The world has become increasingly sensational. It might fit the grand scheme of
things where innocent humans fall into an elaborately crafted trap. Or maybe it
is our own doing and expectation all along. The news is usually bad, and if not
outright so, it is likely to be ominous and worrisome. The raging pandemic never fails
to grab the headlines, the economy is faltering, and the risk for WWIII is looming.
The sky seems always about to fall.
While in the car waiting for Tim, I opened Letters From A Stoic* and randomly started
on page 184. In this epistle, Seneca began by telling how by going on a trip to his
country house he literally left his fever at the city. He went on to talk, however,
about how merely visiting different places does not improve a person. So far, I
was not impressed. In fact, it sounded like a platitude as I read years ago
Emerson's famous "traveling is a fool's paradise."**
But the similarity ended there. While Emerson was preaching self-reliance and
American cultural and intellectual independence from Europe, Seneca cared about
how to live a life. He wrote with the incisive Stoic wisdom, straightforward and
ready to apply.
"The trip doesn't exist that can set you beyond the reach of cravings, fits of
temper, or fears." The author stated. Okay. But what does? How about money? It
was a recurring theme where Seneca argued that it is only by studying philosophy
that a man can be liberated.
He cited "Shapes frightening to the sight, Hardship and Death"*** and proved it
with the examples of Socrates and Cato the Younger. At the end of a life of
tribulations, Socrates's spirit was broken by neither prison nor poison. "If Caesar
wins, I kill myself; if Pompey, I go into exile." exclaimed Cato. He forgot fear.
To these two, hardship and death are scary merely to the sight.
I myself by no means am free but the mere thought that someone did live this
kind of freedom gives hope for emancipation. Before reaching the end of the
letter (CIV), I decided that I needed to read writings like this everyday. (I felt the
same way after previous readings, but failed to follow up.) Philosophy is like
Alexander the Great, according to Seneca, in that it takes whatever it pleases and
leaves to other subjects only the leftover. As a beginner, let me start with one hour
* Letters From A Stoic by Robin Campbell (Translator, 2004)
Selected Letters from Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
** Self-Reliance by Ralph W. Emerson (1841)
*** The Aeneid by Virgil (19 BC)