On Peace of Mind XI

These remarks of mine apply only to imperfect, commonplace, and unsound natures, not to the wise man, who needs not to walk with timid and cautious gait: for he has such confidence in himself that he does not hesitate to go directly in the teeth of Fortune, and never will give way to her.

Nor indeed has he any reason for fearing her, for he counts not only chattels, property, and high office, but even his body, his eyes, his hands, and everything whose use makes life dearer to us, nay, even his very self, to be things whose possession is uncertain; he lives as though he had borrowed them, and is ready to return them cheerfully whenever they are claimed.

Yet he does not hold himself cheap, because he knows that he is not his own, but performs all his duties as carefully and prudently as a pious and scrupulous man would take care of property left in his charge as trustee.

When he is bidden to give them up, he will not complain of Fortune, but will say, “I thank you for what I have had possession of: I have managed your property so as largely to increase it, but since you order me, I give it back to you and return it willingly and thankfully. If you still wish me to own anything of yours, I will keep it for you: if you have other views, I restore into your hands and make restitution of all my wrought and coined silver, my house and my household.

Should Nature recall what she previously entrusted us with, let us say to her also: ‘Take back my spirit, which is better than when you gave it me: I do not shuffle or hang back.

Of my own free will I am ready to return what you gave me before I could think: take me away.’ ”

What hardship can there be in returning to the place from whence one came? a man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.

We must, therefore, take away from this commodity its original value, and count the breath of life as a cheap matter.

“We dislike gladiators,” says Cicero, “if they are eager to save their lives by any means whatever: but we look favourably upon them if they are openly reckless of them.”

You may be sure that the same thing occurs with us: we often die because we are afraid of death.

Fortune, which regards our lives as a show in the arena for her own enjoyment, says, “Why should I spare you, base and cowardly creature that you are? you will be pierced and hacked with all the more wounds because you know not how to offer your throat to the knife: whereas you, who receive the stroke without drawing away your neck or putting up your hands to stop it, shall both live longer and die more quickly.”

He who fears death will never act as becomes a living man: but he who knows that this fate was laid upon him as soon as he was conceived will live according to it, and by this strength of mind will gain this further advantage, that nothing can befall him unexpectedly: for by looking forward to everything which can happen as though it would happen to him, he takes the sting out of all evils, which can make no difference to those who expect it and are prepared to meet it: evil only comes hard upon those who have lived without giving it a thought and whose attention has been exclusively directed to happiness.

Disease, captivity, disaster, conflagration, are none of them unexpected: I always knew with what disorderly company Nature had associated me.

The dead have often been wailed for in my neighbourhood: the torch and taper have often been borne past my door before the bier of one who has died before his time: the crash of falling buildings has often resounded by my side: night has snatched away many of those with whom I have become intimate in the forum, the Senate-house, and in society, and has sundered the hands which were joined in friendship: ought I to be surprised if the dangers which have always been circling around me at last assail me?

How large a part of mankind never think of storms when about to set sail? I shall never be ashamed to quote a good saying because it comes from a bad author.

Publilius, who was a more powerful writer than any of our other playwrights, whether comic or tragic, whenever he chose to rise above farcical absurdities and speeches addressed to the gallery, among many other verses too noble even for tragedy, let alone for comedy, has this one:⁠—

“What one hath suffered may befall us all.”

If a man takes this into his inmost heart and looks upon all the misfortunes of other men, of which there is always a great plenty, in this spirit, remembering that there is nothing to prevent their coming upon him also, he will arm himself against them long before they attack him.

It is too late to school the mind to endurance of peril after peril has come. “I did not think this would happen,” and “Would you ever have believed that this would have happened?” say you.

But why should it not? Where are the riches after which want, hunger, and beggary do not follow? what office is there whose purple robe, augur’s staff, and patrician reins have not as their accompaniment rags and banishment, the brand of infamy, a thousand disgraces, and utter reprobation? what kingdom is there for which ruin, trampling under foot, a tyrant and a butcher are not ready at hand? nor are these matters divided by long periods of time, but there is but the space of an hour between sitting on the throne ourselves and clasping the knees of someone else as suppliants.

Know then that every station of life is transitory, and that what has ever happened to anybody may happen to you also.

You are wealthy: are you wealthier than Pompeius? [90] Yet when Gaius, [91] his old relative and new host, opened Caesar’s house to him in order that he might close his own, he lacked both bread and water: though he owned so many rivers which both rose and discharged themselves within his dominions, yet he had to beg for drops of water: he perished of hunger and thirst in the palace of his relative, while his heir was contracting for a public funeral for one who was in want of food.

You have filled public offices: were they either as important, as unlooked for, or as all-embracing as those of Sejanus?

Yet on the day on which the Senate disgraced him, the people tore him to pieces: the executioner [92] could find no part left large enough to drag to the Tiber, of one upon whom gods and men had showered all that could be given to man.

You are a king: I will not bid you go to Croesus for an example, he who while yet alive saw his funeral pile both lighted and extinguished, being made to outlive not only his kingdom but even his own death, nor to Jugurtha, whom the people of Rome beheld as a captive within the year in which they had feared him.

We have seen Ptolemaeus King of Africa, and Mithridates King of Armenia, under the charge of Gaius’s [93] guards: the former was sent into exile, the latter chose it in order to make his exile more honourable. Among such continual topsy-turvy changes, unless you expect that whatever can happen will happen to you, you give adversity power against you, a power which can be destroyed by anyone who looks at it beforehand.