SLRP: LXXXVII. In Favour Of The Simple Life (Part 5: 35-41)



I was a bit surprised at the turn of the letter.  I was expecting maybe something more along the lines of Walden, I suppose.  I do still wonder, the early parts are a practical polemic against wealth, while the latter ameliorates that somewhat with the idea that it’s not the stuff that’s the problem, but how men use it.  Still the temptation is greater, it seems, when the means are present for much indulgence.

The question of “not-possessing” is brought up, you mention that in line 40.  I went and found the original Latin letter, hoping to find the Greek word you’re thinking of.  Sadly, it’s merely the description of the concept in the Latin, no Greek to be found.

One of the features of Greek which I think ties back into the simple life (I promise this is coming back on topic) is seen in some alpha-privative words.  These states which seek a lack.  I’m talking about these “negative” words, beginning with the letter alpha, which describe conditions that are natural in their poverty of something. ἀταραξία comes to mind, this ‘unperturbedness,’ freedom from distress. Of course, ἀπάθεια, freedom from distress/passion.

This condition of preference for a lack is not easily relayed in English, but it is an useful metaphor for the simple life, I think.  We seek not to gain more, but to remove until we have just enough to build with.  The good life, in part, is a smooth flow which requires minimal fluff to it.  It seeks a lack.

This touches on a common misunderstanding with ascetic training.  It’s not a self-flagellation, or puritanical denial of the flesh, but a removal extra to allow the real building.  When a structure is to be erected, whether it be a monument, house, cabin, or temple the first thing to do is clear the ground.

Thank you for the letter.


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

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