Seneca – On the Endurance of Suffering (Letters from a Stoic)

37712_stdI’m 37% of the way through this work, and what keeps me going is that I think most reviewers on Amazon suck, and if they’re all giving it 4 stars, then…then…then…it’s not that the work deserve praise, it’s something else entirely.

This chapter begins with a perfect example of the whole book: he begins by complaining that he’s always very cold, therefore, he’s exempt from having to endure the suffering of taking cold baths, because he’s enduring the cold all the time on account of being very old. And then he goes on to preach how important it is to endure suffering.

So, in short, the bulk of his letters consist of his a) complaining about his life, and b) preaching how others should live so that they’re more like him.

Truly, the real thing that keeps me going is that it’s difficult for me to not finish a book, even when it takes me a decade. Unfinished books, even ones I hate (i.e., Ovid, which I’ve been working on since 2004) weigh on me. But beyond that, Seneca’s suicide seems to have followed his philosophies well (bravery, honor, and courage). When I think on that, I think, well, he must have been wise after all—but when I read his letters, all I see is a rich old guy going on vacations and complaining about his life.

Okay, it’s a waste of time to be reading this for me. What do I do? How about I return to the top of the letter and paraphrase each paragraph—that’ll at least force me to pay attention to it.

  1. It’s spring, but I have a feeling it’ll get wintry again, so I’m not taking cold baths because I’m always cold because I’m old. Thanks for sending me a letter.
  2. Is every good desirable? That is, if it’s good to endure torture courageously, is torture desirable? No, you stupid fuck. Seneca: No, but if one is to be tortured, then one should desire being able to bear it with courage.
  3. Some pray for “unalloyed” good—i.e., bravery — period. When the truth is that bravery often requires danger. So, generally, you can’t pray for bravery without its accompanying danger.
  4. Who prays for danger? It’s indirectly prayed for—if you pray for bravery, you’re also praying for danger.
  5. There are a bunch of virtues, and they pretty much come as a package deal. Endurance of suffering, bravery, foresight, steadfastness, resignation.
  6. Virtue is not merely “beauty and grandeur”—but rather, “sweat and blood”.
  7. Virtue comes with great difficulties, but anything achieved in virtue’s name is good and desirable.

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