SLRP: LXXXVI. On Scipio’s Villa (Part 2: 11 – 21)

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Seneca,

“It is stated by those who have reported to us the old-time ways of Rome that the Romans washed only their arms and legs daily – because those were the members which gathered dirt in their daily toil – and bathed all over only once a week. Here someone will retort: “Yes; pretty dirty fellows they evidently were! How they must have smelled!” But they smelled of the camp, the farm, and heroism”

Every generation thinks of themselves as “modern.”  But for the last 2.5 million years we’ve all been, as anthropologists say, “anatomically modern humans.”  But we look, with self-pleased disdain at those ‘ancients’ and the short, brutish lives.  Pretty dirty fellows.  It’s funny to see the opinion was as prevalent in your time as it is in mine.

Now, “Stoicism needs to be updated,” “if the ancients knew what we know now, surely they’d agree with us.”  Pretty dirty fellows.

“Now that spick-and-span bathing establishments have been devised, men are really fouler than of yore.  What says Horatius Flaccus, when he wishes to describe a scoundrel, one who is notorious for his extreme luxury? He says. “Buccillus smells of perfume.” “

Seneca, it’s a good think you have broad shoulders, man, because we heap an awful lot on you.  I can’t recall another classical Stoic who gets labeled as hypocrite as often as you do.  I’m sure you’re devastated to hear it. </s>  But in that vein, I ask myself while you’re enjoying this little vacation in the earthy hut you extol so highly, if you think back upon your eventual return to the trappings and property of one of the wealthiest men in the ancient world:  your house.

Do you miss it, or do you feel the future stings of the cry of the hypocrite?

I feel them as well, as the overweight Stoic writing about asceticism I seem to lack the self-discipline to stick to myself.  Possibly, this feeling is a form a ἀἰδώς or maybe there’s a better word for it.  I suspect this isn’t the word, actually:  ἀἰδώς is something the good man feels to keep him from straying.  We who have strayed have maybe some other feeling, calling us back to the path.

Perhaps, then, this feeling is what pushed you to the home of such a heroic figure?  Perhaps it’s a pilgrimage of sorts?  If so, I wish for you to find there what I would want to find for myself in the halls of a hallowed hero were I to stay in such a place.

Farewell.


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

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