See that you don’t cheat and say you won, after my death

Pulled from James Romm’s anthology of Seneca’s writings on death – How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (this passage is from On Serenity of Mind 14.4).

Julius Canus, an exceptionally great man … got into a long dispute with Caligula.  As he was leaving the room, Caligula, that second Phalaris, said: “Just so you don’t take comfort from an absurd hope, I’ve ordered you to be led away for execution.” “Thank you, best of rulers, “Canus replied…

He was playing a board game when the centurion in charge of leading off the throngs of the condemned told him it was time to move.  Hearing the call, Canus counted up the pieces and said to his partner: “See that you don’t cheat and say you won, after my death.” Then he turned to the centurion and said, “You’re my witness; I was ahead by one.”

Cheeky anecdotes aside, I realized I can’t much stand Seneca these days.  I don’t doubt his sincerity – or care about his work’s potential inconsistency next to his output as playwright and service as government counselor – but there’s something too grossly Roman-forensic-utilitarian in his handling of philosophy.  He browbeats you by repetition, insinuation, and hazy equivocations and I generally feel no more than a jury member being swayed.

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