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Study Lucius Annaeus Seneca, if you must study a man.
Study his life to learn the trials of a Sage.
Study his Epistles to see a great man sewing righteous seeds among the generations.
Study his Consolations to see wisdom in action.
Study his Natural Questions to see a fine soul at play.
Study his Tragedies to taste the fruit of a true Poet and wordsmith.
Study all his works, even that those things that were once hidden may be revealed.
Study the state of affairs throughout his life as well as his enemies and their critiques to know the wasteland through which the true seeker must wade on his way to the distant hills.
Study the teachers from whom Seneca learned to think.
Study the giants among men who were guided by Seneca’s works, even that you may know how one man can shift the very course of Fate for eternity.
Study all these things together.
See the wisdom of the whole.
This man was a great man.
This man was a true seeker.
This man was a philosopher like no others before him.
This man was an artist and a Poet.
This man was at home within his highly polished soul.
This man was a friend to himself, and a friend to God.
This man was a caretaker of the highest degree.
This man was a divine Prophet of God.
This man is a weather-tossed mountain wildflower, for he dug his roots deep into his infinite world beneath him, he spread his branches far into the eternal future, and his flowers now reflect the glory of the Sun above—even the light of the Logos.
This man is a towering oak tree, for his foundation is firm, his trunk rises high into the canopy above, and his branches now bear acorns, which give way to new life.
This man sang the song of The Universal Soul, which now sings back at him.
This man was a wise man, nay, even a Sage.
This man was shined upon, and he reflected nobly, and with great strength.
I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread. I point other men to the right path, which I have found late in life, when wearied with wandering. I cry out to them: “Avoid whatever pleases the throng: avoid the gifts of Chance! Halt before every good which Chance brings to you, in a spirit of doubt and fear; for it is the dumb animals and fish that are deceived by tempting hopes. Do you call these things the ‘gifts’ of Fortune? They are snares. And any man among you who wishes to live a life of safety will avoid, to the utmost of his power, these limed twigs of her favour, by which we mortals, most wretched in this respect also, are deceived; for we think that we hold them in our grasp, but they hold us in theirs. Such a career leads us into precipitous ways, and life on such heights ends in a fall. Moreover, we cannot even stand up against prosperity when she begins to drive us to leeward; nor can we go down, either, ‘with the ship at least on her course,’ or once for all; Fortune does not capsize us, – she plunges our bows under and dashes us on the rocks.
Seneca’s Moral Epistles 8:2-4
“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital. Listen to me, therefore, as you would if I were talking to myself. I am admitting you to my inmost thoughts, and am having it out with myself, merely making use of you as my pretext.
Seneca’s Moral Epistles 27:1
For how little have we lost, when the two finest things of all will accompany us wherever we go, universal nature and our individual virtue. Believe me, this was the intention of whoever formed the universe, whether all-powerful god, or incorporeal reason creating mighty works, or divine spirit penetrating all things from greatest to smallest with even pressure, or fate and the unchanging sequence of causation—this, I say, was the intention, that only the most worthless of our possessions should come into the power of another. Whatever is best for a human being lies outside human control: it can be neither given nor taken away. The world you see, nature’s greatest and most glorious creation, and the human mind which gazes and wonders at it, and is the most splendid part of it, these are our own everlasting possessions and will remain with us as long as we ourselves remain. So, eager and upright, let us hasten with bold steps wherever circumstances take us, and let us journey through any countries whatever: there can be no place of exile within the world since nothing within the world is alien to men. From whatever point on the earth’s surface you look up to heaven, the same distance lies between the realms of gods and men. Accordingly, provided my eyes are not withdrawn from that spectacle, of which they never tire; provided I may look upon the sun and the moon and gaze at the other planets; provided I may trace their risings and settings, their periods and the causes of their travelling faster or slower; provided I may behold all the stars that shine at night—some fixed, others not travelling far afield but circling within the same area; some suddenly shooting forth, and others dazzling the eye with scattered fire, as if they are falling, or gliding past with a long trail of blazing light; provided I can commune with these and, so far as humans may, associate with the divine, and provided I can keep my mind always directed upwards, striving for a vision of kindred things—what does it matter what ground I stand on?
From Seneca’s Consolation to Helvia
For a man… whose progress is definite, to chase after choice extracts and to prop his weakness by the best known and the briefest sayings and to depend upon his memory, is disgraceful; it is time for him to lean on himself. He should make such maxims and not memorize them. For it is disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old age, to have a note-book knowledge. “This is what Zeno said.” But what have you yourself said? “This is the opinion of Cleanthes.” But what is your own opinion? How long shall you march under another man’s orders? Take command, and utter some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something from your own stock.
Seneca’s Moral Epistles 33:7
1. The great difference between philosophy and other studies is matched, I think, by the equally great difference in philosophy itself, between that branch which deals with man and that which deals with the gods. The latter is loftier and more intellectual, and so has permitted a great deal of freedom for itself. It has not been restricted to what can be seen; it has presumed that there is something greater and more beautiful which nature has placed beyond our sight.
2. In short, between the two branches of philosophy there is as much difference as there is between man and god. One teaches us what ought to be done on earth; the other what is done in heaven. One dispels our errors and furnishes a light for us to see through the uncertainties of life; the other rises far above this fog in which we wallow, and, rescuing us from darkness, leads us to the place whence the light shines.
3. I, for one, am very grateful to nature, not just when I view it in that aspect which is obvious to everybody but when I have penetrated its mysteries; when I learn what the stuff of the universe is, who its author or custodian is, what god is; whether he keeps entirely to himself or whether he sometimes considers us; whether he creates something each day or has created it only once; whether he is a part of the universe or is the universe; whether it is possible for him to make decisions today and to repeal in part any sort of universal law of fate; whether it is a diminution of his majesty and an admission of his error that he had done things which had to be changed.
4. If I had not been admitted to these studies it would not have been worth while to have been born. What reason would I have to be glad that I was placed among the living? In order that I might digest food and drink? In order that I might stuff this diseased and failing body, which would soon die unless it were filled continuously, and that I might live as an attendant on a sick man? In order that I might fear death, the one thing for which we are born? Well, you can have this invaluable prize—living is not so important that I should even get sweaty and hot.
5. After all, man is a contemptible thing unless he rises above his human concerns. But what greatness do we achieve as long as we struggle with ignoble passions? Even if we are victorious, we conquer only monsters. What reason is there to admire ourselves because we are not as bad as the worst? I do not see why a man should feel pleased who is simply less sick than the others in the hospital.
6. Having good health is very different from only being not sick. You have escaped the illnesses of the soul, Lucilius. You do not present a false front, your speech is not composed to suit someone else’s policy, your heart is not twisted; you do not have greed (which denies to itself what is has taken away from everybody else), nor extravagance (it squanders money shamefully only in order to get it back even more disgracefully), nor ambition (it will take you to high position only through degrading methods). As yet you have attained nothing. You have escaped many ills, but you have not yet escaped yourself. That special virtue which we seek is magnificent, not because to be free of evil is in itself so marvellous but because it unchains the mind, prepares it for the realization of heavenly things, and makes it worthy to enter into an association with god.
7. The mind possesses the full and complete benefit of its human existence only when it spurns all evil, seeks the lofty and the deep, and enters the innermost secrets of nature. Then as the mind wanders among the very stars it delights in laughing at the mosaic floors of the rich and at the whole earth with all its gold. I do not mean only the gold which the earth has already produced and surrendered to be struck for money but also all the gold the earth has preserved hidden away for the avarice of future generations.
8. The mind cannot despise colonnades, panelled ceilings gleaming with ivory, trimmed shrubbery, and streams made to approach mansions, until it goes around the entire universe and looking down upon the earth from above (an earth limited and covered mostly by sea-while even the part out of the sea is squalid or parched and frozen) says to it self: “Is this that pinpoint which is divided by sword and fire among so many nations?”
9. How ridiculous are the boundaries of mortals! Let our empire confine the Dacians beyond the Ister; let it shut out the Thracians by means of the Haemus; let the Euphrates block the Parthians; the Danube separate Sarmatian and Roman interests; the Rhine establish a limit for Germany; the Pyrenees lift their ridge between the Gallic and Spanish provinces; between Egypt and Ethiopia let an uncultivated wasteland of sand lie.
10. If someone should give human intellect to ants, will they not also divide a single floor into many provinces? Since you have aspired to truly great thoughts, whenever you see armies marching with flying banners, and a cavalry, as though engaged in something grand, scouting now at a distance, now massed on the flanks, you will be glad to say: “A black battle-line Moves on the plain”? This army of yours is only a scurrying of ants toiling in a limited field. What difference is there between us and the ants except the insignificant size of a tiny body?”
11. That is a mere pinpoint on which you navigate, on which you wage war, on which you arrange tiny kingdoms—tiny, even though ocean does run to meet them on both sides. Spaces in the heavens are immense; but your mind is admitted to the possession of them only if it retains very little of the body, only if it has worn away all sordidness and, unencumbered and light, flashes forth, satisfied with little.
12. When the mind contacts those regions, it is nurtured, grows, and returns to its origin just as though freed from its chains. As proof of its divinity it has this: divine things cause it pleasure, and it dwells among them not as being alien things but things of its own nature. Serenely it looks upon the rising and setting of the stars and the diverse orbits of bodies precisely balanced with one another. The mind observes where each star first shows its light to earth, where its culmination, the highest altitude of its course, lies and how far it descends. As a curious spectator the mind separates details and investigates them. Why not do this? It knows that these things pertain to itself.
13. Then it despises the limitation of its former dwelling place. After all, how great is the distance from the farthest shores of Spain all the way to India? Only the space of a very few days if a good wind drives the ship.I But in the heavenly region the swiftest star,? which never stops and maintains a constant velocity, has a journey of thirty years. Here, finally, the mind learns what it long sought: here it begins to know god. What is god? The mind of the universe. What is god? All that you see, all that you do not see. In short, only if he alone is all things, if he maintains his own work both from within and without, is he given due credit for his magnitude; nothing of greater magnitude than that can be contemplated.
14. What, then, is the difference between our nature and the nature of god? In ourselves the better part is the mind, in god there is no part other than the mind. He is entirely reason. Nonetheless, meanwhile, a great error possesses mortals: men believe that this universe, than which nothing is more beautiful or better ordered or more consistent in plan, is an accident, revolving by chance, and thus tossed about in lightning bolts, clouds, storms, and all the other things by which the earth and its vicinity are kept in turmoil.
15. Nor does this nonsense exist among only the common people; it also infects those who say they have knowledge. There are some men who conclude that they themselves have a mind, indeed a provident one, evaluating situations, both their own and other peoples’; but the universe, in which we also exist, they presume is lacking in plan and either moves along in some haphazard way or else nature does not know what it is doing.
16. What value is it, do you suppose, to establish definitions, to learn about such things? For example, how powerful is god? Does he form matter for himself or does he merely make use of what is already there? Which comes first: does function determine matter, or does matter determine function? Does god do whatever he wishes? Or in many cases do the things he treats fail him, just as many things are poorly shaped by a great artist not because his art fails him but because the material in which he works often resists his art?
17. To investigate these questions, to learn about them, to brood over them—is this not to transcend your own mortality and to be admitted to a higher plane? You say: “What good will these things do you?” If nothing else, certainly this: having measured god I will know that all else is petty.
Seneca’s Natural Questions, Book 1
“His last words heard on earth came after he’d let off a louder noise from his easiest channel of communication: ‘Oh my! I think I’ve shit myself.’ For all I know, he did. He certainly shat on everything else.”
From Apocolocyntosis (The Pumkinification of the Divine Claudius) by Seneca
If he had known me,
If he had walked with me,
If he had seen my way,
If he had felt with my heart,
If he had been warmed by the same light
that now shines before me,
If he had been ruled by the same fate
that now guides my hands and feet and soul,
Would he advise me to redirect my course?
Would he see within me the light of greatness?
Would he make himself known to me,
or would he whisper quietly, at times,
so as to draw me nearer,
in order that I might Truly hear?
Would he answer my most honest questions?
Would he allow me entry into his most inner circle?
Would he be my counsel?
“The Sage sees with The Eye, and feels with The Heart, and walks with The Feet, and reaches with The Arms, and sees with The Eyes, and knows with The Mind, and is guided by Fate, and is shined upon by The Light of God.”
Great is the Soul who reflects whatever light God shines upon him, for by his reflection, others receive His light, and they either remain in the light, or else they are scattered about,
each into a darkness of their own… (Heraclitus)
“Seneca was like unto a rugged mountain wildflower, for he was born into darkness, and once he had spread his roots deep, and reached his fragile branches to the edges of eternity, he shared his hidden beauty, and in doing so, he became aware of the angels and demons of the Heavenly Realms, for a wildflower in bloom is liable to visitors of all kinds.”
“Despite the rocky soil out of which he has risen, this wildflower finds a firm foundation and a source of nutrients within within the world below, and he explores with courage and discernment to find the Gold that he seeks.”
“He awakens to find himself face-to-face with God, and he learns to commune, and he learns how to Truly See, and he sees, and he knows that within himself, the Universe is made known, and within the Universe, He is made known.”
Oft having heard,
He offers a question,
Then a second, and a third.
For he’s guided by Logos,
And Truth hath he sought,
And Wisdom was his,
And he did what he ought,
And all of the while,
They mocked him and scorned,
And they exiled his body
To the edge of the world.
And there he sat
With his questions and care,
And he travelled the heavens
And met his God there,
And together they talked
In the Gardens on high,
And they shared every secret
To, in truth, abide.
And Seneca wrote
All the Wisdom he gained,
And his Knowledge of God
That he rightfully claimed,
And he gave to the world
All the gifts he could give,
And he scattered his seeds
So that others might live,
And because of this man,
Generations have seen
All the goodness of God
In His Logos, supreme.
And never has such a sweet
Gift e’er been shared
To a people in need
Of sweet waters and bread,
So let us all drink,
And let us break bread,
And let us seek Wisdom
‘Till our bodies are dead,
And let us rejoice
In the beauty we find,
Lest we all become bitter,
Forsaken and bline.
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