December with Epictetus & Seneca

Quote conquer self

“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.” Epicurus

The month of December has been associated with festivities since antiquity. Festivities have also always been associated with excess. While many people do not pay any particular attention, and simply like to have fun, some persons are against such excess; still some who know better than to indulge will state that we must celebrate sometimes and not to take life too seriously (after all no one gets out of it alive). In the excerpts below, Seneca shares his thoughts on this with us.

“… It is the month of December, and yet the city is at this very moment in a sweat. License is given to the general merrymaking. Everything resounds with mighty preparations, –as if the Saturnalia differed at all from the usual business day! So true it is that the difference is nil, that I regard as correct the remark of the man who said: “Once December was a month; now it is a year.”…”

“…. It shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does, but in a different way, –thus neither making oneself conspicuous nor becoming one of the crowd. For one may keep holiday without extravagance…”

Excerpts from Lucius Annaeus Seneca – Letters From a Stoic (Translated by Richard Mott Gummere)

Quote Silence for services

The average person will find the statements in the excerpts above quite agreeable, indeed many of us preach such, but how many of us practice what we preach? Let us listen to the view of Epictetus regarding doing as we say or as we claim to know:

“… It is no common (easy) thing to do this only, to fulfil the promise of a man’s nature. For what is man? The answer is, a rational and mortal being. Then by the rational faculty from whom are we separated? From wild beasts. And from what others? From sheep and like animals. Take care then to do nothing like a wild beast; but if you do, you have lost the character of a man; you have not fulfilled your promise. See that you do nothing like sheep, but if you do, in this case also the man is lost. What then do we do as sheep? When we act gluttonously, when we act lewdly, when we act rashly, filthily, inconsiderately, to what have we declined? To sheep. What have we lost? The rational faculty. When we act contentiously and harmfully and passionately and violently, to what have we declined? To wild beasts.

… For this reason philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied with learning only, but also to add study, and then practice. For we have long been accustomed to do contrary things, and we put in practice opinions which are contrary to true opinions. If then we shall not also put in practice right opinions, we shall be nothing more than the expositors of the opinions of others. For now who among us is not able to discourse according to the rules of art about good and evil things (in this fashion)? That of things some are good, and some are bad, and some are indifferent: the good then are virtues, and the things which participate in virtues; and the bad are the contrary; and the indifferent are wealth, health, reputation. Then, if in the midst of our talk there should happen some greater noise than usual, or some of those who are present should laugh at us, we are disturbed. Philosopher, where are the things which you were talking about? Whence did you produce and utter them? From the lips, and thence only. Why then do you corrupt the aids provided by others? Why do you treat the weightiest matters as if you were playing a game of dice? For it is one thing to lay up bread and wine as in a storehouse, and another thing to eat. That which has been eaten, is digested, distributed, and is become sinews, flesh, bones, blood, healthy color, healthy breath. Whatever is stored up, when you choose you can readily take and show it; but you have no other advantage from it except so far as to appear to possess it. For what is the difference between explaining these doctrines and those of men who have different opinions? Sit down now and explain according to the rules of art the opinions of Epicurus, and perhaps you will explain his opinions in a more useful manner than Epicurus himself. Why then do you call yourself a Stoic? Why do you deceive the many? Why do you act the part of a Jew, when you are a Greek? Do you not see how (why) each is called a Jew, or a Syrian, or an Egyptian? And when we see a man inclining to two sides, we are accustomed to say, this man is not a Jew, but he acts as one. But when he has assumed the affects of one who has been imbued with Jewish doctrine and has adopted that sect, then he is in fact and he is named a Jew…”

Excerpts from Discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

The Epicurean philosophers belong to the school that says pleasure is the highest good. The inscription at the gate of the epicurean school started by Epicurus reads “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” Their followers are known to love excessive pleasure, even though some say this is a misinterpretation of what Epicurus meant. On the other hand the Stoic philosophers belief in living a simple life. Epictetus said some people’s lives define Epicureanism better than Epicurus himself could have explained, yet they claim to be stoics. This applies to those of us who will claim we believe in moderation during festivities, yet indulge the most. Other than not wanting to act like sheep or beasts as Epictetus stated in the excerpt above; here is another reason why we may consider moderation:

Philip of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) once, when they were drinking together, made some sneering remark about the poetry and tragedies which Dionysius the Elder had written, pretending to be at a loss to know how he found time for such pursuits; but Dionysius cleverly answered, “He wrote them during the time which you and I, and all who are thought such lucky fellows, spend over our wine.”

Excerpt From: 46-120 Plutarch. “Plutarch’s Lives, Volume I.” iBooks.

Indeed time spent indulging over wine and other pleasures can be put to better use.

Quote ridiculous to be astonished

 

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

 

Coming soon: article on friendship, see excerpt below:

“…In the next place, to another also, who is like himself, he will be altogether and completely a friend. But he will bear with the man who is unlike himself, he will be kind to him, gentle, ready to pardon on account of his ignorance, on account of his being mistaken in things of the greatest importance; but he will be harsh to no man, being well convinced of Plato’s doctrine that every mind is deprived of truth unwillingly. If you cannot do this, yet you can do in all other respects as friends do, drink together, and lodge together, and sail together, and you may be born of the same parents, for snakes also are: but neither will they be friends, nor you, so long as you retain these bestial and cursed opinions….”

Excerpts from the discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

 

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