winter is foolish.
The longest chapter in the Discourses of Epictetus is on freedom. The free live according to their will and are not subject to compulsion nor hindrance nor force. Their choices are unhampered; they attain their desires; and their aversions do not fall into what they would avoid. Epictetus asked who wishes to live in error, deceived, impetuous, unjust, unrestrained, peevish, or abject? The answer is no one. Thus no bad person lives according to their will, and no bad person is free. For no one wishes to live in grief, fear, envy, pity, desiring things and failing to get them, avoiding things and falling into them. Epictetus pointed out that even the friend of Caesar is not relieved of hindrance or compulsion nor does that one live securely or serenely. Whoever possesses the science of how to live cannot help but be a master. True human nature is not to bite or kick or throw into prison or behead, but to do good, work together, and pray for the success of others. Therefore one is doing badly when one acts unfeelingly. Epictetus cited Socrates and Diogenes as the greatest exemplars of freedom. He concluded that freedom is not satisfying what you desire but is gained by destroying your desires. He suggested keeping vigils to acquire judgment that will free you, and he recommended devoting yourself to a philosopher instead of to a rich old man.
Epictetus warned against continuing to associate too much with those descending to lower levels, or you will ruin yourself. Remember that nothing is done without paying for it and that one will not remain the same person if one does not do the same things. Choose, therefore, what you prefer. He asked why you blame the one who gives you all when something is withdrawn from you. When you have lost some external thing, ask yourself what you have acquired in its place. If this is more valuable, do not say you have suffered a loss but made an exchange. By paying attention to your sense impressions and watching over them you are guarding self-respect, fidelity, and mental constancy undisturbed by passion, pain, fear, or confusion. In this way one may be free and a friend of God. Regardless of what the external object may be, the value you put on it makes you subservient to someone else. Epictetus emphasized self-improvement.
If you see any of the things
that you have learned and studied thoroughly
coming to fruition for you in action,
rejoice in these things.
If you have put away or reduced
a malignant disposition and reviling or impertinence
or foul language or recklessness or negligence;
if you are not moved by the things that once moved you,
or at least not to the same degree,
then you can keep festival day after day;
today because you behaved well in this action,
tomorrow because you behaved well in another.
How much greater cause for thanksgiving is this
than a consulship or a governorship?
These things come to you
from your own self and from the gods.
Remember who the Giver is,
and to whom He gives, and for what end.
If you are brought up in reasonings such as these,
can you any longer raise the questions
where you are going to be happy,
and where you please God?9
The fine and good do not contend with anyone, nor do they, as far as they have power, allow others to contend. Epictetus urged people to announce that they are at peace with all people, no matter what they do. He even suggested being amused at those who think they are hurting you. He pointed out that the opinions of others are in the class of things outside one's sphere of moral purpose and beyond one's control. So if you are disturbed by the opinions of others, do you still fancy that you have been persuaded as to what things are good and evil? Epictetus found his true emancipation in God by knowing divine commands. No one could make a slave of him although they might master his body or property. Their power still did not extend beyond those things to him. He chose to wish what takes place; for he regarded God's will as better than his will. He attached himself to God as a servant and follower, making his choice and desire and will one with God's. He was not frightened by threats made against his body; for he knew that he was not flesh, bones, and muscles but that which employs them, that which governs the impressions of the senses and understands them. Epictetus taught,
You have but to will a thing, and it has happened;
the reform has been made;
as, on the other hand,
you have but to drop into a doze and all is lost.
For it is within you that both destruction and deliverance lie.
But what good do I get after all that?
And what greater good than this are you looking for?
Instead of shameless, you will be self-respecting;
instead of faithless, faithful;
instead of dissolute, self-controlled.
If you are looking for anything else greater than these things,
go ahead and do what you are doing;
not even a god can any longer save you.10
There is no activity in life to which attention does not extend. Is not attention always better than inattention? Epictetus suggested paying attention to general principles, that no one is master of another's moral principles. Thus no one has the power to procure good for me nor to involve me in evil, but I alone have authority over myself in these. When these are secure, there is no excuse for being disturbed about external things. I have but one whom I must please and obey; that is God, and after God, myself. God commends me to myself and subjects me alone to my moral purpose, giving me standards for its correct use. Epictetus hoped that death would find him occupied with these things so that he could say to God that the faculties he received enabled him to understand God's governance and to follow it, that he did not dishonor God, that he dealt with his senses and his preconceptions without blaming God, that he was not discontented with what happened nor did he wish it otherwise, that he did not violate his relationships with others, and that he was grateful for what God gave him.
The Encheiridion or Handbook of Epictetus summarizes many of his teachings and includes more preaching. He noted that our duties are generally measured by our social relationships to a father or brother or neighbor or citizen or a commanding officer. Even if they are bad or wrong you, you can still maintain your good relation with them. For no one will harm you without your consent, and you are only harmed when you think you have been harmed. Epictetus contrasted the position and character of the average, who never expect benefit or harm from themselves but from those outside, with the philosopher, who expects every benefit or harm to come from oneself. He summarized the signs of those making progress as follows:
They blame no one, praise no one,
fault no one, accuse no one,
say nothing about themselves
as though being someone or knowing something.
If someone praises them,
they laugh to themselves at the one praising;
if blamed, they make no defense.
They go around like the feeble,
taking care about moving any of what is set,
until it has been fixed.
They keep out of themselves every desire;
and they transfer aversion
only to things against nature in our power.
They use unrestrained effort toward everything.
If they seem foolish or unlearned, they do not care.
In a word, as a treacherous enemy they guard themselves.11
Such were the teachings of the man born a slave who found freedom within himself.
1. Dio Cassius, Roman History 62: 18 tr. Earnest Cary.
2. Seneca, On Anger 1:17:7 tr. John W. Basore.
3. Seneca, Letters 2:5 tr. Robin Campbell, p. 49.
4. Ibid., 48:2, p. 96.
5. Dio Chrysostom, 41st Discourse 11-13 tr. H. Lamar Crosby.
6. Plutarch, "How to Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend" 64C tr. Robin Waterfield.
7. Plutarch, "On Being a Busybody" 516C-D tr. W. C. Helmbold.
8. Plutarch, "The Eating of Flesh" 996-997 tr. W. C. Helmbold.
9. Arrian's Discourses of Epictetus 4:4:46-48 tr. W. A. Oldfather.
10. Ibid. 4:9:16-18 tr. W. A. Oldfather.
11. Arrian, Handbook of Epictetus 48 tr. Sanderson Beck.
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