From Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis (The Pumpkinification), on the death of Claudius. I hate politics but the mind can’t help but drift sometimes and pumpkins are often orange…
The following were the last words of his to be heard on earth, after he had emitted a louder noise from that end from which he spoke the easiest: “Oh my, I think I just shat myself.” For all I know, he did. He certainly shat on everything else.
ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: “vae me, puto, concacavi me.” quod an fecerit, nescio; omnia certe concacavit.
I’ve always wondered if Vespasian’s last words – according to Suetonius, at least (23.4) – don’t have an echo of this – Vae, puto deus fio (“Alas, I think I am becoming a god”).
From Richard II (1.3.275) – Shakespeare in a decidedly Senecan frame.
All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens.
Teach thy necessity to reason thus;
There is no virtue like necessity.
Think not the king did banish thee,
But thou the king. Woe doth the heavier sit,
Where it perceives it is but faintly borne.
Go, say I sent thee forth to purchase honour
And not the king exiled thee; or suppose
Devouring pestilence hangs in our air
And thou art flying to a fresher clime:
Look, what thy soul holds dear, imagine it
To lie that way thou go’st, not whence thou comest:
Suppose the singing birds musicians,
The grass whereon thou tread’st the presence strew’d,
The flowers fair ladies, and thy steps no more
Than a delightful measure or a dance;
For gnarling sorrow hath less power to bite
The man that mocks at it and sets it light.
From Seneca’s Epistles (13.16)
But now, to close my letter, I have only to stamp the usual seal upon it, in other words, to commit thereto some noble message to be delivered to you: “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also,—he is always getting ready to live.” Reflect, my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, and you will see how revolting is the fickleness of men who lay down every day new foundations of life, and begin to build up fresh hopes even at the brink of the grave. Look within your own mind for individual instances; you will think of old men who are preparing themselves at that very hour for a political career, or for travel, or for business. And what is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old? I should not name the author of this motto, except that it is somewhat unknown to fame and is not one of those popular sayings of Epicurus which I have allowed myself to praise and to appropriate. Farewell.
Sed iam finem epistulae faciam, si illi signum suum inpressero, id est aliquam magnificam vocem perferendam ad te mandavero. “Inter cetera mala hoc quoque habet stultitia: semper incipit vivere.” Considera quid vox ista significet, Lucili virorum optime, et intelleges, quam foeda sit hominum levitas cotidie nova vitae fundamenta ponentium, novas spes etiam in exitu inchoantium. Circumspice tecum singulos; occurrent tibi senes, qui se cum maxime ad ambitionem, ad peregrinationes, ad negotiandum parent. Quid est autem turpius quam senex vivere incipiens? Non adicerem auctorem huic voci, nisi esset secretior nec inter vulgata Epicuri dicta, quae mihi et laudare et adoptare permisi. Vale.
Depending on your interpretation of what Epicurus meant (and there’s no confirming context surviving) and what Seneca wants him to mean this potentially goes much against the spirit of Socrates’ advice in today’s earlier extract from the Laches.
From Montaigne’s Nos affections s’emportent au delà de nous – Our emotions are carried beyond us.
We are never ‘at home’: we are always outside ourselves. Fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future; they rob us of feelings and concern for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be – even when we ourselves shall be no more. [C] ‘Calamitosus est animus futuri anxius’ [Wretched is a mind anxious about the future].
Nous ne sommes jamais chez nous, nous sommes tousjours au delà. La crainte, le desir, l’esperance, nous eslancent vers l’advenir: et nous desrobent le sentiment et la consideration de ce qui est, pour nous amuser à ce qui sera, voire quand nous ne serons plus. Calamitosus est animus futuri anxius
The latin is from Seneca letter 98.
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.