Seneca the Younger on Superfluous Torment

by Zack Anderson, August 13, 2017

Some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, imagining, or anticipating sorrow. Let us then look carefully into the matter.

It is likely that some troubles will befall us, but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough when it arrives, so look forward meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile that will serve to postpone,  end, or pass on to another person the trials that are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not. In the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things. [C. 65/Rome]

SENECA THE YOUNGER, from Moral Letters to Lucilius. After being exiled to Corsica by Claudius in 41, Seneca was recalled to Rome in 49 and made the tutor of Nero, whom he later served as a political adviser. His essayistic epistles to Lucilius, a fellow member of Nero’s imperial staff, detail much of Seneca’s Stoic philosophy. In 65 Nero demanded that he commit suicide for purported involvement in a conspiracy. Seneca slit his veins, dictated a dissertation, drank hemlock, and died in a vapor bath.

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