Seeds: Seneca / reason; Jesus / kingdom of God

Seneca, Ep. Mor., 38.2.

[Verba sermonis] seminis modo spargenda sunt, quod quamvis sit exiguum, cum occupavit idoneum locum, vires suas explicat et ex minimo in maxima auctus diffunditur. Idem facit ratio: non late patet, si aspicias; in opere crescit.

[The words of conversation] should be scattered like seeds, which, though small, when they find a suitable location, unfold their strength and spread from the smallest to the greatest size. Reason works in the same way: it seems no great thing to the eye, but grows in its working.

Ev. Mark (Vulg.), 4.30-32.

Et dicebat, “Cui adsimilabimus regnum Dei? Aut cui parabolae conparabimus illud? Sicut granum sinapis, quod cum seminaturm fuerit in terra, minus est omnibus seminibus quae sunt in terra, et cum seminarium fuerit, ascendit et fit maius omnibus holeribus et facit ramos magnos, ita ut possint sub umbra eius aves caeli habitare.”

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

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Seneca: on not acknowledging our faults

Caeci tamen ducem quaerunt, nos sine duce erramus et dicimus `non ego ambitiosus sum, sed nemo aliter Romae potest vivere; non ego sumptuosus sum, sed urbs ipsa magnas inpensas exigit; non est meum vitium quod iracundus sum, quod nondum constitui certum genus vitae; adulescentia haec facit.’ (Ep. Mor., 50.3)

The blind however seek a guide, whereas we wander guideless and say “I’m not ambitious, but it’s not possible to live in Rome any other way; I’m not extravagant, but living in the city is enormously expensive; it’s not my fault that I’m bad-tempered, or that I am yet to settle on a fixed mode of life: that’s just how I grew up.”

Seneca: the urgency of true philosophy

Non vacat mihi verba dubie cadentia consectari et vafritiam in illis meam experiri

Aspice qui coeant populi, quae moenia clusis
ferrum acuant portis.

Magno mihi animo strepitus iste belli circumsonantis exaudiendus est. Demens omnibus merito viderer, si cum saxa in munimentum murorum senes feminaeque congererent, cum iuventus intra portas armata signum eruptionis expectaret aut posceret, cum hostilia in portis tela vibrarent et ipsum solum suffossionibus et cuniculis tremeret, sederem otiosus et eiusmodi quaestiunculas ponens: `quod non perdidisti habes; cornua autem non perdidisti; cornua ergo habes’ aliaque ad exemplum huius acutae delirationis concinnata.

Atqui aeque licet tibi demens videar si istis inpendero operam: et nunc obsideor. Tunc tamen periculum mihi obsesso externum immineret, murus me ab hoste secerneret: nunc mortifera in mecum sunt. Non vaco ad istas ineptias; ingens negotium in manibus est. Quid agam? mors me sequitur, fugit vita. (Ep. Mor, 49.8-9)

I have no free time for pursuing doubtful inflections of words and proving my cleverness in such trickery.

Behold the gathering hosts, who sharpen their swords
against the city walls and closed gates.

I need great courage to hold firm against the surrounding clamour of war. When old men and women are piling up rocks to strengthen the walls and the youths stand armed by the gates, waiting and indeed seeking for the signal to sally; when the spears of the enemy are quivering in the gates and the gates themselves are shaking from undermining tunnels; I would rightly seem mad to all if at this time I sat at leisure and posed myself conundra such as `what you have not lost you have; you have not lost horns; therefore you have horns’, and other such examples of acute delirium.

And equally should I seem mad to you if I spent time on such questions; for I too am under siege. The dangers of the siege hang over me; I have been cut off from my own walls by the enemy; mortal threats close in. I have no time for trifles; urgent matters are at hand. What are these? Death stalks me; life flees away.

Seneca: the tasks of slaves at a dissolute dinner party

Cum ad cenandum discubuimus, alius sputa deterget, alius reliquias temulentorum toro subditus colligit. Alius pretiosas aves scindit; per pectus et clunes certis ductibus circumferens eruditam manum frusta excutit, infelix, qui huic uni rei vivit, ut altilia decenter secet, nisi quod miserior est qui hoc voluptatis causa docet quam qui necessitatis discit. Alius vini minister in muliebrem modum ornatus cum aetate luctatur: non potest effugere pueritiam, retrahitur, iamque militari habitu glaber retritis pilis aut penitus evulsis tota nocte pervigilat, quam inter ebrietatem domini ac libidinem dividit et in cubiculo vir, in convivio puer est. Alius, cui convivarum censura permissa est, perstat infelix et expectat quos adulatio et intemperantia aut gulae aut linguae revocet in crastinum. Adice obsonatores quibus dominici palati notitia subtilis est, qui sciunt cuius illum rei sapor excitet, cuius delectet aspectus, cuius novitate nauseabundus erigi possit, quid iam ipsa satietate fastidiat, quid illo die esuriat. (Ep. Mor, 47.5-8)

When we are reclined at dinner, one slave wipes away the spit, another crouches under the table to collect the food dropped by the drunken guests. Another cuts the precious fowls; through the chest and the rump he guides a skilled hand along an unvarying course, cutting off the chunks of meat; unhappy man! who lives for this one thing alone, the elegant slicing of fattened birds; unless the one is more miserable who trained him to do this for the sake of self-indulgence, than he is who was forced to learn it. Another slave pours out wine, dressed in female costume and struggling to hide his age; he cannot escape from boyhood, but is dragged back to it; his body, fit to be that of a soldier, is kept smooth and hairless by shaving off or plucking out hairs; the whole night he stays awake, divided between the drunkenness and the lust of his master; in the bedroom he is a man, but at the dinner table he is a boy. Another slave, who is tasked to pass judgment on the dinner guests, stands unhappy and looks to see whose flattery or extravagance of appetite or tongue will earn them another invitation for tomorrow. Add to these the slaves responsible for the choice of dishes, whose task is the subtle observation of their master’s palate, who know what taste will excite him, what presentation will delight him, with what novelty his nauseated appetite can be aroused, what he is disgusted at through satiety, what he craves that day.

Tacitus : nature will fail before Roman greed

Tacitus, Agricola, 12.6:

gignit [Britannia] et Oceanus margarita, sed subfusca ac liventia. quidam artem abesse legentibus arbitrantur; nam in rubro mari viva ac spirantia saxis avelli, in Britannia, prout expulsa sint, colligi: ego facilius crediderim naturam margaritas deesse quam nobis avaritiam.

[Britain] also produces ocean pearls, but discoloured and bluish. Some say that the pearl fishers lack skill; that in the Red Sea the pearl oysters are plucked alive and breathing from the rocks, while in Britain they are collected when they happen to be washed up on the shore. I more readily believe that nature would be lacking to the pearls than that avarice would be lacking to us Romans.

Tacitus / Agricola: not too much philosophy!

Tacitus on his father-in-law Agricola, describing the unworthiness of Roman of senatorial rank being excessively devoted to philosophy (Tacitus, Agricola, 3):

memoria teneo solitum ipsum narrare se prima in iuventa studium philosophiae acrius, ultra quam concessum Romano ac senatori, hausisse, ni prudentia matris incensum ac flagrantem animum coercuisset. scilicet sublime et erectum ingenium pulchritudinem ac speciem magnae excelsaeque gloriae vehementius quam caute adpetebat. mox mitigavit ratio et aetas, retinuitque, quod est difficillimum, ex sapientia modum.

I hold in my memory that he himself was accustomed to say that in his first youth he would have devoted himself more passionately to the pursuit of philosophy, beyond what was allowed in a Roman and member of the senatorial class, if the prudence of his mother had not repressed his aroused and enflamed soul. Doubtless, his exalted and noble spirit pursued the beauty and display of a great and lofty fame more vehemently than cautiously. Soon judgment and maturity calmed him, and he preserved (which is a most difficult thing) a sense of moderation out of wisdom.

Cicero and Seneca

Cicero is a very Stoic Academician; Seneca is a very Epicurean Stoic.

Cicero: eos qui his urbibus consilio atque auctoritate praesunt, eis qui omnis negoti publici expertes sint longe duco sapientia ipsa esse anteponendos; et quoniam maxime rapimur ad opes augenda generis humani, studemusque nostris consiliis et laboribus tutiorem et opulentiorem vitam hominum reddere, et ad hanc voluntatem ipsius naturae stimulis incitamur, teneamus eum cursum qui semper fuit optimi cuiusque, neque ea signa audiamus quae receptui canunt, ut eos etiam revocent qui iam processerint. (De Republica I.3)

I rank those who lead cities through their counsel and influence far higher in wisdom itself than those who do not share in any public matters. And since we are greatly urged to the building up of the resources of humankind, and we are eager through our advice and effort to render human life more safe and wealthier, and since nature herself incites us to this desire, let us hold steady in that march which has always been the noblest, and let us not listen to signals summoning us to retreat, which recall even those who have already made progress.

Seneca: Utinam quidem tibi senescere contigisset intra natalium tuorum modum, nec te in altum fortuna misisset! Tulit te longe a conspectu vitae salubris rapida felicitas, provincia et procuratio, et quicquid ab istis promittitur; maiora deinde officia te excipient et ex aliis alia. Quis exitus erit? […] In eam demissus es vitam, quae numquam tibi terminum miseriarum ac servitutis ipsa factura sit. Subduc cervicem iugo tritam; semel illam incidi quam semper premi satius est. Si te ad privata rettuleris, minora erunt omnia, sed affatim implebunt; at nunc plurima et undique ingesta non satiant. (Epistulae Morales, 19.5-7)

I wish indeed that you had reached old age confined within the boundaries your birthplace, rather than having advanced to such a lofty fortune! You have been dragged far from the sight of a healthy life by rapid success, your province and procuratorship, and the future these promise; next, greater duties will seize you, and then greater still. How will you ever escape? […] You have been launched into a life which will never itself put an end to your misery and servitude. Withdraw your chafed neck from the yoke; it would be better for it to be cut off once and for all then rubbed at for ever. If you withdraw to a private life, everything will be more humble, but enough for you to be satisfied; whereas now, the riches poured in upon you from every side do not satisfy you.

“To ask abroad who or what I am, is to lock up my own dores, and to enquire of my neighbor what is don at home.”

– Bishop Brian Duppa to SIr Justinian Isham, Oct 22nd 1650; Isham (ed.), The Duppa-Isham Correspondence (Northants Records Society, Volume XVII, 1955), p. 20.

“When wee consider Arts, or Sciences, the servant knows but according to the proportion of his Masters knowledge in that Art, and the Scholar knows but according to the proportion of his Masters knowledge in that Science; Young men mend not their sight by using old mens Spectacles; and yet we looke upon Nature, but with Aristotles Spectacles, and upon the body of man, but with Galens, and upon the frame of the world, but with Ptolemies Spectacles. Almost all knowledge is rather like a child that is embalmed to make Mummy, then that is nursed to make a Man; rather conserved in the stature of the first age, then growne to be greater.”

– John Donne, “Preached at the funerals of Sir William Cokayne Knight, Alderman of London, December 12. 1626.”, John Donne’s Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson, U.Cal.Pr., 1963, p 222.