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Janja Soldo (ed.), Seneca: Epistulae Morales Book 2
pg 2818 Seneca Lucilio Suo Salutem
- 1Critical Apparatus2December est mensis: cum maxime ciuitas sudat. Ius luxuriae publicae
- 3datum est; ingenti apparatu sonant omnia, tamquam quicquam inter Saturnalia
- Critical Apparatus4intersit et dies rerum agendarum; adeo nihil interest ut <non> uideatur mihi
- 5errasse qui dixit olim mensem Decembrem fuisse, nunc annum.
- 26Si te hic haberem, libenter tecum conferrem quid existimares esse
- 7faciendum, utrum nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine mouendum an, ne dissidere
- 8uideremur cum publicis moribus, et hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam.
- 9Nam quod fieri nisi in tumultu et tristi tempore ciuitatis non solebat,
- 10uoluptatis causa ac festorum dierum uestem mutauimus.
- 311Si te bene noui, arbitri partibus functus nec per omnia nos similes esse
- 12pilleatae turbae uoluisses nec per omnia dissimiles; nisi forte his maxime diebus
- 13animo imperandum est, ut tunc uoluptatibus solus abstineat cum in illas
- 14omnis turba procubuit; certissimum enim argumentum firmitatis suae capit,
- 15si ad blanda et in luxuriam trahentia nec it nec abducitur.
- 416Hoc multo fortius est, ebrio ac uomitante populo siccum ac sobrium esse,
- Critical Apparatus17illud temperantius, non excerpere se nec insignire nec misceri omnibus et
- 18eadem sed non eodem modo facere; licet enim sine luxuria agere festum diem.
- 519Ceterum adeo mihi placet temptare animi tui firmitatem ut ex praecepto
- 20magnorum uirorum tibi quoque praecipiam: interponas aliquot dies quibus
- 21contentus minimo ac uilissimo cibo, dura atque horrida ueste, dicas tibi 'hoc
- 22est quod timebatur?'
- 623In ipsa securitate animus ad difficilia se praeparet et contra iniurias
- Critical Apparatus24fortunae inter beneficia firmetur. Miles in media pace decurrit, sine ullo hoste uallum
- 25iacit, et superuacuo labore lassatur ut sufficere necessario possit; quem in
- 26ipsa re trepidare nolueris, ante rem exerceas. Hoc secuti sunt qui omnibus
- pg 3027mensibus paupertatem imitati prope ad inopiam accesserunt, ne umquam
- 28expauescerent quod saepe didicissent.
- 7Critical Apparatus29Non est nunc quod existimes me dicere Timoneas cenas et pauperum cellas
- 30et quidquid aliud est per quod luxuria diuitiarum taedio ludit: grabattus ille
- 31uerus sit et sagum et panis durus ac sordidus. Hoc triduo et quatriduo fer,
- 32interdum pluribus diebus, ut non lusus sit sed experimentum: tunc, mihi
- 33crede, Lucili, exultabis dipondio satur et intelleges ad securitatem non opus
- Critical Apparatus34esse fortuna; hoc enim quod necessitati sat est dabit et irata.
- 835Non est tamen quare tu multum tibi facere uidearis (facies enim quod
- 36multa milia seruorum, multa milia pauperum faciunt): illo nomine te suspice,
- 37quod facies non coactus, quod tam facile erit tibi illud pati semper quam
- Critical Apparatus38aliquando experiri. Exerceamur ad palum, et ne inparatos fortuna deprehendat,
- 39fiat nobis paupertas familiaris; securius diuites erimus si scierimus quam non
- 40sit graue pauperes esse.
- 941Certos habebat dies ille magister uoluptatis Epicurus quibus maligne famem
- 42extingueret, uisurus an aliquid deesset ex plena et consummata uoluptate, uel
- 43quantum deesset, et an dignum quod quis magno labore pensaret. Hoc certe in
- 44iis epistulis ait quas scripsit Charino magistratu ad Polyaenum; et quidem
- 45gloriatur non toto asse <se> pasci, Metrodorum, qui nondum tantum profecerit, toto.
- 1046In hoc tu uictu saturitatem putas esse? Et uoluptas est; uoluptas autem non
- 47illa leuis et fugax et subinde reficienda, sed stabilis et certa. Non enim iucunda
- 48res est aqua et polenta aut frustum hordeacii panis, sed summa uoluptas est
- 49posse capere etiam ex his uoluptatem et ad id se deduxisse quod eripere nulla
- 50fortunae iniquitas possit.
- 1151Liberaliora alimenta sunt carceris, sepositos ad capitale supplicium non
- 52tam anguste qui occisurus est pascit: quanta est animi magnitudo ad id sua
- Critical Apparatus53sponte descendere quod ne ad extrema quidem decretis timendum sit! hoc est
- 54praeoccupare tela fortunae.
- pg 321255Incipe ergo, mi Lucili, sequi horum consuetudinem et aliquos dies destina
- 56quibus secedas a tuis rebus minimoque te facias familiarem; incipe cum
- 57paupertate habere commercium;
- 58 aude, hospes, contemnere opes et te quoque dignum
- 59 finge deo.
- 1360Nemo alius est deo dignus quam qui opes contempsit; quarum
- 61possessionem tibi non interdico, sed efficere uolo ut illas intrepide possideas; quod uno
- 62consequeris modo, si te etiam sine illis beate uicturum persuaseris tibi, si illas
- 63tamquam exituras semper aspexeris.
- 1464Sed iam incipiamus epistulam complicare. 'Prius' inquis 'redde quod debes.'
- 65Delegabo te ad Epicurum, ab illo fiet numeratio: 'inmodica ira gignit insaniam.'
- 66Hoc quam uerum sit necesse est scias, cum habueris et seruum et inimicum.
- 1567In omnes personas hic exardescit adfectus; tam ex amore nascitur quam ex
- 68odio, non minus inter seria quam inter lusus et iocos; nec interest ex quam
- 69magna causa nascatur sed in qualem perueniat animum. Sic ignis non refert
- 70quam magnus sed quo incidat; nam etiam maximum solida non receperunt,
- 71rursus arida et corripi facilia scintillam quoque fouent usque in incendium. Ita
- 72est, mi Lucili: ingentis irae exitus furor est, et ideo ira uitanda est non
- 73moderationis causa sed sanitatis. Vale.
Editor’s NoteEditor’s Notepg 29Epistle 18
2My dear Lucilius,
- Editor’s Note13It is the month of December: that is when the city is at its sweatiest. Public
- 4luxury has been given licence; everything is resounding with immense
- 5preparations—as if there were some difference between the Saturnalia and days for
- 6regular activities. But there is absolutely no difference—so much so, that
- 7someone rightly said that December used to last for a month, but now it lasts
- 8for a whole year.
- Editor’s Note29If you were here with me, I would dearly like to talk to you about what must
- 10be done in your opinion: whether we should change nothing about our everyday
- 11habits or whether we should hold merrier dinners than usual and take off
- 12our togas, so as not to seem different from common practice. We used to
- 13change our clothing only during crises and times of national mourning, now
- 14we do it for pleasure and during festivals.
- Editor’s Note315If I know you well, you would act as a mediator and want us not to be
- 16similar to or different from the cap-wearing crowd in every respect. During these
- 17days in particular, you must be in charge of your mind so that it abstains from
- 18pleasures on its own, just when everyone else has sunk into them. It attains the
- 19most certain proof of its strength if it is not attracted to or seduced by flattery
- 20and luxury.
- Editor’s Note421The latter is much braver, that is to be dead sober among a drunken and
- 22vomiting crowd, but the former is more restrained: not to withdraw, not to
- 23stand out, not to mix with everyone but to do the same, yet not in the same
- 24way; you can celebrate a festival without luxury.
- Editor’s Note525But I like testing the strength of your mind. Let me advise you too
- 26according to the precept of great men: set aside some days during which you are
- 27content with very little and cheap food and with hard and rough clothes, and
- 28during which you say to yourself, 'Is that what frightened me?'
- Editor’s Note629When it is free of worry, the mind can prepare itself for difficult situations
- 30and strengthen itself against the injustices of fortune, while fortune is still
- 31favourable. Soldiers practise running in peacetime too, they build ramparts
- 32when there are no enemies around and tire themselves out with unnecessary
- pg 3133training so as to become content with the bare necessities. If you want someone
- 34not to be afraid you must train him ahead of time. Those who imitated
- 35poverty every month and who came close to real impoverishment followed
- 36this advice, so they may never fear what they had learned so many times.
- Editor’s Note737You must not think that I am talking about dinners à la Timon, poverty
- 38rooms, and whatever else luxury plays with because it is bored with its wealth.
- 39May your pallet and cloak be real and your bread hard and coarse. Endure this
- 40for three days, then four, sometimes even more days so that it is not a game but
- 41a trial. Believe me, Lucilius, you will be happy then, well fed with the help of
- 42two pennies, and you will understand that you don't need fortune to be
- 43carefree: it will give you what is necessary and sufficient, even when it is angry.
- Editor’s Note844There is none the less no reason for you to think that you are doing something
- 45great (you will be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands
- 46of poor people do): think highly of yourself only because you will do it
- 47without coercion and because you will find it as easy to endure it all the time
- 48as to experience it once. Let's exercise with stakes: we should become familiar
- 49with poverty so fortune does not catch us unprepared. We will be more
- 50carefree in our wealth if we know that it is not hard to be poor.
- Editor’s Note951On certain days, that master of pleasure, Epicurus, barely satisfied his
- 52hunger to check if something was missing from full and perfect pleasure, or how
- 53much was missing and if it was worth compensating it with great effort. He
- 54says it without any doubt in the letters he addressed to Polyaenus when
- 55Charinus was archon. He boasted that he did not need a whole penny to feed
- 56himself whereas Metrodorus, who had not made as much progress, needed a
- 57whole penny.
- Editor’s Note1058Do you think there is satisfaction in such a diet? There is also pleasure in
- 59it—not that flimsy and fleeting pleasure that must be renewed frequently, but
- 60a stable and certain pleasure. Water and porridge or the crust of coarse bread
- 61are not pleasant but it is the greatest pleasure to be able to derive pleasure even
- 62from them and to restrict yourself to something that none of fortune's injustice
- 63can snatch away from you.
- Editor’s Note1164Even prison food is more generous, and the executioner feeds those on
- 65death row not quite so little. How great is the mind that descends of its own
- 66accord to something that not even those on death row have to fear! This is
- 67what it means to anticipate the missiles of fortune.
- pg 33Editor’s Note1268Now, my dear Lucilius, start adapting their habit and set aside a few days
- 69during which you can withdraw from your affairs and make yourself familiar
- 70with the necessities; start trading with poverty.
- 71 Friend, dare to hold wealth in contempt and to see yourself
- 72 as worthy of God.
- Editor’s Note1373No one else is worthy of God except those who hold their wealth in
- 74contempt. I do not forbid you to own wealth but I want you to own it without fear.
- 75You can achieve that in only one way—if you convince yourself that you will
- 76live a happy life without it, if you always regard it as something that will end
- Editor’s Note1478But let me begin to wrap up the letter. You say, 'first, pay back what you
- 79owe.' I shall entrust you to Epicurus; the money will be his: 'Excessive anger
- 80begets insanity.' You must know how true that is since you have had a slave and
- 81an enemy.
- Editor’s Note1582This emotion blazes up in all people. It is born as much out of love as of
- 83hatred, no less out of seriousness and playfulness in equal measure. It makes no
- 84difference how important its cause might be or what kind of mind it befalls. It
- 85does not matter how big the fire is but where it appears; solid materials are not
- 86affected even by the biggest fire, but dry and readily flammable materials turn a
- 87spark into a fire. That's how it is, my dear Lucilius: great anger ends in madness
- 88and you must avoid anger, not to be modest but to stay sane. Take care.
2 publicae pLb : publice QβP
4 non add. ς
17 nec misceri] sed misceri ς
24 post decurrit dist. P. Thomas, post hoste priores iacit pQ2Ou2P2 : iacet αu1MP1 : iaci b : ducit Cornelissen : facit Willems
29 Timoneas Turnebus : temoneas ω
34 dabit et Haupt : debet ω
38 ad palum] ad paululum ω, sed uel ad palum. ita enim milites solebant add. in marg. p
53 decretis] redactis Mur.
The letter begins with a casual but puzzling remark: December est mensis: cum maxime ciuitas sudat. Why is the city sweating in December? Seneca solves the contradiction when he explains that Rome is celebrating the Saturnalia (§1). Being confronted with the decadence of the festival, Seneca wonders how he and anyone aspiring to achieve wisdom should behave during the Saturnalia (§2–4). In an imaginary dialogue with Lucilius, he discusses three options for himself and any would-be wise man. It is possible: to stick to one's habits and not to participate in any of the actions during the festival (§2: nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine mouendum; §3: uoluptatibus solus abstineat; §4: siccum ac sobrium esse); to immerse oneself completely in the people's customs and to take part in the festivities (§2: hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam; §4: non excerpere se nec insignire); or to follow a middle path as (allegedly) suggested by Lucilius, that is to participate in the festival but not to overindulge (§3: nec per omnia similes…nec per omnia dissimiles). In the main part of the letter (§5–13), Seneca recommends an exercise to test the mind's firmness: he asks Lucilius to live in poverty for a few days. The letter closes with a quotation from Epicurus that links anger with insanity: inmodica ira gignit insaniam (§14). Apart from Epicurus himself, who is portrayed as a glowing example of the poverty experiment in §9, there is no apparent connection between the letter and the quotation.
The festivities around the Saturnalia were known for their excess, in particular uninhibited drinking and gambling, and their reversal of social roles: slaves were allowed to criticize their masters (cf. Petron. Sat. 58.2), and Roman citizens sported the pilleus, a felt cap usually worn by manumitted slaves, swapping their heavy togas for the lighter synthesis. In his Apocolocyntosis, Seneca makes use of the short-lived Saturnalian licence as he mocks the recently deceased emperor Claudius and openly speaks his mind (references to the Saturnalia can be found in e.g. Apoc. 8.2; 12.2). The world seems to be turned on its head during the Saturnalia, and Ep. 18 cleverly imitates the festival's inversion of rules. Even the weather is unusual: Rome's citizens are sweating despite the cold temperatures. For the first time in the EM, the student becomes the teacher and vice versa: instead of giving advice, Seneca asks Lucilius to tell him how to behave in December (§2–4). The hierarchy between teacher and student is turned upside down as they swap their roles. When Seneca later recommends that Lucilius undertake a poverty trial, he essentially proposes a miniature version of the Saturnalia, albeit a very stern version: food and drink are limited during the trial, clothes must be basic. Limiting himself so radically during the days of the poverty experiment, Lucilius is meant to take on a completely different lifestyle and upend his usual habits, just as the Saturnalia upend normal life in Rome. In true Saturnalian fashion, the letter yet again defies expectations when it portrays Epicurus, pointedly called ille magister uoluptatis (§9), as a role model of frugality and praises him for his mastery of the poverty experiment.
There are some anecdotes and extraliterary references in the EM. They are never mere embellishment but introduce and lead to the topic discussed in the letter (Mazzoli 1991, 73–5). For example, Seneca mentions in Ep. 3.1 that Lucilius' friend delivered his letters and complains that Lucilius uses the word amicus for someone he clearly does not trust. The anecdote serves as an introduction to the topic of the letter: the distinction between true and false friends, and the nature of friendship. The same technique is applied in Ep. 18: Seneca's reference to the Saturnalia leads to a discussion of the appropriate lifestyle for a would-be wise man.
Ep. 18 continues and substantiates a topic that Seneca brings up in Ep. 16.8–9 and discusses extensively in Ep. 17: poverty and the fear of poverty. Ep. 17 holds poverty in high regard, depicting it as a prerequisite for a life dedicated to philosophy and dismissing wealth as an obstacle to philosophy. If a life in poverty seems to be too radical a solution, the would-be wise man may be pauper aut pauperi similis (Ep. 17.5). As Ep. 17 teaches Lucilius to change his attitude toward poverty and adopt a frugal lifestyle one cannot but wonder: how does one change one's attitude toward poverty? Ep. 18 provides an answer: by living in poverty, one's attitude towards poverty becomes one of fearlessness. Hence, Seneca suggests imitating poverty (§6: paupertatem imitati), thus explaining what pauperi similis means, and to live in poverty for a limited period. The would-be wise man will continually expand this period until he lives in constant poverty, again following Epicurus' example whose frugal lifestyle is described in Ep. 21. Seneca himself tries out poverty for a few days, following in Epicurus' steps and living the simple life he describes in this letter; compare Ep. 87.1–7 and 123.1–2 (see Inwood 2007a on both letters).
The poverty test follows the same principle as the praemeditatio futurorum malorum: the would-be wise man trains himself for the worst case ahead of time; that means he prepares himself to face poverty while he is living in prosperity, in order to lose his fear of poverty. However, the poverty experiment goes beyond the mental technique praemeditatio as it requires the would-be wise man not just to imagine poverty but to physically experience and endure it. Seneca describes the exercise as a praecept[um] magnorum uirorum (§5) but does not specify that any further. Most ancient philosophers preferred an ascetic to an indulgent life (see also Ep. 17) but Seneca is probably referring to Epicurus and Metrodorus, who are praised for living in voluntary poverty in §9. However, Epicurus dismissed the praemeditatio as useless (cf. Cic. Tusc. 3.32–3), and the Epicureans lived in poverty for different reasons, a fact that Seneca fails to mention in his letter: they tried to find pure pleasure by satisfying their most basic needs (Foucault 1986, 59–60).
Ep. 18 is probably modelled on Epicurus' letter to Polyaenus, which is mentioned in §9 (Wildberger 2014b, 437–8). The letter is lost but a few fragments survive in Philodemus, Theo, and Seneca, collected in Epicur. frg. 156–60 Us., 83–7 Arr. and Tepedino Guerra 1991. If the conjectures for the heavily damaged fragments are correct, there are uncanny similarities between Epicurus' letter to Polyaenus and Seneca's Ep. 18. Both letters discuss how a philosopher or would-be wise man ought to behave during a religious festival. The fragment Philod. On Piety 105 Go. = Epicur. frg. 157 Us. = 86 Arr. mentions the Anthesteria, a festival in honour of Dionysus in February/March, which was celebrated in a lively manner similar to the Saturnalia:
- ἀλλὰ κα[ὶ πρὸς Πολ-]
- ύαινον [συνεορτασ-]
- τέα κ᾽ Ἀν[θεστήρι-]
- α· καὶ γὰρ τῶ[ν θεῶν]
- ἐπιμνηστέ[ον ὡς αἰ-]
- τ<ίω>ν πολλῶν [ἀγαθῶν]
- But also to Polyaenus: one ought to celebrate the Anthesteria and remember the gods because they are responsible for many good things.
Both letters urge their addressees to develop the right attitude towards poverty, compare Philod. On Wealth col. III VH2 III 85 = Epicur. frg. 159 Us. = 85 Arr.:
- .…. [κ]αὶ πρὸς [Πολ]ύαι[νον]
- .…. ο[.]εστ κο[
- .…. [τὴ]ν πενίαν ἀδι
- And to Polyaenus:…poverty is indifferent.
§1 Seneca writes the letter during the Saturnalia
The letter begins with an oxymoron: it is December but everyone is sweating. We will find out in the following sentence that it is not an unusually warm winter that causes the perspiration, but the Saturnalia. With what appears to be a contradiction in the first sentence, Seneca imitates the joyous and unconventional character of the Saturnalia from the very beginning of the letter, a theme that he will keep as a leitmotif throughout the letter. Reynolds has added further weight to the inconsistency of the opening by inserting a colon between mensis and cum maxime: the inevitable pause created by the punctuation clearly signals that the two parts of the sentence are contradictory.
December est mensis: the month December is intricately linked to the Saturnalia, so much so that the sheer mention of December will bring the festival to mind; the word Saturnalia itself may be mentioned only in the following sentence but December already situates the epistle within the context of the chaotic and carnival-like festival (see the note below on Saturnalia). Cf. Stat. Silu. 1.6.4–5: Saturnus mihi compede exsoluta / et multo grauidus mero December; Mart. 5.84.9–11: sane sic abeat meus December: / scis certe, puto, uestra iam uenire / Saturnalia, Martias Kalendas; see also Petron. Sat. 58.2; Macrob. Sat. 1.7.23.
The reference to the month is reminiscent of the epistolary practice of beginning a letter by dating it; compare e.g. Chion Ep. 17: δυσὶν ἡμέραις τῶν Διονυσίων ἔμπροσθεν; Cic. Att. 3.7: Brundisium ueni a.d. xiiii Kal. Mai.; see Rossi diss. 2010, 48–133. The mention of December has ignited discussions about the dating of the EM. The EM are famously devoid of concrete references to contemporaneous events, the exception being the fire of Lugdunum (modern Lyon) in 64 ce; cf. Ep. 91.1: Liberalis noster nunc tristis est nuntiato incendio quo Lugdunensis colonia exusta est. Hence, the mention of the fire provides us with the terminus ante quem 64 ce (cf. Tac. Ann. 16.13.3). However, allusions to the changing seasons are scattered throughout the EM; cf. Ep. 23.1: putas me tibi scripturum quam humane nobiscum hiemps egerit, quae et remissa fuit et breuis, quam malignum uer sit…?; 67.1: uer aperire se coepit; 86.16: Iunius mensis est quo tibi scribo, iam procliuis in Iulium. The internal chronology of the EM, which roughly follows the seasons, has provided the grounds for attempts at dating the letters. Based on the assumption that the spring Seneca mentions in letters 23 and 67 is the same, Binder 1905 has argued that the EM have been written between 63 ce and the end of 64 ce. Grimal 1992 and Setaioli 2014c argue for a 'long chronology', which dates the EM between 62 and 64 ce, assuming that it is unlikely Seneca could have finished at least forty-five letters (between Ep. 23 and 67) in the course of one spring. These considerations are based on the claim that the EM are a real letter exchange; they become less important if we assume a fictional correspondence. On the fictionality of the EM, see the main introduction §4.
mensis: a pun: mensis can mean both 'month' and 'tables', the latter inherently anticipating the indulgent feasting during the Saturnalia. The words are not strictly homonyms: mensis meaning 'month' ends with a short -i-, mensis meaning 'tables' with a long -i-. Syntax and context make clear that only the meaning 'month' is correct. On the role of puns in Seneca's writing, see the main introduction §9.
ciuitas sudat: an unparalleled phrase. The sweating is either to be taken literally, as a result of the feasting during the Saturnalia, or figuratively, as a metaphor for hard labour and the efforts involved in preparing and carrying out the Saturnalia; cf. OLD s.v. sudo 2a: 'to sweat with fatigue, as implying toil or exertion' and Ep. 18.1: ingenti apparatu sonant omnia; Ep. 4.11: ad superuacua sudatur; a similar image is used in Ep. 13.11: aestuare ac discurrere. It is apparently incongruous with the cold weather usually experienced in December, which demonstrates that the Saturnalia turns every aspect of life upside down, even bodily reactions.
Ius luxuriae publicae datum est: the expression ius dare does not necessarily refer to legal action but is also used in a metaphorical sense; cf. Sen. Ira 1.8.1: iusque illi [scil. affectui] aliquod uoluntate nostra datum est. The juxtaposition of licentiousness and legal language makes for a paradoxical image. Luxuriae is a dative, not a genitive; cf. e.g. Liv. 25.12.10: praetor is qui ius populo plebeique dabit summum. For Seneca's contempt for luxury, see e.g. Ep. 90; 122.
Reynolds prints publice, which is transmitted in QβP, dismissing publicae found in pLb and thus giving preference to the younger over the older manuscripts. He bases his decision on the parallel in Tr. 17.7: ad hilaritatem homines publice cogerentur. However, publice misses the point since the process of ius dare is public anyway. It is the public display of luxury that is being criticized here; cf. Sen. Ep. 114.2: argumentum luxuriae publicae; Cic. Mur. 76: odit populus Romanus priuatam luxuriam, publicam magnificentiam diligit. Another argument is that manuscripts often use the form -e instead of -ae. Hence, publicae is accepted here.
Ius: another pun: ius, OLD s.v. ius1: 'broth', and ius, OLD s.v. ius2: 'law', are real homonyms, the former containing a reference to the luxurious feasting of the Saturnalia. The Sicilians ridiculed Verres with the same pun, as reported by Cicero in Verr. 2.1.121: homines…negabant mirandum esse ius tam nequam esse Verrinum; cf. e.g. Cic. Fam. 9.18.3; Varr. Rust. 3.17.4; Petron. Sat. 35.7: 'suadeo' inquit Trimalchio 'cenemus; hoc est ius cenae'; Mart. 7.51.5.
luxuriae: a pointed contrast to Ep. 17, which praised poverty. The reference to its ending (Ep. 17.12) is particularly strong: nihil refert utrum aeger animus in diuitiis an in paupertate ponatur: malum illum suum sequitur. Indulgence and extravagance are preoccupations of Seneca and permanent targets of his scathing criticism; cf. e.g. Ep. 90; 122; Beat. 12–13; Helu. 10–12.
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia: the noise could be caused by the feasting itself or the preparation. The following parallels report on the great noise during the Saturnalia; cf. Liv. 22.1.19; Plin. Ep. 2.17.24: in hanc ego diaetam cum me recepi, abesse mihi etiam a uilla mea uideor, magnamque eius uoluptatem praecipue Saturnalibus capio, cum reliqua pars tecti licentia dierum festisque clamoribus personat; Stat. Silu. 1.6.51; Mart. 4.14.7–8 on the sound of the dice: dum blanda uagus alea December / incertis sonat hinc et hinc fritillis; on Seneca's notorious outrage about the noise in the baths, compare Ep. 56.1.
tamquam…agendarum: Seneca complains that work days and holidays should be different but that, in fact, they are the same because Rome is always in a frenzy. On quicquam in hypothetical sentences, see K-S §119f.
Saturnalia: on the Saturnalia, see e.g. Plin. Ep. 2.17.24; Stat. Silu. 1.6; Mart. Book 14 (= Apophoreta); Macrob. Sat. 1.10; Scullard 1981, 205–7; and Leary 1996, 1–8, who provide useful information on the festival. The Saturnalia honoured Saturnus; cf. e.g. Varr. Ling. 6.22. They began on 17 December (Macrob. Sat. 1.10.2) and lasted probably at least five days in Seneca's time (see the note below on olim…annum). The celebration was known for its licentiousness, cheerfulness, and playfulness; cf. e.g. Mart. 11.2. Drinking (e.g. Stat. Silu. 1.6.5) and gambling took place, gifts were exchanged (see Leary 1996, 4–7), wars were not declared, punishments were not carried out (Macrob. Sat. 1.10.1), slave owners wore the pilleus, a felt cap (see the note on §3: pilleatae turbae), their slaves were temporarily freed and allowed to speak their minds; see Petron. Sat. 58.2 where Giton is mistaken for a slave and reproached by Trimalchio's guest for his laughter: 'tu autem' inquit 'etiam tu rides, cepa cirrata? io Saturnalia, rogo, mensis december est?'
<non>: the negation has already been inserted in manuscripts from the eleventh century, subsumed by Reynolds under ς. The sentence is self-contradicting without the negation: it only makes sense if Seneca and the anonymous source agree on the observation that the Saturnalia seems to last a whole year.
qui dixit: the source is unknown. Perhaps Seneca wittily refers to himself; cf. Apoc. 8.2 where it is said that Claudius mensem [Saturni] toto anno celebrauit Saturnalicius princeps.
olim…annum: with the exaggeration that the month December, in which the Saturnalia takes place, lasts the whole year, Seneca criticizes both the extension of the Saturnalia and the excessive lifestyle in Rome. Seneca's criticism does not, however, suggest that the Saturnalia lasted the whole month of December, as remarked by Summers 1910, 182.
For a similar hyperbolic criticism, see Sen. Apoc. 8.2 and 12: non semper Saturnalia erunt; Petron. Sat. 44.3: itaque populus minutus laborat; nam isti maiores maxillae semper Saturnalia agunt. Initially, the Saturnalia took up only a day (Macrob. Sat. 1.10.2 and 23) but they were repeatedly extended: they lasted three days during the Republic (Macrob. Sat. 1.10.23), five days under Caligula (e.g. Cass. Dio 59.6.4; Suet. Calig. 17.2; Mart. 4.88.2; the designated period was later abolished and reinstated by Claudius: Cass. Dio. 60.25.8), and possibly even seven days under Domitian (Mart. 14.72; Macrob. Sat. 1.10.2–3); see Leary 1996, 3.
Complaints about moral degeneracy were widespread in antiquity; cf. e.g. Hes. Op. 174–5; Catul. 64.22–3; Cic. Catil. 1.2; Liv. pr. 9; Ov. Fast. 1.225; Petron. Sat. 2 and 118.
§2 How the proficiens ought to behave during the Saturnalia
Si te hic haberem: physical distance, and the need for epistolary exchange that results from it, is a topos in ancient letter-writing; see Trapp 2003, 38–9; Edwards 2015; cf. e.g. Ov. Tr. 5.13.27–30; Sen. Ep. 49.1–2; Plin. Ep. 6.7. Lucilius learns philosophy through books and his written exchange with Seneca, a disadvantage in Seneca's view; echoing Plato's reservations about writing and written instruction (Phdr. 275a–278), Seneca prefers an oral exchange (see e.g. Ep. 6.5–6; 94.40–43; 109.1). Therefore, the letters are meant to resemble a conversation as closely as possible; cf. e.g. Ep. 67.2; 75.1.
libenter tecum conferrem: the adverb libenter does not indicate that Seneca would otherwise talk to Lucilius unwillingly, but it is an apology for the soliloquy of the letter. Seneca would have preferred a direct and mutual exchange with Lucilius but has to fall back on letters.
quid existimares esse faciendum: by asking Lucilius for his opinion for the first time, Seneca turns the relationship between teacher and student upside down. The reversal of the common hierarchy between teacher and pupil is a subtle reminder that the letter is written during the Saturnalia. This is not to say that the reversed order will be kept throughout the letter: Seneca will soon assume his usual role and instruct Lucilius again (§5).
faciendum…mouendum…cenandum…exuendam: the gerundives might be reminiscent of the verbal adjectives in Epicurus' letter to Polyaenus, which is cited later in §9, as Wildberger 2014b, 437 n. 21 points out. See introduction to and notes on §9.
utrum…an: Seneca asks Lucilius to decide between two options, that is, whether it is better to follow one's daily routine (which means not to participate in the Saturnalia) or to adapt to the people's habits and to participate in the festivities. §3 presents a compromise between the two alternatives.
Behind the advice on the right behaviour during the Saturnalia lies a more abstract question: should the philosopher and would-be wise man assimilate himself to the people? It has already come up in Book 1, which discusses the external appearance of the would-be wise man in Ep. 5 and the participation in popular events for the masses in Ep. 7. However, Seneca comes to different conclusions in Ep. 5 and 7: he advocates external assimilation in Ep. 5 (§2: intus omnia dissimilia sint, frons populo nostra conueniat) but argues for keeping one's distance from crowds and not taking part in public events in Ep. 7. See also Ep. 31.1.
ex cotidiana consuetudine: a philosopher leads a frugal life, as argued in Ep. 17. Daily exercise is of great importance for Seneca, a practice he seems to have inherited from his teacher Sextius (Ira 3.36.1–3): the daily effort illustrates the step-by-step progress the would-be wise man needs to undertake in order to become happy. The daily practice functions as a means to discipline the would-be wise man and to get a full grasp of philosophy: thinking about and repeating one's goals and philosophical insights every day will lead to a better understanding, a technique that resembles Epicurus' request for his students to memorize basic Epicurean tenets. Cf. e.g. Beat. 1.1; 17.3; Ep. 2.4; 4.5. See also note on Ep. 16.1: dabit…qui intellegat se cotidie mor.
mouendum: scil. esse existimares. This and the following gerundives are part of an accusativus cum infinitivo.
uideremur: the neutral gerundives faciendum, mouendum, as well as cenandum do not reveal immediately whether the advice is primarily directed at Lucilius and Seneca, or whether it is a more general observation. The first-person plural in uideremur seems to suggest the former. On Seneca's use of the first-person plural, compare the note on Ep. 13.4: nos.
publicis moribus: the wise man's habits are largely at odds with those of the common people; cf. e.g. Ep. 5.5; 7.1–2. In this advice, the Cynic influence on the Stoics is clearly visible; cf. e.g. D.L. 6.23 on Diogenes of Sinope sleeping in a tub and carrying around a knapsack
hilarius cenandum: the adverb refers to the dinner company and the quality and amount of food; cf. Plin. Ep. 1.15.4: potes adparatius cenare apud multos, nusquam hilarius; Tac. Ann. 11.3.2: lauto corpore, hilare epulatus; Petron. Sat. 52.8: ceterum laudatus Trimalchio hilarius bibit. The comparative indicates that the behaviour during the Saturnalia is more exuberant than usual.
exuendam togam: during the Saturnalia, the toga was exchanged for the synthesis (cf. Mart. 14.1.1 and Leary 1996 ad loc.), a dinner dress that was less formal, lighter, and cooler than the official and heavy toga (cf. Mart. 5.79). The act of taking off the toga signals licence but is also a witty allusion to the sweating caused by the Saturnalia (see §1).
in tumultu et tristi tempore ciuitatis: refers to times when military action and a change of clothing is necessary (see the note below on uestem mutauimus), foreshadowing the military simile in §6. Note the alliteration of the harsh sound of the plosive 't' that imitates the uproar. Ironically, the Saturnalia is also tumultuous—albeit in a different, rather playful way—and hence justify the change of clothing.
uoluptatis causa: uoluptas is used in a broad sense here as well as in §3: uoluptatibus solus abstineat; the term is previously mentioned in Ep. 4.1; 7.1–2 and 11; 9.6; 12.4–5. In the second half of the letter (§9–10), the term becomes decidedly Epicurean when Seneca describes Epicurus' view that voluntary poverty entails uoluptas. The letter makes clear that the uoluptas experienced during the Saturnalia and the uoluptas gained from Epicurus' poverty experiments are completely different experiences.
uestem mutauimus: when Seneca criticizes the new habit of changing one's clothes for pleasure and festivities, he refers to the practice whereby during the Saturnalia one would take off the toga (see the note above on exuendam togam) and put on the pilleus, a felt cap (see §3), thus assimilating oneself with freedmen and slaves. The assimilation could create confusion; cf. e.g. Plaut. Am. 343; Sen. Clem. 1.24.1; see Olson 2017, 54. Changing one's clothes used to be necessary only in battle, or during public mourning that followed a military defeat; explaining the etymology of paludatus, Varro describes that lictors changed their clothes before going into war: ideo ad bellum cum exit imperator ac lictores mutarunt bestem et signa incinuerunt, paludatus dicitur proficisci (Varr. Ling. 7.37). High-ranking Romans would wear different clothes during periods of public mourning; see Nisbet 1939, 122. Cf. e.g. Cic. Dom. 55; Sest. 32: erat igitur in luctu senatus, squalebat ciuitas publico consilio ueste mutata…cum subito edicunt duo consules ut ad suum uestitum senatores redirent; Cass. Dio 38.14.7; 40.46.1; 56.31.2–3, where Tiberius and Drusus wear dark clothes to mourn Augustus' death.
The point here is that the Saturnalia turns the meaning of customs upside down: changing one's clothes used to be understood as a sign of solemnity, but is regarded as an act of merriness during the Saturnalia.
§3 Whether it is better to adopt a neutral attitude towards the Saturnalia or to stay abstinent from the festivities
Si te bene noui: see the note on Ep. 16.7 and see Ep. 19.10. The phrase signals that Seneca is about to summarize Lucilius' opinion.
arbitri partibus functus: an arbiter is called for when two parties disagree on a matter; cf. e.g. Ep. 65.2, where Seneca calls on Lucilius to settle a disagreement over a philosophical dispute: te arbitrum addiximus. Here, Lucilius is needed as an arbiter to mediate between two kinds of behaviour during the Saturnalia; he proposes to participate in the festivities without adapting every popular habit, a golden mean between partaking in and distancing oneself from the festival. On the use of arbiter in philosophical contexts, cf. e.g. Cic. Leg. 1.53; Tusc. 5.120; Sen. Marc. 4.1; the most famous arbiter is probably Petronius, who is called arbiter elegantiae in Tac. Ann. 16.18. For discussion of the (unofficial?) title see e.g. Haynes 2010, esp. 80–9.
The remark might be a reference to the Saturnalian king who would command all activities and games during the celebration (Tac. Ann. 13.15.2). In contrast to the foolish demands of a Saturnalian king, Lucilius would deal with the more substantial decision of the wise man's right behaviour.
per omnia: primarily refers to external features such as behaviour and clothing; cf. e.g. Ep. 5.1–3, here 2: asperum cultum et intonsum caput et neglegentiorem barbam et indictum argento odium et cubile humi positum et quidquid aliud ambitionem peruersa uia sequitur euita.
pilleatae turbae: the pilleus, a felt cap, was usually worn by manumitted slaves; cf. e.g. Liv. 24.32.9; Sen. Ep. 47.18; Petron. Sat. 41.7. During the Saturnalia, however, it was worn by everyone (hence turbae); cf. e.g. Stat. Silu. 4.9.24; Mart. 11.6.4; 14.1.2. As Edwards 2019 ad loc. notes, Nero's death provoked behaviour similar to that exhibited during the Saturnalia; cf. Suet. Nero 57.1: plebs pilleata tota urbe discurreret.
dissimiles: in Ep. 5, Seneca argues that the would-be wise man will assimilate himself with the people in terms of his external appearance, but distinguish himself by his thinking; see e.g. Ep. 5.2: intus omnia dissimilia sint, frons populo nostra conueniat; and 5.6: dissimiles esse nos uulgo sciat qui inspexerit propius.
nisi forte…procubuit: Seneca raises an objection against Lucilius' (alleged) opinion that it is best to follow a middle ground. Thus, he seems to engage in a conversation with Lucilius, even though the letter constitutes a monologue. He argues that it is very difficult to control a mind distracted by pleasures; hence a festival such as the Saturnalia provides a good opportunity to prove the mind's strength.
his maxime diebus: the adverb has already occurred in the first sentence (cum maxime ciuitas sudat), where it referred to the Saturnalia as well, demonstrating that the festival is characterized by its extreme lack of restraint.
animo imperandum est: can mean both 'one ought to order the mind' (animo as an object of imperandum) and 'the mind ought to order' (animo as a dativus auctoris). Opting for the former, Gummere 1961, 117 translates: 'we ought to lay down the law to the soul' as do Graver/Long 2015, 67: 'one ought…to take charge of one's mind, ordering it to…' Seneca's use of the word animus may not be consistent but he often regards it as the ruling part of the mind (hegemonikon); cf. e.g. Grimal 1992; Smith 2014a; compare Inwood 2005, 146–7 and n. 44 with parallels. In that case, it is more reasonable to translate 'the mind ought to order'. However, it remains unclear whether it is necessary to attribute this technical meaning to animus at this early stage of the exchange; compare the note on Ep. 13.1: multum…animi.
uoluptatibus: see the note on §2: uoluptatis causa.
cum…procubuit: for procubuit, see OLD s.v. procumbo 3c: 'to fall (into moral degradation), to sink'; cf. Sen. Marc. 22.2: in popinam uentremque procubuerunt toti. Perhaps the verb carries a sexual connotation, more prominent in accumbere (OLD s.v. accumbo 3a) and concumbere.
omnis turba: contrasts with solus, highlighting the philosopher's unique position.
argumentum firmitatis suae: the mind's strength is by no means only a metaphor, for the Stoics also attributed physical qualities to the mind: a big mind contains a greater share of the all-pervading God; see the notes on Ep. 13.12: robore animi and 15.2: maiore corporis sarcina animus eliditur; and cf. e.g. Constant. 6.2; 6; Marc. 7.1; Ep. 20.2–3; 63.1; 78.16. The beginning of the letter suggests that Seneca is writing the letter during the Saturnalia, the ultimate proof of his own ability not to get distracted by the festival and its temptations.
nec it nec abducitur: the active verb it and the passive abducitur emphasize that the mind does not become interested in luxury by its own volition nor by force. The passive does not specify what draws the mind towards luxury, but we may assume that it is blanda et in luxuriam trahentia.
§4 Seneca evaluates the two options
Hoc: corresponds with the option presented in §3: nisi forte…abducitur; that is, to stay sober whilst participating in the Saturnalia.
fortius…temperantius: two of the four cardinal virtues (sapientia, iustitia, fortitudo, temperantia); cf. e.g. Plat. Rep. 427e; Arist. Rh. 1366b; Cic. Off. 1.18–151; Sen. Ep. 73.15; 109.17; 113.24; 120.11. On Seneca's understanding of courage and self-control, see Ep. 88.29: fortitudo contemptrix timendorum est….temperantia uoluptatibus imperat, alias odit atque abigit, alias dispensat et ad sanum modum redigit; compare also Ep. 85.2 and 14 (see also Inwood 2007a ad loc.). The choice of words lifts the discussion about whether or not to participate in the Saturnalia abruptly to another, philosophical level: one's behaviour during the Saturnalia is indicative of one's virtue. However, the discrepancy between the would-be wise man and the people, vividly described by ebrio ac uomitante, gives the passage an ironical, almost comical tone.
ebrio ac uomitante populo: the Saturnalia involved feasting and heavy drinking; cf. e.g. Mart. 14.1.9: sed quid agam potius madidis, Saturne, diebus.
siccum ac sobrium esse: a sharp contrast to ebrio ac uomitante; for the combination of adjectives, see also Ep. 114.3; Beat. 12.4: nec aestimant uoluptas illa Epicuri…quam sobria ac sicca sit; Mart. 12.30.1. We can take sobrium literally (OLD s.v. sobrius 1a: 'sober') and assume that siccum ac sobrium is a hendiadyoin that balances out ebrio ac vomitante, or figuratively (OLD s.v. sobrius 2: 'sensible, temperate'). Note that sobrium is derived from ebrius, which further accentuates the contrast between the drunkenness of the crowd and the would-be wise man's sobriety. An interesting parallel (also noted by Summers 1910 ad loc.) is Hor. S. 2.3.4–5: at ipsis / Saturnalibus huc fugisti sobrius. By staying sober during the Saturnalia, Horace already (and ironically) performs the task Seneca has set for Lucilius.
illud: corresponds with the advice in §3: nec per omnia similes…nec per omnia dissimiles; that is, to celebrate the Saturnalia but not to indulge.
non excerpere se: for the phrase, see Ep. 5.2: quid si nos hominum consuetudini coeperimus excerpere?; Breu. 18.1. Seneca repeatedly speaks of withdrawal as a means to introspection and engagement with philosophy, both for his addressees (cf. e.g. Ot. 1.1; Ep. 18.12; (implicitly in) 19; 25.7; 68.6; 82.4), and for himself (cf. Ep. 8.1 where the EM are fuelled by his withdrawal).
nec misceri omnibus: the scribal conjecture sed in lieu of nec, rightly dismissed by Reynolds, misunderstands the point Seneca is making: he argues that it is moderate to participate in the Saturnalia but not to overindulge or to mingle in every respect. The insertion of sed completely changes the sense, as it recommends mingling with everyone.
eadem sed non eodem modo: typical Senecan phrasing; cf. e.g. Ep. 13.2: nec proiecit animum proiectus; frg. 80 Vottero (= frg. 20 Haase = Lactant. Diu. inst. 3.15.14): omnia quae luxuriosi faciunt quaeque inperiti, faciet et sapiens, sed non eodem modo eodemque proposito.
§5 Lucilius ought to spend some days in poverty
In §5, the relationship between master and student returns to its usual format: Seneca teaches Lucilius how to deal with luxury. While previous advice was aimed at an unspecified first person (e.g. §2: uideremur; §3: nos), Seneca now turns his attention directly to Lucilius alone (tui, interponas, dicas tibi) and proposes a way to test his mind's firmness: he suggests that Lucilius live in poverty for a few days.
Ceterum: for adversative ceterum, see OLD s.v. ceterus 5c and K-S §161. The opening remarks about the Saturnalia lead quite effortlessly to the main theme: Seneca reflects on the wise man's right behaviour during the festival and ponders whether it is best to participate in or abstain from it, stating that abstinence will test the mind's firmness (§3: argumentum firmitatis suae). In §5, Seneca discusses another way to test it: to live in voluntary poverty for some days.
animi tui firmitatem: repeats §3: argumentum firmitatis suae, but is directly aimed at Lucilius (tui); see also Ep. 13.1. The experiment Seneca proposes here is more difficult than the suggestion made in §3, that is, to test one's abstinence when surrounded by luxury; by exercising poverty for a few days, Lucilius will learn whether he still attributes importance to wealth.
ex praecepto magnorum uirorum: see OLD s.v. ex 20a: 'according to'. The advice is repeated in Ep. 20.13. For ex praecepto, cf. e.g. Sal. Cat. 44.1; Liv. 38.32.8; Sen. Ep. 14.10: ex praecepto ueteri; Ot. 6.5; on praeceptum, see Ep. 94 and 95 with Schafer 2009 and the note on Ep. 13.1: praeceptis salutaribus.
Which 'great men' is Seneca referring to? We may assume that Epicurus and Metrodorus are among the magni uiri, for they are mentioned explicitly in §9 as examples of trying out poverty for a limited period of time. Préchac/Noblot 1945 ad loc. and Allegri 2004, 17 believe that Seneca also has Democritus in mind; cf. D-K 68 B 240: οἱ ἑκούσιοι πόνοι τὴν τῶν ἀκουσίων ὑπομονὴν ἐλαϕροτέρην παρασκευάζουσι. The Democritus fragment describes the rationale behind the poverty exercise but does not explicitly refer to poverty. It remains difficult to identify the 'great men' because the poverty experiment is not attested elsewhere, and because most philosophers preached asceticism, making frugality or even poverty an important feature of all philosophical schools; see the introduction to Ep. 17.
tibi quoque praecipiam: the particle quoque emphasizes that Lucilius, like many others before him, will be instructed by praecepto magnorum uirorum.
praecepto…praecipiam: for the figura etymologica, see also Ep. 94.52; 105.1.
interponas aliquot dies: praecipio is followed by a simple subjunctive; for parallels, see OLD s.v. praecipio, 6. The temporary imitation of poverty Seneca proposes is essentially a miniature version of the Saturnalia, yet a stern and ascetic one: like the Saturnalia, the exercise in asceticism lasts only for a certain period of time but may be extended (see §6); it requires a change of clothes and a certain 'costume' (dura atque horrida ueste may be compared with the pilleus and the synthesis); food or, rather, the lack of it plays a prominent role; one pretends to be someone else, such as the rich man who pretends to be poor or the slave who is granted the licence to criticize his master.
In §9, Epicurus emerges as the glowing example of voluntary poverty, giving Seneca's advice an Epicurean touch; cf. also Ep. 21.10; D.L. 10.11: αὐτός τέ ϕησιν ἐν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς ὕδατι μόνον ἀρκεῖσθαι καὶ ἄρτῳ λιτῷ and 131 (= Letter to Menoeceus 130–1): καὶ μᾶζα καὶ ὕδωρ τὴν ἀκροτάτην ἀποδίδωσιν ἡδονήν. By establishing a close link between the poverty experiment and Epicureanism, Seneca once again (cf. e.g. Ep. 13.4; 16.9; 17.5) proves his open-mindedness to the kepos and turns common conceptions of Stoicism upside down, thus mimicking the Saturnalian effect.
minimo ac uilissimo cibo: the luxurious feasting during the Saturnalia (see §2–4) is turned into its opposite. Seneca repeatedly criticizes his contemporaries' gluttony; cf. e.g. Breu. 12.5; Helu. 10.2; Ep. 15.3; 59.13. The advice seems to contradict Ep. 5.4, where Seneca criticizes the ostentatious efforts of so-called philosophers to be different from everyone else: hoc contra naturam est… cibis non tantum uilibus uti sed taetris et horridis. However, the abstinence described here, unlike the one in Ep. 5.4, is not meant to impress anyone.
dura atque horrida ueste: a similar request is made in Ep. 8.5: cibus famem sedet, potio sitim extinguat, uestis arceat frigus; and Ira 2.21.11: tenuis ante omnia uictus <sit> et non pretiosa uestis et similis cultus cum aequalibus. While Seneca condemns changing one's clothes for the Saturnalia (§2: uoluptatis causa ac festorum dierum uestem mutauimus), he welcomes putting on poor clothes in order to test one's firmness. Again, he adapts and completely changes a Saturnalian feature.
§6 The would-be wise man needs to prepare himself for the worst ahead of time
In ipsa securitate animus ad difficilia se praeparet: Seneca recommends a technique that is known as praemeditatio (futurorum) malorum: the wise will think of all possible evils and thus prepare himself for misfortune. For instance, he will imagine being exiled and learn how to deal with exile in the case that it befalls him. The same applies to poverty; cf. Ep. 24.17, which provides a list of possible future evils. However, the poverty experiment goes beyond the mental technique praemeditatio, as it requires the would-be wise man not just to imagine poverty but to physically experience and endure it. The praemeditatio mortis, the process of facing one's mortality and becoming ready to die, is the most important therapy for Seneca and is repeated throughout the EM; cf. e.g. Ep. 4.5; 12.9; 26.7–10; 30.4 and 12; 36.8; 49.9–10; 61.4; 69.6; 70.2 and 18; 91.7; 107.4. It is important that the praemeditatio is exercised well ahead of time. On the praemeditatio, see the notes on Ep. 13; Hadot 1969, 60–1, who also discusses its Stoic forerunners; Manning 1976; Newman 1989; Armisen-Marchetti 2008; and Ker 2009a, 162–5.
securitate: again (compare §3: animo), a philosophically charged term is used in a more mundane, colloquial way. Here, securitas describes a situation of well-being and freedom from anxiety; Seneca stresses that the praemeditatio malorum must be undertaken in good times. For the terminus technicus, compare the note on §7: securitatem and on Ep. 20.12: securitas.
contra iniurias fortunae inter beneficia: fortunae refers both to iniurias and beneficia; on the fickleness of fortune, see e.g. Ep. 99.9; Asmis 2009. For the proper Stoic reaction to the (alleged) injustice of fortune and Seneca's stance on fate, see the note on Ep. 16.5: fortunae contumaciter. In Lucilius' case, the benevolence of fortune seems to prevail; cf. e.g. Ep. 17.1: moratur, inquis, me res familiaris; 19.3: in medium te protulit ingenii uigor, scriptorum elegantia, clarae et nobiles amicitiae.
Miles in media pace decurrit…possit: the example clarifies the argument: like the soldier who gets ready for the fight in times of peace, the mind must be trained when it is stable. The military metaphor links Ep. 18 to the preceding letter; see Ep. 17.3; 4; 6–7. Seneca often uses military metaphors to illustrate the struggle against fortune; cf. e.g. Ep. 13.1; 19.1; 85.26–7; 99.32; Lavery 1980; Sommer 2001 and 2008.
decurrit: for the technical term, see OLD s.v. decurro 7: 'to carry out military exercises or manoeuvres, go through a drill.' Reynolds has inserted a comma after decurrit, a suggestion made by P. Thomas, which makes clear that sine ullo hoste must refer to uallum iacit. Previous editors put a comma between hoste and uallum, creating the following sentence: miles in media pace decurrit sine ullo hoste, uallum iacit…. However, it is pointless to link both in media pace and sine ullo hoste to decurrit, since it creates an unnecessary repetition.
uallum iacit: conjectures for iacit, which has already been corrected in the codices (pQ2Ov2P2), are unnecessary; the parallels in TLL s.v. iacio, 184.108.40.206–8, pointed out by Reynolds, make iacit very plausible; cf. e.g. Liv. 3.38.2; 30.10.1: cum maxime uallum Romani iacerent; Curt. 4.12.24: uallesque circumiectas.
superuacuo labore: Seneca tends to use the adjective in a negative sense, particularly in contrast with necessarius; see e.g. Tr. 13.1; 12; Helu. 11.4; Ep. 39.6. Here, it characterizes an effort positively.
necessario: scil. labori.
quem…exerceas: the relative clause does not refer to laborem but is the accusative object of exerceas.
Hoc: that is, preparing oneself for misfortune in stable times.
secuti sunt qui…accesserunt: may include all philosophers with an ascetic lifestyle but Seneca probably refers to Epicurus and Metrodorus, as they are introduced as inspiring examples of voluntary poverty in §9—see the notes on §5: ex praecepto magnorum uirorum and interponas aliquot dies.
omnibus mensibus: a witty reference to the beginning of the letter (§1: December est mensis) and the subsequent criticism that the Saturnalia is constantly extended, allegedly taking place throughout the whole year (§1: olim mensem…nunc annum). In the case of the mock-Saturnalia, however (see the note on §5: interponas aliquot dies), Seneca welcomes that they recur monthly and are extended to the whole year.
paupertatem imitati: picks up a thread from Ep. 17: the would-be wise man can achieve a different mindset and attitude towards wealth and poverty when he assimilates himself with the poor; cf. Ep. 17.5: pauperi similis. Ep. 17 left vague what exactly a poverty-like life entails, but Ep. 18 gives concrete advice: the would-be wise man must live like the poor for a limited period of time. See also Ep. 20.13.
prope ad inopiam: Seneca does not seem to distinguish clearly between the words to describe poverty; cf. e.g. Tr. 8.4: tu istud paupertatem inopiam egestatem uoca, quod uoles ignominiosum securitati nomen impone; and compare note on Ep. 14.3: timetur inopia. However, the context in this passage makes quite clear that inopia is regarded as a more drastic form of poverty; see also Ep. 17.7; cf. Suet. Gram. et Rhet. 11: [P. Valerius Cato] uixit ad extremam senectam sed in summa pauperie et paene inopia.
quod saepe didicissent: that is, not to fear poverty. saepe refers to the fact that the poverty experiment is held every month. Seneca probably has the Epicureans in mind; see the note on §5: ex praecepto magnorum uirorum. It is not clear whether didicissent refers to theoretical knowledge or to practical experience: are they putting into practice what they have been repeatedly taught, or is their attitude towards poverty a result of repeatedly trying to live in poverty?
§7 Seneca urges Lucilius to live in real poverty for a few days
Non est…quod: for the construction see the note on Ep. 16.2: non est…credas.
Timoneas cenas: Timoneas is a conjecture by Turnebus replacing the unknown temoneas found in all MSS; if he is right, the adjective is a hapax. The adjective Timoneas goes back to Timon, the proverbial misanthropist and contemporary of Aristophanes; cf. Ar. Au. 1549; Lys. 805–15; Cic. Tusc. 4.11.25; Lucian Timon; Lib. Decl. 12; see also Summers 1910; Motto 1985; Graver/Long 2015; and Edwards 2019 ad loc. There is, however, no mention of a dinner by Timon. The context suggests that the dinner represents the pretence of asceticism. Due to his misanthropic attitude Timon would naturally eat alone; hence, a dinner without many guests is not a sign of frugality, but of solitude.
pauperum cellas: a tiny and poorly furnished room in a wealthy household to which the owner might retreat at times. It is, ironically, a symbol of great luxury in Ep. 100.6; see also Mart. 3.48.1–2: pauperis extruxit cellam, sed uendidit Olus / praedia: nunc cellam pauperis Olus habet, where mock poverty is turned into real poverty; and Hor. Carm. 3.29.13–16, criticizing simulated poverty.
per quod luxuria diuitiarum taedio ludit: the construction of ludere and per is unparalleled, the verb is more often found with the mere ablative. The personification of luxuria reduces the wealthy to objects of their own indulgence. For the thought that self-indulgence arises from ennui, cf. e.g. Helu. 12.3: [locupletes] sumunt quosdam dies, cum iam illos diuitiarum taedium cepit, quibus humi cenent et remoto auro argentoque fictilibus utantur.
grabattus ille uerus sit et sagum: note the predicative use of uerus: 'may your pallet and cloak be real.' The pallet and the cloak stand in stark contrast to the mock poverty of Timoneas cenas and pauperum cellas. Grabattus is a bed of poor quality (see TLL s.v. grabattus, 6.2.2128.31–51) and a metaphor for poverty. A sagum is a coarse cloak, worn by military (cf. e.g. Enn. Ann. 508; Hor. Epod. 9.27), slaves (cf. Cato Agr. 59), and barbarians (cf. e.g. Tac. Germ. 17.1). The thin cloak stands in sharp contrast to the change of clothes in §2, which indicates merriness and licence. Cf. Ep. 20.9 citing Epicurus' recommendation that the would-be wise man sleep in a pallet and wear a cloak: magnificentior, mihi crede, sermo tuus in grabatto videbitur et in panno; M. Aur. Med. 1.6, who learned to appreciate the simple life through his teacher Diognetus; see also Ep. 87.2 for Seneca's description of a journey during which he slept on a thin mattress: culcita in terra iacet, ego in culcita.
sordidus: the coarse bread stands in contrast to Timon's ostentatiously simple dinner, as noted by Edwards 2019 ad loc. Cf. e.g. Plaut. Asin. 142: sordido uitam oblectabas pane in pannis inopia; Suet. Nero 48.4; Sen. Ep. 87.3: de prandio nihil detrahi potuit…illae [scil. caricae], si panem habeo, pro pulmentario sunt, si non habeo, pro pane; 110.12.
triduo et quatriduo: 'for three and (then) four days', not 'for three or four days' (Motto 1985 ad loc. and Graver/Long 2015, 58). The conjunction et is uncommon, compare Cic. Phil. 14.15; triduo uel quadriduo in Cic. Mil. 26.25. The phrase probably describes a constant increase in days spent with the poverty trial: first three, then four, then further days (see pluribus diebus). The increase mirrors the growing number of holidays used for the Saturnalia (see §1).
non lusus sit sed experimentum: taken up again in §8: aliquando experiri. The contrast is between the playfulness of mock poverty (ludit) and the seriousness of the philosopher's poverty trial.
mihi crede: a common formula in both prose and poetry, often inserted by Seneca; cf. e.g. Ben. 3.23.3; Ep. 17.2; 20.9.
dipondio: also dupondio; see OLD s.v. dupondius. A dipondium is worth two asses, a very small amount of money; cf. e.g. Cic. Quinct. 53; Petron. Sat. 14.3. The passage foreshadows the anecdote about Epicurus' frugal life-style in §9—he required less than an as per day.
satur: a paradoxical idea, particularly because the adjective evokes allusions to the Saturnalia and their excesses.
exultabis: foreshadows Ep. 19.1 which opens with exulto quotiens epistulas tuas accipio; see also 34.1: cresco et exulto et discussa senectute recalesco…ex iis quae agis ac scribis. Seneca differentiates between exultatio and gaudium in Ira 2.21.5: gaudium enim exultatio…sequitur but does not seem to keep up the distinction, blurring the line between them; cf. e.g. Ep. 5.1: quod pertinaciter studes et omnibus omissis hoc unum agis, ut te meliorem cotidie facias, et probo et gaudeo; 20.1: si uales et te dignum putas, qui aliquando fias tuus, gaudeo (compare also note).
Why would Lucilius react joyfully to his experience of voluntary poverty? The Stoic responds to virtuous actions with joy, 'a glad feeling…that comes of the realization that one is performing some significant good deed, which may sometimes mean taking on poverty, pain, or death' (Graver 2016a, 136); cf. e.g. Ep. 23.2–3; 27.3; 72.4; 98.1; 124.24.
securitatem: securitas describes the freedom from certain passions, namely those that seem to arise from (supposed) evils such as fear, pain, and grief (Hadot 1969, 128); cf. e.g. Ep. 21.1; 24.2: sed ego alia te ad securitatem uia ducam: si uis omnem sollicitudinem exuere, quidquid uereris ne eueniat euenturum utique propone, et quodcumque est illud malum, tecum ipse metire ac timorem tuum taxa: intelleges profecto aut non magnum aut non longum esse quod metuis; Constant. 2.4. It is an attribute of the sage; cf. e.g. Ep. 92.3: quid est beata vita? securitas et perpetua tranquillitas. Alluding to the origins of the word, se ('without') and cura, securitas is translated as 'carefreeness'.
fortuna: another pointed ambiguity: fortuna can refer to both good fortune and wealth; the latter meaning emphasizes Seneca's argument that the would-be wise man should train himself in poverty.
quod necessitati sat est: Seneca believes that nature is so benevolent that it always provides what is necessary, see Ep. 17.9. sat contains another allusion to the Saturnalia.
dabit et irata: scil. fortuna. The original reading debet gives an incomplete sentence, hence Reynolds' decision to accept Haupt's conjecture dabit et is perfectly reasonable. For the image of angry fortune, see Ira 2.21.7; Ira 3.16.2; Beat. 5.3; on the personification of fortuna, see Tr. 11.5; Ben. 1.9.1; 2.28.3.
§8 Lucilius must become familiar with poverty
Non…uidearis: tibi goes with uidearis. The expression multum facere is very rare; cf. Ep. 33.9: 'multum' inquit 'uiua uox facit'; Summers 1910 ad loc. lists similar expressions, e.g. Ep. 110.12: non magnam rem facis.
facies…faciunt: a similar argument is made in Ep. 77.6: non est res magna uiuere: omnes serui tui uiuunt, omnia animalia. multum facere undergoes a clever transition into facies enim quod multa milia seruorum, multa milia pauperum faciunt.
seruorum: Seneca repeatedly discloses a humane attitude towards slaves, writing that all human beings are equal since they all partake in divine reason; the most prominent passages on slavery can be found in Ep. 47 and Ben. 3.18–28. There is a vast amount of scholarship on Seneca and slavery; in particular, see Griffin 1976, 256–85 and 458–61, on the philosophical and historical background of Seneca's treatment of slavery. Bradley 2008 corrects the overly positive image of Seneca as the proto-liberal protector of slaves and emphasizes that Seneca makes 'a plea for the creation of social harmony between slave and free for the sake of maintaining slavery' (342); Edwards 2009, on the importance of the metaphor of slavery for Seneca's concept of the self; on Ep. 47, see Costa 1974; Eigler 2005; Edwards 2019.
te suspice: an important phrase in Seneca's writing. He repeatedly distinguishes between the right and wrong things, and describes actions the would-be wise man should be proud of; cf. e.g. Ira 2.27.2: nimis nos suspicimus, si…; Marc. 10.2; Beat. 25.1: non suspiciam me ob ista [scil. opulentissima domus, aurum, argentum] quae, etiam si apud me, extra me tamen sunt.
quod…quod: for illo nomine with causal quod, cf. e.g. Cels. Med. 6.6.14; Suet. Nero 30.1.
non coactus: unlike the millions of slaves and poor people, Lucilius can choose to be poor and to end his poverty whenever he wishes.
quod…experiri: semper is put in an unusual position (see also Ben. 7.6.24; Pol. 16.5), perhaps for the sake of a chiastic structure: infinitive–adverb–quam–adverb–infinitive.
illud pati semper: first, Lucilius should exercise poverty for a few days; in a next step, he will be able to live in constant poverty. The prospect of unending poverty is not further discussed in the letter but hinted at in §6: omnibus mensibus paupertatem imitati; see also Ep. 17 and 21.10 in which Epicurus' frugal lifestyle is not limited to a few days but unlimited.
Exerceamur ad palum: takes up the military metaphor of §6. Soldiers used to practise fighting by attacking a stake; cf. Veget. Mil. 1.11; 2.23. On the praemeditatio futurorum malorum, see §6: in ipsa securitate animus ad difficilia se praeparet.
fortuna deprehendat: on Seneca's negative portrayal of fortuna as a power man has to fight with, compare the notes on Ep. 13 and 16.5: fortunae contumaciter.
fiat nobis paupertas familiaris: echoes Ep. 17.1: 'Moratur' inquis 'me res familiaris'.
securius…esse: securius picks up §6: in ipsa securitate and §7: ad securitatem non esse opus fortuna. An important point for Seneca: the wise man can be wealthy if he has the right attitude towards his possessions—for an elaborate discussion, see De uita beata. This passage provides clarification on a point that has not been discussed in the preceding letter, Ep. 17.
§9 Epicurus, too, practised poverty on certain days
Seneca gives a surprising example of asceticism: Epicurus. His main source for Epicurus' asceticism is a letter to Polyaenus which is—unusually for Seneca—mentioned explicitly and even dated, as if to support his (unrealistic?) portrait of a frugal Epicurus.
Seneca recommended the poverty trial as a variation of the praemeditatio futurorum malorum (see §5), which entails preparing for poverty while enjoying security and wealth. Epicurus, however, did not hold the technique in high regard; cf. Cic. Tusc. 3.32–3; and see the notes on Ep. 13.4. He undertook the poverty experiment to experience real pleasure by satisfying only his barest needs (Foucault 1986, 59–60).
Certos…dies: Epicurus seems to have lived a generally very frugal life, not just on certain days; cf. Epicur. frg. 181 Us. = 124 Arr.; Sen. Ep. 21.10.
ille magister uoluptatis Epicurus: cf. e.g. Beat. 13.2: sectam Epicuri flagitiorum magistram. That Epicurus is an example of voluntary poverty certainly comes as a surprise, even though the reader knows Seneca's fondness for Epicurus well from the earlier letters in the collection. The surprise is intensified by the apposition which seems to say: even Epicurus lived in poverty for a certain period despite teaching that pleasure is the highest good. Seneca achieves a Saturnalian effect by turning common ideas of Epicureanism and Stoicism upside down: first, he, the Stoic, recommends imitating Epicurus; second, he presents Epicurus as hostile towards gluttony and luxury, and thus corrects a common misunderstanding of Epicurean pleasure, already in Ep. 2.5; 16.7; 17.11; 21.7–11; Cic. Fin. 1.37. This makes it even more necessary for a Stoic to exercise poverty.
uoluptas now fully unfolds its Epicurean meaning, having already been introduced in §2: uoluptatis causa, a careful hint at Epicurus' later appearance in the letter.
maligne: 'sparingly'; cf. e.g. (albeit in a different context) Hor. Ep. 2.1.209; Petron. Sat. 42.6.
famem extingueret: the removal of pain causes pleasure, the so-called 'kinetic pleasure', probably an authentic Epicurean term even though it is not found in his writings; cf. e.g. Cic. Fin. 1.37–8; Nat. deor. 1.111; D.L. 10.136; for a concise discussion, see Warren 2015. Pain is caused by hunger and thirst, hence to satisfy them is to achieve pleasure; cf. Cic. Fin. 1.37: ut enim, cum cibo et potione fames sitisque depulsa est, ipsa detractio molestiae consecutionem affert uoluptatis, sic in omni re doloris amotio successionem efficit uoluptatis; Sen. Ep. 21.10. The satisfaction of hunger and thirst, and the absence of pain resulting from it, cannot be intensified or increased, for example by drinking wine or eating mussels; therefore, the Epicurean will not overindulge, but eat and drink only what is necessary, hence Epicurus' meagre meal.
uisurus…pensaret: describes the Epicurean calculation of pleasure (compare also note on §10: uoluptas…certa), which compares the present amount of pleasure with the desired condition (an aliquid deesset). An Epicurean will calculate the effort needed to compensate for his lack of pleasure (uel quantum deesset) and decide whether the pain associated with the effort is worth it (an dignum). Once the pleasure is achieved, it cannot be increased: the hungry will feel the same pleasure after eating bread as after eating lobster, but purchasing the lobster will cause greater pain (for example, higher costs), and so the Epicurean will content himself with the bread. Cf. D.L. 10.129 (= Letter to Menoeceus 129); D.L. 10.144 (= Principal Doctrines 18); LS 21H–J; V.
ex plena et consummata uoluptate: i.e. the greatest possible pleasure; cf. summa uoluptas in §10. For consummata meaning perfecta, cf. e.g. Ep. 72.6; Ben. 3.31.2; for the combination of plena and consummata, see QNat. 1 pr. 7: consummatum habet plenumque bonum. The absence of all pain is the greatest pleasure; cf. e.g. Cic. Fin. 1.38: omnis autem priuatione doloris putat Epicurus terminari summam uoluptatem. This kind of pleasure is the so-called 'katastematic' (or 'static') pleasure, i.e. 'what is felt in the state of feeling no thirst' (Warren 2015, 51).
quod quis: in classical Latin, quod would be followed by aliquis; see also Ben. 3.19.1: beneficium enim id est, quod quis dedit.
pensaret: Summers 1910 and Motto 1985 ad loc. suggest the meaning 'to buy', which, however, does not make sense with magno labore.
certe: refers to ait. The adverb describes Epicurus' point of view, expressing the authority with which Epicurus speaks on the subject.
in iis epistulis…ad Polyaenum: the whole paragraph can be found in Epicur. frg. 158 Us. = 83 Arr. Polyaenus was first a mathematician (Cic. Luc. 106.79), then one of the four masters of the Epicurean school, together with Epicurus himself, Hermarchus, and Metrodorus (Sen. Ep. 6.6; D.L. 10.24). His letters are lost, but fragments are collected in Tepedino Guerra 1991; Epicur. frg. 156–60 Us. = 83–7 Arr. Seneca refers to one of Epicurus' letters, not to several as the plural seems to suggest; compare Summers 1910 ad loc.: 'We have here the Silver use of epistulae for a single letter (on the analogy of litterae): cp. 79.1.'
The exact description of the source is conspicuous as Seneca rarely indicates author, work, addressee, or date. He does mention Epicurus' letters in Ep. 9.1; 21.3; 79.15–16 (and Metrodorus' reply) and Epicurus' addressees in Ep. 21.3 and 7; 22.5; 98.9; 99.25. On Epicurus as Seneca's main epistolary influence, see the main introduction §7.
The fragments collected in Epicur. frg. 156–60 Us. and 83–7 Arr. suggest that Seneca closely modelled Ep. 18 on Epicurus' letter to Polyaenus (see the introduction to Ep. 18 and Wildberger 2014b, 437–8).
Charino magistratu: 'when Charinus was archon', that is in 308/307 bce. For magistratus as the Roman equivalent of archon, cf. Plin. HN 3.58. Note the similarity of magistratu to magister; however, Epicurus and Charinus represent two very different spheres of mastery: philosophical insight versus political power.
The date is a common feature of letter-writing, and several letters by Epicurus are dated to Charinus' magistracy; see Usener 1887, 132–3. Seneca's insertion of the date is highly unusual as he does not mention the date of any other quote; cf. e.g. Ep. 21.3: exemplum Epicuri referam. Cum Idomeneo scriberet…. The date gives the quote authenticity as if Seneca 'had felt the need to provide more substantial evidence in order to forestall the addressee's incredulity over Epicurus, of all men, recommending ascetic exercises' (Wildberger 2014b, 435).
gloriatur: perhaps Epicurus' boastful assertion is supposed to present him in a slightly negative way; cf. e.g. Ep. 9.11: numquid ergo quisquam amat lucri causa? numquid ambitionis aut gloriae?; on Seneca's ambivalent attitude towards glory, see the introduction to Ep. 21 and note on Ep. 21.3: si gloria…coleris, but see more positive representations of gloria and gloriari in e.g. Ep. 13.14; 20.1; Ben. 5.6.1: Alexander Macedonum rex gloriari solebat a nullo se beneficiis uictum…eadem re gloriari Socrates potuit, eadem Diogenes, a quo utique uictus est; 6.38.3.
non toto asse: the as is a copper coin of very small value and probably the translation of obol, a Greek coin of similarly small value that Epicurus might have mentioned. It has been translated as 'penny'. Buying food for the price of one as is ridiculed as impossible in Petron. Sat. 44.11: asse panem quem emisses, non potuisses cum altero deuorare.
Metrodorum: one of the most prominent students of Epicurus (D.L. 10.22). Both Cic. Fin. 2.28.92 and Sen. Ep. 6.6; 14.17 tell us that his doctrine is indistinguishable from Epicurus'. Metrodorus agreed with Epicurus' distinction between katastematic and kinetic pleasure (D.L. 10.136) and his measurement of pleasure (Cic. Nat. deor. 1.113). For a list of Metrodorus' works, see D.L. 10.24. Seneca mentions letters by Metrodorus in 79.16; 98.9; 99.25–6; and maybe 81.11–12.
qui nondum tantum profecerit: the amount of money needed during a poverty trial is indicative of the would-be philosopher's progress: Epicurus needs less than an as, Metrodorus a whole as (on the coin see the note above on non toto asse), and Lucilius should try to get by on two asses, a dipondius (see §7).
Progress is an exceedingly important category for the EM, as Seneca repeatedly urges Lucilius to make progress and constantly monitors the progress Lucilius and he himself have made; cf. e.g. Ep. 16.2: intellego multum te profecisse; 20.1: experimentum profectus tui; 87.5: parum adhuc profeci. Here, Seneca transfers the concept of profectus to the Epicureans, who are also judged according to their progress.
§10 Lucilius will find (real) pleasure in poverty
saturitatem: another playful allusion to Saturnalia (§1), compare satur and sat in §7; the only other instances of the noun are found in Ep. 19.7; 119.14.
Et uoluptas est: a tenet that is Epicurean through and through: the absence of pain is the greatest pleasure; cf. Cic. Fin. 1.37–8, here 37: maximam uoluptatem illam habemus, quae percipitur omni dolore detracto. Hunger and thirst are pain; satisfying them will remove the distress and result in pleasure. See the note on §9: famem extingueret; and Ep. 21.10.
uoluptas…certa: on katastematic and kinetic pleasure, compare the note on §9: famem extingueret. Seneca describes kinetic pleasure as leuis et fugax et subinde reficienda, emphasizing its fleeting duration, and katastematic pleasure as stabilis et certa. It is unclear whether Seneca merely describes the Epicurean experience of pleasure or whether he suggests that Lucilius will experience pleasure the same way. There is no such distinction in Stoic thinking and a Stoic certainly does not strive to experience uoluptas; Seneca's portrayal of the link between poverty and pleasure is very unorthodox for a Stoic.
aqua et polenta et frustum hordeacii panis: compare Epicur. Letter to Menoeceus 131 (= D.L. 10.131): καὶ μᾶζα καὶ ὕδωρ τὴν ἀκροτάτην ἀποδίδωσιν ἡδονήν; Epicur. frg. 181 Us. = 124 Arr.; D.L. 10.11. Water, gruel, and bread made from barley are part of a very basic diet; see Sen. Ep. 45.10: aut proicimus bonum, si hoc nomen pani et polentae damus et ceteris sine quibus uita non ducitur; Seneca imagines them being served in the Epicurean garden, see Ep. 21.10: [custos hospitalis] et te polenta excipiet et aquam quoque large ministrabit; 110.18.
Seneca repeatedly criticizes the gluttony of his contemporaries and their exotic and exquisite taste (cf. e.g. Ep. 60.2; 89.22; 95.19; 110.12; see Stein-Hölkeskamp 2002), a condemnation that is also found in Petronius (e.g. Sat. 40.3; 69–70) and Persius (3.98–106); gluttony is a feature of Neronian culture that later historiographers emphasized (cf. e.g. Suet. Nero 27.1–2; Tac. Ann. 13.20; Cass. Dio 61.4.3).
summa uoluptas: cf. §9: ex plena et consummata uoluptate but Seneca gives summa uoluptas a new meaning: it does not describe the physical pleasure of having satisfied one's hunger, but derives from an attitude that is able to find pleasure in the smallest things. See Wildberger 2014b, 438: 'Of course, Epicurus highlights the physiological as well as the mental pleasures generated by this frugal fare, while Stoic Seneca is interested only in the mental pleasure deriving from such greatness of mind.'
quod eripere nulla fortunae iniquitas possit: an ascetic lifestyle will make the would-be wise man immune to fear of fortune; cf. Epicur. Letter to Menoeceus 131. On the injustice of fortune, see §5: contra iniurias fortunae; and §8: ne imparatos fortuna deprehendat; it is a theme running through much of Book 2, see the notes on Ep. 13.2; 15.9; 16.5 and 8; 17.9.
§11 The would-be wise man will endure voluntary poverty
Liberaliora alimenta: the comparison illustrates the scarcity of Epicurus' meals: even prisoners are treated better than Epicurus. The food is not necessarily different in prison, but the prisoner is served more. Yet unlike the prisoner, the philosopher lives in poverty by choice; the adjective liberaliora suggests a freedom that is non-existent for the prisoner.
non tam anguste qui occisurus est pascit: the combination of anguste and pascere is unparalleled. The hyperbolic comparison between Epicurus' and the executioner's stinginess is effective, but flawed as Epicurus certainly did not provide food for his students.
animi magnitudo: the term becomes important in the late Republic; see Knoche 1935, 8–12 and 45–73. Cic. Off. 1.61–92 tells us that early Stoics regarded it as a secondary virtue before Panaetius defined it as one of the four cardinal virtues. Cicero praises it as the most brilliant virtue (Off. 1.61), never yielding to fortune and despising externals (1.66). For Seneca, it is the chief quality of the sage, particularly in Constant. and also in Ep. 87.3; 120.12–15 and 18. He gives it a 'more internalized…valence' (Williams 2016, 179; see also Hachmann 1995, 284–5) as he understands it as a prerequisite for happiness; cf. Ep. 92.3: quid est beata uita? securitas et perpetua tranquillitas. Hanc dabit animi magnitudo. On animi magnitudo resp. magnanimitas, see Knoche's fundamental study from 1935; Hachmann 1995; Baraz 2016.
Seneca's efforts to blur the lines between Epicureanism and Stoicism culminate here: first, he recommended the poverty experiment of Epicurus and his students to Lucilius (§9); then, he promised Lucilius that he would experience pleasure, the highest Epicurean good, in poverty (§10); ultimately, he describes taking part in the poverty trial as a sign of animi magnitudo, a central Stoic term (§11), and thus blends the two philosophical schools together into one doctrine, one that teaches the right attitude towards poverty and wealth.
sua sponte: repeats §8: facies non coactus.
descendere: compare note on Ep. 17.2: in minima descendat.
ad extrema quidem decretis: i.e. those who are sentenced to death. The combination of decretis and ad has led to many conjectures, but Reynolds is right to keep it; see TLL s.v. decerno, 220.127.116.11–5.
§12 Seneca repeats his plea that Lucilius spend some days in poverty
Incipe…destina: the structure of the sentence resembles the syntax of the Vergilian quotation: imperative–vocative–infinitive–imperative.
horum consuetudinem: that is, Epicurus' and Metrodorus'; see §9–11.
secedas: see the note on §4: non excerpere se. On withdrawal as a pervasive topic of Book 2, see the main introduction §6.
familiarem: a variation on §8: fiat nobis paupertas familiaris.
cum paupertate habere commercium: a paradoxical image and a seemingly pointless endeavour. For commercium in connection with a personification, cf. e.g. Cic. Sen. 42; Tusc. 5.66.
aude, hospes…deo: Verg. Aen. 8.364–5a. In the Aeneid, Evander directs these words at Aeneas when he enters his humble home. The host tells his guest (hospes) that the deified Hercules has also stayed there (deo). The quotation takes Seneca's description of the poverty trial one step further: if even gods can live in poverty for a certain period, Lucilius will be able to do so too. The verses are quoted again in a more truncated form (364b–365a) in Ep. 31.11.
Vergil is the author Seneca quotes most often in his letters; cf. e.g. Ep. 12.9 (quoting Aen. 4.653); 114.23 (quoting G. 4.212–13), and reveres as a national treasure; cf. e.g. Breu. 9.2 calling him maximus uates, as well as a philosophical inspiration; cf. e.g. Ep. 108.23–8. For Seneca's relationship with Vergil, see the notes on Ep. 21; and Setaioli 1965; Mann 2006; for Seneca's use of Augustan literature in general, see Maguinness 1956; Mazzoli 1970; Schiesaro 2003; Trinacty 2014; and Ker 2015.
§13 The would-be wise man can be wealthy only if he is detached from his possessions
deo dignus: Seneca makes the same point in Ep. 31.10–11 and even uses the same lines by Vergil (though he uses only verses 364b–365a): he teaches Lucilius that whoever discards wealth, ambition, and power will attain a godlike quality; cf. Ep. 31.11: quid hoc est? animus, sed hic rectus, bonus, magnus. Quid aliud uoces hunc quam deum in corpore humano hospitantem?; see also Prou. 2.9: ecce par deo dignum, uir fortis cum fortuna mala compositus; 4.8.
quam qui opes contempsit: cf. Epicur. Sent. Vat. 33: Σαρκὸς ϕωνὴ τὸ μὴ πεινῆν, τὸ μὴ διψῆν, τὸ μὴ ῥιγοῦν· ταῦτα γὰρ ἔχων τις καὶ ἐλπίζων ἕξειν κἄν <Διὶ> ὑπὲρ εὐδαιμονίας μαχέσαιτο. For alius followed by atque or ac, see the note on Ep. 15.1: aliter quam.
quarum possessionem…possideas: a similar remark has already been made in §8: securius…pauperes esse. Seneca clarifies a point that he has not made in Ep. 17 but that comes up inevitably, namely whether or not the wise are allowed to be rich. As in De uita beata, he argues that a Stoic may be wealthy as long as he is independent from his riches; compare the introduction to Ep. 17.
intrepide: fearlessness is the hallmark of the wise; cf. Ep. 16.3: sine hac [scil. philosophia] nemo intrepide potest uiuere, nemo secure; 45.9; 66.6. Possessions, on the other hand, create fear; cf. e.g. Constant. 5.7; Beat. 14.2.
beate: poverty will teach the would-be wise man to be independent from his possessions and he will become both happy and, paradoxically, rich (note the ambiguity of the adverb). The thought is reminiscent of the Stoic paradox that only the wise man is rich (see Cic. Parad. Stoic. 5). Ep. 17 has prepared the ground for this thought as it redefined the nature of wealth (§10) and it even has a similar pun on beatus; see Ep. 17.10: beati senis.
persuaseris tibi: for reflexive persuadeo with infinitive, see e.g. Ep. 1.1: persuade tibi hoc sic esse ut scribo; Ira 2.28.1: hoc primum nobis persuadeamus, neminem nostrum esse sine culpa. On Seneca's predilection for reflexive verbs, compare the initial note on Ep. 13: SENECA LUCILIO SUO SALUTEM.
§14 Seneca pays his 'debt' with a quotation by Epicurus
The connection between the letter and the quotation is, at best, loose. Obviously, Epicurus is the link between the main part and the ending, as his ascetic lifestyle is discussed in §9–11 and one of his sayings is cited in §14; however, Epicurus is quoted in a large part of the letters, and the regularity of his quotations speaks against a close link between the coda and the main part. The quotation itself: inmodica ira gignit insaniam may indirectly refer to the excesses of the Saturnalia.
complicare: a standard phrase that signals the end of the letter; cf. Cic. Att. 12.1.2; QFr. 3.1.17: cum hanc iam epistulam complicarem, tabellarii a uobis uenerunt. The reference to the technicalities of letter-writing and the material existence of the letters is unusual for the EM, very unlike Cicero's letters, which constantly describe the writing and sending process; compare the note on Ep. 15.6: possis dictare.
redde quod debes: a legal phrase to demand payment; cf. Mart. 9.92.7. As in all preceding letters, the payment is a quotation.
Delegabo: Seneca's reply is just as technical as Lucilius' request: 'Delegatio is a technical business term for the process by which A pays his creditor B through a third party C' (Summers 1910 ad loc.). Summers's consideration would make Seneca A, Lucilius B, and Epicurus C, that is: the debtor Seneca pays his creditor Lucilius through Epicurus. However, the metaphor has its limitations: Seneca owes Epicurus; cf. Ep. 17.11: ab Epicuro mutuum sumam; 26.8: scis cuius arca utar, not the other way around; hence, there is no reason why Epicurus should pay Seneca's 'debt', as he does not owe him anything.
ad Epicurum: for delegare with ad, see e.g. Cic. De or. 2.125: haec ipsa quae nunc ad me delegare uis; Nep. Cato 3.5.
numeratio: cf. Ep. 26.8: expecta me pusillum, et de domo fiet numeratio. Pecuniary metaphors abound in Seneca's descriptions of the quotations; cf. e.g. Ep. 10.5; 12.10; 15.9; 16.7; 17.11.
inmodica ira gignit insaniam: Epicur. frg. 484 Us. = 246 Arr., not attested elsewhere. The quotation itself is not specifically Epicurean but can be adapted to any philosophical school (Graver 2016a, 200), a stark contrast to the Epicurean example in §9–11. The close link between anger and insanity is a commonplace; cf. e.g. Enn. inc. 18 (= Cic. Tusc. 4.23.52): ira initium insaniae; Verg. Aen. 7.461–2; Hor. Ep. 1.2.62; Petron. Sat. 94.6; Sen. Ira 1.1.2. The quotation might form a loose ring composition with the beginning of the letter, as insania might refer to the excesses of the Saturnalian festival in §1–4. Note the accumulation of 'i' in the Latin translation. Gignit contains igni, already anticipating the elaborate fire metaphor in §15.
Philodemus's De ira informs us on the Epicurean conception of anger which distinguishes between a positive and a negative aspect of anger: θυμός is a self-destructive form of anger while ὀργὴ κατὰ ϕύσιν even befalls the sage; see the commentary by Indelli 1988; Erler 1992; Harris 2001, especially 99–105; Asmis 2011; and Tsouna 2011.
seruum et inimicum: connects to the beginning of the letter and the description of the Saturnalia in which slaves played an important role (see §1), thus forming a ring composition. Does the slave suffer from his master's anger, or is the master exposed to his slave's anger? Griffin 1976, 261 n. 6 and Bradley 2008, 347 advocate the latter reading, but the image is ambiguous; on the master's anger against his slave, cf. e.g. Cic. Off. 2.23–4; Sen. Ep. 12.2–3; Ira 1.15.3; 2.25.3; on the slave's anger against his master, cf. e.g. Ep. 4.8: intelleges non pauciores seruorum ira cecidisse quam regum; 47.5; on Lucilius' lashing out against his enemies, jokingly alluded to in Ep. 76.1: inimicitias mihi denuntias si quicquam ex iis quae cotidie facio ignoraueris; on him bearing the force of his enemies' anger, cf. Ep. 24.1: sollicitum esse te scribis de iudicii euentu quod tibi furor inimici denuntiat.
§15 The consequences of anger
In omnes personas: for exardesco with in, cf. Tac. Ann. 11.12.
exardescit: not used before Cicero. On exardesco in connection with anger, cf. Cic. Tusc. 2.58: ira exardescit; Tac. Hist. 1.58: exarserat in eum iracundia exercitus; with other emotions, cf. e.g. Cic. Amic. 29: magnitudo beneuolentiae; 100: siue amor siue amicitia; Plin. Pan. 84.2: inuidia.
adfectus: 'emotion', the equivalent of πάθος. It refers to ira here; cf. Ira 1.1.1: exegisti a me, Nouate, ut scriberem quemadmodum posset ira leniri, nec inmerito mihi uideris hunc praecipue adfectum pertimuisse maxime. The Stoics distinguished between four passions: ἐπιθυμία–ἡδονή–ϕόβος–λύπη; cf. e.g. Stob. Ecl. 2.7.10b W. (= SVF 3.394), translated as libido–uoluptas–metus–aegritudo by Cic. Tusc. 3.11.24 (similar in Fin. 3.35); see also the introduction to Ep. 13. Anger arises from libido; cf. e.g. Tusc. 4.7.16. The advice Seneca gives here is typically Stoic; see LS 1987a, 419: 'Although control of the passions was a basic principle in all Greek ethics, popular as well as philosophical, its importance in Stoicism was and has remained notorious.' The ending of the letter integrates Epicurus' statement into Stoic thought.
ex amore…ex odio: for love leading to anger, cf. Ira 2.20.1; for hatred leading to anger, cf. Ira 3.12.2.
seria…lusus et iocos: cf. Beat. 12.2: [sapientes] miscent enim illas [uoluptates] et interponunt uitae ut ludum iocumque inter seria. Perhaps an allusion to the cheerful Saturnalia (§1–4).
in qualem…animum: advice on how to deal with anger is available in Sen. Ira 2.18–36 (how to avoid anger in the first place) and Ira 3 (how to cure anger).
Sic…incendium: a complex image that compares anger with fire, the intensity of anger with the intensity of fire, and the materials that might catch fire with the mind: an untrained mind will be easily angered, just as dry material is easily ignited, regardless of the intensity of the anger or the fire. The comparison between anger and fire comes quite naturally; cf. e.g. Ira 2.19.2: iracundos feruida animi natura faciet; est enim actuosus et pertinax ignis: frigidi mixtura timidos facit; pigrum est enim contractumque frigus.
maximum: scil. ignem.
receperunt: perfect is used in sentences expressing general observations, similar to the gnomic aorist in Greek; see K-S §33.9.
Ita est, mi Lucili: the phrase is often used by Seneca when his point is controversial or not immediately comprehensible; compare the note on Ep. 13.8: Ita est, mi Lucili. Cf. e.g. Ep. 5.7; 22.11; 66.31; 67.1; the address mi Lucili is repeated in §12.
irae exitus furor est: for furor resulting from ira, cf. Ira 2.36.4: Aiacem in mortem egit furor, in furorem ira. Cf. also Ep. 17.7, in which poverty frees the mind from furor: dubitabit aliquis ferre paupertatem ut animum furoribus liberet?
non moderationis causa sed sanitatis: brings us back to §14: insaniam and to the beginning of the letter (§2–4, esp. §3) with Lucilius' advice that the would-be wise man follow the golden mean between participation in, and absence from, the Saturnalia.
Vale: on the ambiguous meaning of the epistolary formula uale, see note on Ep. 15.11.