On the Firmness of the Wise Person VI

Consider now, whether any thief, or false accuser, or headstrong neighbour, or rich man enjoying the power conferred by a childless old age, could do any injury to this man, from whom neither war nor an enemy whose profession was the noble art of battering city walls could take away anything.

Amid the flash of swords on all sides, and the riot of the plundering soldiery, amid the flames and blood and ruin of the fallen city, amid the crash of temples falling upon their gods, one man was at peace.

You need not therefore account that a reckless boast, for which I will give you a surety, if my words goes for nothing. Indeed, you would hardly believe so much constancy or such greatness of mind to belong to any man; but here a man comes forward to prove that you have no reason for doubting that one who is but of human birth can raise himself above human necessities, can tranquilly behold pains, losses, diseases, wounds, and great natural convulsions roaring around him, can bear adversity with calm and prosperity with moderation, neither yielding to the former nor trusting to the latter, that he can remain the same amid all varieties of fortune, and think nothing to be his own save himself, and himself too only as regards his better part.

“Behold,” says he, “I am here to prove to you that although, under the direction of that destroyer of so many cities, walls may be shaken by the stroke of the ram, lofty towers may be suddenly brought low by galleries and hidden mines, and mounds arise so high as to rival the highest citadel, yet that no siege engines can be discovered which can shake a well-established mind.

I have just crept from amid the ruins of my house, and with conflagrations blazing all around I have escaped from the flames through blood.

What fate has befallen my daughters, whether a worse one than that of their country, I know not.

Alone and elderly, and seeing everything around me in the hands of the enemy, still I declare that my property is whole and untouched.

I have, I hold whatever of mine I have ever had.

There is no reason for you to suppose me conquered and yourself my conqueror. It is your fortune which has overcome mine.

As for those fleeting possessions which change their owners, I know not where they are; what belongs to myself is with me, and ever will be.

I see rich men who have lost their estates; lustful men who have lost their loves, the courtesans whom they cherished at the cost of much shame; ambitious men who have lost the senate, the law courts, the places set apart for the public display of men’s vices; usurers who have lost their account-books, in which avarice vainly enjoyed an unreal wealth; but I possess everything whole and uninjured.

Leave me, and go and ask those who are weeping and lamenting over the loss of their money, who are offering their bare breasts to drawn swords in its defence, or who are fleeing from the enemy with weighty pockets.”

See then, Serenus, that the perfect man, full of human and divine virtues, can lose nothing; his goods are surrounded by strong and impassable walls.

You cannot compare with them the walls of Babylon, which Alexander entered, nor the fortifications of Carthage and Numantia, won by one and the same hand, [104] nor the Capitol and citadel of Rome, which are branded with the marks of the victors’ insults; the ramparts which protect the wise man are safe from fire and hostile invasion; they afford no passage; they are lofty, impregnable, divine.