SLRP: XXIII. On The True Joy Which Comes From Philosophy

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Seneca,

It’s entirely possible that I am guilty of “blue car syndrome,” yet I still find myself surprised to find evidence of ascetic training in your Letters.

“The frail body, also, even though we can accomplish nothing without it, is to be regarded as necessary rather than as important; it involves us in vain pleasures, short-lived, and soon to be regretted, which, unless they are reined in by extreme self-control, will be transformed into the opposite.”

Of course, the “Cynic holiday” is your as well, but the issue comes when those of us in my time look back at one of the wealthiest men in the empire, and extols so highly frugality and simple living.  It appears to many to be a contradiction.

When Diogenes tells us from his barrel the same, it has a certain authority which is lacking when heard in the villa retreat.  Ah well, this is more our problem than it is yours.

The more and more I read, the firmer becomes my thesis that you classic Stoics require an austere ascetic regimen as part of training, and then as a part of life.  I’m reading elsewhere the Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes, and in the introduction, the author states that Zeno’s “frugal” diet was determined by detractors to be on account of his weak digestion.  The author editorializes, however, and states that philosophical motivations are likely just as much the cause.

Many moderns discount what we left of the early Stoa as being “on the tail of the dog,” as if this is argument enough to cast aside the very foundations of the school!  If it is under closer influence of the Cynic school, what of it?  That doesn’t make it wrong.  In fact, it might be closer to the truth.  Epictetus deems the calling of the Cynic as ordained by God, and the hardest charge possible to be given.

It may be that the cultural attitudes of the west are more similar to that of Rome than they are of Greece, esp. those who even then were pushing the envelope.  It’s much more comforting to discount an entire branch (the foundation, no less) as “too Cynic,” when such a discounting protects us from all manner of difficulties, labors, and obligations.

My thoughts have been heavily towards this bent the past few weeks, and receiving your Letters titled “On the futility of half-way measures” and the content of this one seems fortuitous.

Farewell.


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

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