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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poetry: Shakespeare: Venus and Adonis (1593)

click for licensing I recall reading this in Northampton in the Haymarket, late one evening, at a small table, with my teapot, and a small dim light over my book, and I was waiting many hours for R—- to arrive, and nothing could keep my focus on this poem, though I tried with all my might to enjoy it. Yes, the language is very pretty, but does the story please me? At the time, I was very bored with it, pleased to finish it. Now, I am delighted in the language, yes, and the imagery, yes, and it makes me laugh and sigh for the struggles of love, the slight lewdness, the descriptions of two beauties tampering with something a pair of horses make perfect. And at the hint of coming tragedy, my heart begins to ache.

A girl once called me an Adonis. I hadn’t read that chapter of Ovid yet, though I was carrying the book around, so at the time I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked her. She said it meant I was “perfect.” Now, that was a long time ago, and I have a feeling now that she meant the rest of it too: that I wasn’t allowing myself to be fully given in love, that perhaps I had a nasty temperament, and perhaps that I’d meet my end foolishly, perhaps that she wanted me to meet my end very soon. I was sorry to see Adonis die, however, the descriptions, the wordplay, the imagery are some of the most clever I’ve ever seen. I’ve been disgusted with the long run of Shakespeare’s sonnets dealing with one matter: trying to convince a young man to reproduce. Now, I could see no reason to have written these, and I’m not quite sure why I assumed the subject was a young man anyway. The point is: it seems likely that the sonnets were exercises for this long poem, given that the majority of the poem is fuck-pleas, and Adonis argues that the reasoning “for increase” is not very convincing. Terms like tears that are solid until melted by cheeks, or perhaps tear-shaped until “melted” by the cheeks, and attempts to block those tears from the “sluttish ground” are those descriptions that makes poetry worthwhile for me. Does it teach me something? For certain. It helps to look at every thing in the world and maybe fall within its essence.

26 March 07