On Peace of Mind XIV

Moreover, we ought to cultivate an easy temper, and not become over fond of the lot which fate has assigned to us, but transfer ourselves to whatever other condition chance may lead us to, and fear no alteration, either in our purposes or our position in life, provided that we do not become subject to caprice, which of all vices is the most hostile to repose: for obstinacy, from which Fortune often wrings some concession, must needs be anxious and unhappy, but caprice, which can never restrain itself, must be more so.

Both of these qualities, both that of altering nothing, and that of being dissatisfied with everything, are enemies to repose.

The mind ought in all cases to be called away from the contemplation of external things to that of itself: let it confide in itself, rejoice in itself, admire its own works; avoid as far as may be those of others, and devote itself to itself; let it not feel losses, and put a good construction even upon misfortunes.

Zeno, the chief of our school, when he heard the news of a shipwreck, in which all his property had been lost, remarked, “Fortune bids me follow philosophy in lighter marching order.”

A tyrant threatened Theodorus with death, and even with want of burial. “You are able to please yourself,” he answered, “my half pint of blood is in your power: for, as for burial, what a fool you must be if you suppose that I care whether I rot above ground or under it.”

Julius Kanus, a man of peculiar greatness, whom even the fact of his having been born in this century does not prevent our admiring, had a long dispute with Gaius, and when as he was going away that Phalaris of a man said to him, “That you may not delude yourself with any foolish hopes, I have ordered you to be executed,” he answered, “I thank you, most excellent prince.” I am not sure what he meant: for many ways of explaining his conduct occur to me.

Did he wish to be reproachful, and to show him how great his cruelty must be if death became a kindness? or did he upbraid him with his accustomed insanity? for even those whose children were put to death, and whose goods were confiscated, used to thank him: or was it that he willingly received death, regarding it as freedom?

Whatever he meant, it was a magnanimous answer.

Someone may say, “After this Gaius might have let him live.”

Kanus had no fear of this: the good faith with which Gaius carried out such orders as these was well known.

Will you believe that he passed the ten intervening days before his execution without the slightest despondency? it is marvellous how that man spoke and acted, and how peaceful he was.

He was playing at draughts when the centurion in charge of a number of those who were going to be executed bade him join them: on the summons he counted his men and said to his companion, “Mind you do not tell a lie after my death, and say that you won;” then, turning to the centurion, he said, “You will bear me witness that I am one man ahead of him.”

Do you think that Kanus played upon that draught-board? nay, he played with it.

His friends were sad at being about to lose so great a man: “Why,” asked he, “are you sorrowful? you are enquiring whether our souls are immortal, but I shall presently know.”

Nor did he up to the very end cease his search after truth, and raised arguments upon the subject of his own death.

His own teacher of philosophy accompanied him, and they were not far from the hill on which the daily sacrifice to Caesar our god was offered, when he said, “What are you thinking of now, Kanus? or what are your ideas?” “I have decided,” answered Kanus, “at that most swiftly-passing moment of all to watch whether the spirit will be conscious of the act of leaving the body.”

He promised, too, that if he made any discoveries, he would come round to his friends and tell them what the condition of the souls of the departed might be.

Here was peace in the very midst of the storm: here was a soul worthy of eternal life, which used its own fate as a proof of truth, which when at the last step of life experimented upon his fleeting breath, and did not merely continue to learn until he died, but learned something even from death itself.

No man has carried the life of a philosopher further.

I will not hastily leave the subject of a great man, and one who deserves to be spoken of with respect: I will hand thee down to all posterity, thou most noble heart, chief among the many victims of Gaius.