I think this is one of my favorite sections of your Letters thus far. It addresses several interesting topics, first being the importance of practice and study.
“This strength of heart, however, will come from constant study, provided that you practise, not with the tongue but with the soul, and provided that you prepare yourself to meet death.”
You brought up a point which is one I noted several months ago, that sometimes the arguments of the Old Stoa are … less than convincing. Specifically, I’m thinking of some of Zeno’s arguments as reported by other sources. It reaffirmed that opinion of mine, to see that you too shared this opinion.
“Our master Zeno uses a syllogism like this: “No evil is glorious; but death is glorious; therefore death is no evil.” A cure, Zeno! I have been freed from fear; henceforth I shall not hesitate to bare my neck on the scaffold. Will you not utter sterner words instead of rousing a dying man to laughter?”
It’s important to note, that although this particular argument might not be convincing, as you note his interlocutor successfully refutes by turning it about, it doesn’t mean that the idea is wrong or untrue.
There are other arguments that Zeno makes, that despite his argument being unconvincing seems to me to have a true conclusion.
The next part that stands out to me is the explanation of how the manner in which we treat an indifferent is not itself indifferent.
This careful division, of the context in which virtuous choice occurs, and the choice itself is poignant.
“For it is not poverty that we praise, it is the man whom poverty cannot humble or bend. Nor is it exile that we praise, it is the man who withdraws into exile in the spirit in which he would have sent another into exile. It is not pain that we praise, it is the man whom pain has not coerced. One praises not death, but the man whose soul death takes away before it can confound it.”
A reminder, then that each intention contains the possibility for virtue.
“Everything, if you add virtue, assumes a glory which it did not possess before.”
This is, following, is an important note. What trouble might arise if we put off this practice, suddenly to find ourselves face-to-face with death without having done the training?
“Therefore, although death is something indifferent, it is nevertheless not a thing which we can easily ignore. The soul must be hardened by long practice, so that it may learn to endure the sight and the approach of death.”
Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.
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