SLRP: VIII. On The Philosopher’s Seclusion

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Seneca,
I appreciate your addressing some of my concerns from the previous letter, and this one seems to me to be more in tune with the tenor of our school, which I’ve come to expect.

“Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life – that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health. The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind. Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.”

For the past several months, beginning to flirt with a year really, while I’m clearly a student of Stoicism; it would be more fair to say I’ve been a student of Musonius.  I’ve been reading and digesting his lectures and fragments, such as we have, since that time.

Musonius calls us, and Epictetus follows suit, to a more austere manner of living, which is echoed in the above quote from your letter today.  I will admit to a certain amount of hypocrisy, as I myself have not fully adopted the Grecian regimen that those great philosophers extol so highly.

I’ve even gone so far as to extract a program from Musonius, and while I’ve tested each of these for a number of weeks separately across the past year, I’ve not put it all together in my own practice.

Modern Stoicism seems to be lacking this ascetic regimen.  Somewhat, I think, it comes from a misunderstanding.  Folks are familiar with the “matted hair” types of India, who may sit with one arm raised until it whither on the body.  This kind of torture is called ‘ascetic.’  But this is not what we the Stoics mean when we call each other to ἄσκησις (áskēsis), rather we call them to training and moderation.

The modern person is so indulgent to every passion and pleasure.  We’re so hedonistic, even Epicurus and the Cyrenaics would turn away in disgust.  We’re so far on the spectrum, that what is truly simple moderation appears austere and tortuous.

I will take your letter as a call to action, and a challenge.

In the spirit of σωφροσύνη (sophrosyne), I bid you a fond farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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