Roman Calendar

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Third post from Seneca's "De Constantia"

Today's Stoic meditation from Seneca's De Constantia expands upon the theme that the sage (sapiens) cannot be injured or receive harm As I wrote previously, this is probably the hardest part of Stoic doctrine to "swallow," and indeed the insistence on this point has driven more people away from Stoicism than anything else, I think. No one likes to hear that if they are suffering, it is because they choose to accept something other than Virtue as a good.

Once, as I was explaining to students that the Stoics believed that no one could harm a sage, a student said, "How silly! Anyone could walk up and stab a Stoic with a knife, and he would be injured." I replied, "Only if he held his physical body to be more important than Virtue, but the sage regards his body as unimportant - did he ever say his body was indestructible?" "But he would die!" exclaimed the student. "Yes, and did he ever claim that dying was bad, or that he was immortal? Only if one regards death as an evil is it harm - the sage knows it is not," I answered. The majority of the students then declared that the Stoics were insane. But the Stoic would say it is simply because they have been trained all their lives to accept indifferent things, and even bad things, as if they were good. They do not choose to see that their material comforts are temporary, their youth and bodies are temporary, even life is temporary, but the soul is immortal and divine and the Virtue that can be its only permanent possession is the only real, lasting good. So Seneca writes:

“Moreover, justice can suffer no injustice, because opposites do not meet. But no injury can be done without injustice; therefore no injury can be done to the wise man. And you need not be surprised; if no one can do him an injury, no one can do him a service either. The wise man, on the one hand, lacks nothing that he can receive as a gift; the evil man, on the other, can bestow nothing good enough for the wise man to have. For a man must have before he can give; the evil man, however, has nothing that the wise man would be glad to have transferred to himself. It is impossible, therefore, for any one either to injure or to benefit the wise man, since that which is divine does not need to be helped, and cannot be hurt; and the wise man is next-door neighbor to the gods and like a god in all save his mortality.”- Seneca, De Constantia, VIII.1-2

“Praeterea iustitia nihil iniustum pati potest, quia non coeunt contraria. Iniuria autem non potest fieri nisi iniuste; ergo sapienti iniuria non potest fieri. Nec est quod mireris; si nemo illi potest iniuriam facere, ne prodesse quidem quisquam potest. Et sapienti nihil deest quod accipere posit loco muneris, et malus nihil potest dignum tribuere sapiente; habere enim prius debet quam dare, nihil autem habet quod ad se transferri sapiens gavisurus sit. Non potest ergo quisquam aut nocere sapienti aut prodesse, quoniam divina nec iuvari desiderant nec laedi possunt, sapiens autem vicinus proximusque dis consistit, excepta mortalitate similis deo.”

No comments:

Post a Comment