On the Shortness of Life II

Why do we complain of Nature? she has dealt kindly with us.

Life is long enough, if you know how to use it.

One man is possessed by an avarice which nothing can satisfy, another by a laborious diligence in doing what is totally useless: another is sodden by wine: another is benumbed by sloth: one man is exhausted by an ambition which makes him court the good will of others:[74] another, through his eagerness as a merchant, is led to visit every land and every sea by the hope of gain: some are plagued by the love of soldiering, and are always either endangering other men’s lives or in trembling for their own: some wear away their lives in that voluntary slavery, the unrequited service of great men: many are occupied either in laying claim to other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own: a great number have no settled purpose, and are tossed from one new scheme to another by a rambling, inconsistent, dissatisfied, fickle habit of mind: some care for no object sufficiently to try to attain it, but lie lazily yawning until their fate comes upon them: so that I cannot doubt the truth of that verse which the greatest of poets has dressed in the guise of an oracular response⁠—

“We live a small part only of our lives.”

But all duration is time, not life: vices press upon us and surround us on every side, and do not permit us to regain our feet, or to raise our eyes and gaze upon truth, but when we are down keep us prostrate and chained to low desires.

Men who are in this condition are never allowed to come to themselves: if ever by chance they obtain any rest, they roll to and fro like the deep sea, which heaves and tosses after a gale, and they never have any respite from their lusts.

Do you suppose that I speak of those whose ills are notorious?

Nay, look at those whose prosperity all men run to see: they are choked by their own good things.

To how many men do riches prove a heavy burden? how many men’s eloquence and continual desire to display their own cleverness has cost them their lives? [75] how many are sallow with constant sensual indulgence? how many have no freedom left them by the tribe of clients that surges around them?

Look through all these, from the lowest to the highest:⁠—this man calls his friends to support him, this one is present in court, this one is the defendant, this one pleads for him, this one is on the jury: but no one lays claim to his own self, everyone wastes his time over someone else.

Investigate those men, whose names are in everyone’s mouth: you will find that they bear just the same marks: A is devoted to B, and B to C: no one belongs to himself.

Moreover some men are full of most irrational anger: they complain of the insolence of their chiefs, because they have not granted them an audience when they wished for it; as if a man had any right to complain of being so haughtily shut out by another, when he never has leisure to give his own conscience a hearing.

This chief of yours, whoever he is, though he may look at you in an offensive manner, still will some day look at you, open his ears to your words, and give you a seat by his side: but you never design to look upon yourself, to listen to your own grievances.

You ought not, then, to claim these services from another, especially since while you yourself were doing so, you did not wish for an interview with another man, but were not able to obtain one with yourself. [76]