SLRP: LXXXVI. On Scipio’s Villa (Part 1: 1 – 10)

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Seneca,

“I write to you after doing reverence to his spirit and to an altar which I am inclined to think is the tomb of that great warrior..”

There is spiritual tinge to you letters which are often overlooked.  I recall a passage of another letter, where you talk of keeping statutes of the philosophers, and reverencing their birthdays.  That sounds to me a nice tradition.  I may have to think and then act on that.

“I have inspected the house, which is constructed of hewn stone; the wall which encloses a forest; the towers also, buttressed out on both sides for the purpose of defending the house; the well, concealed among buildings and shrubbery, large enough to keep a whole army supplied; and the small bath, buried in darkness according to the old style, for our ancestors did not think that one could have a hot bath except in darkness…

We think ourselves poor and mean if our walls are not resplendent with large and costly mirrors; if our marbles from Alexandria are not set off by mosaics of Numidian stone, if their borders are not faced over on all sides with difficult patterns, arranged in many colours like paintings; if our vaulted ceilings are not buried in glass; if our swimming-pools are not lined with Thasian marble, once a rare and wonderful sight in any temple pools into which we let down our bodies after they have been drained weak by abundant perspiration; and finally, if the water has not poured from silver spigots. We think ourselves poor and mean if our walls are not resplendent with large and costly mirrors; if our marbles from Alexandria are not set off by mosaics of Numidian stone, if their borders are not faced over on all sides with difficult patterns, arranged in many colours like paintings; if our vaulted ceilings are not buried in glass; if our swimming-pools are not lined with Thasian marble, once a rare and wonderful sight in any temple pools into which we let down our bodies after they have been drained weak by abundant perspiration; and finally, if the water has not poured from silver spigots.”

I friend of mine told me of a question which they asked someone close to them, “how poor could you stand to be?”  I’ve been thinking of this since it was asked of me, and how this relates to the philosophical life.

Zeno is reported to have live under serious austerities and rigor.  Diogenes, of course, the Cynic par excellence made do with the absolute minimum a man can.

It can be difficult when we look back, even a few generations, to “simpler times,” not to paint the lives of our forebears with too romantic a brush.  It’s easy to imagine some simple, bucolic ideal.  The call of the cabin retreat, and the like.  I am guilty of this quite often I think.

But a lesson can be learned from accurate portraits of former times:  the core requirements of life are really quite narrowly defined.  And, as the Cynics note, relatively easily procured.  It is only in the frivolities, extras, and luxurious that we beggar ourselves of time and energy while ostensibly fending off the beggar’s condition itself.

But a philosophical re-evaluation of the issues is warranted.  How poor could you stand to be?

Farewell.


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

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