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Pakobckuu

SENECA'S DE IRA/ON ANGER (c.41 AD - mid-First century) 6 questions

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Book (Volume) I of Seneca's "De Ira" in Latin is here: https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.ira1.shtml 
Book II in Latin is here: https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.ira2.shtml
Book III in Latin is here: https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.ira3.shtml

(Question 1) Do you agree or disagree with Plato's maxim below?
In Book I, Section XIX, Seneca describes "he who while free from anger assigns to each man the penalty which he deserves". Seneca comments:

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In all dealing with crime he will remember that the one form of punishment is meant to make bad men better, and the other to put them out of the way. In either case he will look to the future, not to the past: for, as Plato says, "no wise man punishes any one because he has sinned, but that he may sin no more: for what is past cannot be recalled, but what is to come may be checked."


Certainly there is a pragmatic aspect to Plato's idea. That is, Plato bases his maxim on the only practical use for punishment being to stop further crime.
On the other hand, doesn't such reasoning contradict the theory behind the divine Last Judgment? During the Last Judgment, God would reward or punish everyone according to their deeds, beliefs, and personal worth, even though there is no practical use in stopping the culprits' future misconduct because they are already dead. On the other hand, it could be argued that the hopes and fears of future reward and punishment, such as in the Afterlife, have practical value in influencing altruism and crime.(Question 2) How does Seneca's theory that the gods neither wish harm nor are capable of harm compare with Calvin's and Augustine's ideas of destiny, predestination and fate? Does Seneca consider the gods responsible for the natural order and uncaring about going out of their way to harm people, whereas Calvin and Augustine see God as particularly attentive to humans' fates?
In Book II, Seneca appears to not consider the gods responsible for people's destiny

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There are some things which are unable to hurt us, and whose power is exclusively beneficial and salutary, as, for example, the immortal gods, who neither wish nor are able to do harm: for their temperament is naturally gentle and tranquil, and no more likely to wrong others than to wrong themselves. Foolish people who know not the truth hold them answerable for storms at sea, excessive rain, and long winters, whereas all the while these phenomena by which we suffer or profit take place without any reference whatever to us: it is not for our sake that the universe causes summer and winter to succeed one another; these have a law of their own, according to which their divine functions are performed. We think too much of ourselves, when we imagine that we are worthy to have such prodigious revolutions effected for our sake: so, then, none of these things take place in order to do us an injury, nay, on the contrary, they all tend to our benefit. (Chapter 27)

    ...in any case let us not be angry with ourselves..., and least of all with the gods: for whatever we suffer befalls us not by any ordinance of theirs but of the common law of all flesh. (Chapter 28)

 

I read that John Calvin took his fatalism and his idea of predestination in part from the Stoics. Here, Seneca does not seem to portray the gods as particularly responsible for people's fates. In contrast, I think that Calvin believed that due to His omniscience and omnipotence, God was truly and fully responsible for peoples' fates, and that therefore people did not really have free will.

(Question 3) Can you explain Seneca's idea, underlined below?
In Book II, Chapter 30, Seneca writes:
"Is it a good man who has wronged you? do not believe it: is it a bad one? do not be surprised at this; he will pay to someone else the penalty which he owes to you—indeed, by his sin he has already punished himself."

(Question 4) Let me ask about Seneca's instructions for situations where assailants are stronger than their victims. If someone severely hurt someone else, like inflicting rape or another injury, shouldn't the victim choose to press charges, effectively using the courts and state for revenge?
If a stronger person keeps bullying or hurting you, what about the effectiveness of fighting back in order to get the bullying to stop, even though your opponent is stronger?
I like a lot of what Seneca says on this topic in Book III, but I am uncertain about the last scenario he refers to, where the assailant is stronger:

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Moreover, even if we pass over its immediate consequences, such as heavy losses, treacherous plots, and the constant anxiety produced by strife, anger pays a penalty at the same moment that it exacts one: it forswears human feelings. The latter urge us to love, anger urges us to hatred: the latter bid us do men good, anger bids us do them harm. Add to this that, although its rage arises from an excessive self-respect and appears to show high spirit, it really is contemptible and mean: for a man must be inferior to one by whom he thinks himself despised, whereas the truly great mind, which takes a true estimate of its own value, does not revenge an insult because it does not feel it. As weapons rebound from a hard surface, and solid substances hurt those who strike them, so also no insult can make a really great mind sensible of its presence, being weaker than that against which it is aimed. How far more glorious is it to throw back all wrongs and insults from oneself, like one wearing armour of proof against all weapons, for revenge is an admission that we have been hurt. That cannot be a great mind which is disturbed by injury. He who has hurt you must be either stronger or weaker than yourself. If he be weaker, spare him: if he be stronger, spare yourself.

(Question 5) What do you think about Seneca's recommendation against great undertakings or those which will not give us success, when the challenges are great, daunting moral ones like the abolition of slavery or Apartheid? Living in the early 19th or mid 20th c., respectively, success in abolishing them was not attained, and was also stressful, yet was it also not a worthy task nonetheless?
In Book III, Seneca recommends against great undertakings or those which will not give us success:

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A man's day, if he is engaged in many various occupations, never passes so happily that no man or no thing should give rise to some offence which makes the mind ripe for anger. Just as when one hurries through the crowded parts of the city one cannot help jostling many people, and one cannot help slipping at one place, being hindered at another, and splashed at another, so when one's life is spent in disconnected pursuits and wanderings, one must meet with many troubles and many accusations. One man deceives our hopes, another delays their fulfillment, another destroys them: our projects do not proceed according to our intention. No one is so favoured by Fortune as to find her always on his side if he tempts her often: and from this it follows that he who sees several enterprises turn out contrary to his wishes becomes dissatisfied with both men and things, and on the slightest provocation flies into a rage with people, with undertakings, with places, with fortune, or with himself. In order, therefore, that the mind may be at peace, it ought not to be hurried hither and thither, nor, as I said before, wearied by labour at great matters, or matters whose attainment is beyond its strength.

Be assured that the same rule applies both to public and private life: simple and manageable undertakings proceed according to the pleasure of the person in charge of them, but enormous ones, beyond his capacity to manage, are not easily undertaken. When he has got them to administer, they hinder him, and press hard upon him, and just as he thinks that success is within his grasp, they collapse, and carry him with them: thus it comes about that a man's wishes are often disappointed if he does not apply himself to easy tasks, yet wishes that the tasks which he undertakes may be easy. Whenever you would attempt anything, first form an estimate both of your own powers, of the extent of the matter which you are undertaking, and of the means by which you are to accomplish it: for if you have to abandon your work when it is half done, the disappointment will sour your temper. In such cases, it makes a difference whether one is of an ardent or of a cold and unenterprising temperament: for failure will rouse a generous spirit to anger, and will move a sluggish and dull one to sorrow. Let our undertakings, therefore, be neither petty nor yet presumptuous and reckless: let our hopes not range far from home: let us attempt nothing which if we succeed will make us astonished at our success.

 

On the other hand, perhaps Seneca's comments about such real life situations hold major truths. I have experienced instances where I wanted or tried something great and it was beyond my grasp, depending on how one looks at it.

(Question 6) Do you agree with Seneca's claim, underlined below?
In Book III, Section XXVI, Seneca recommends bearing one's injuries, and compares this endurance to bearing mistreatment from a sick or insane person. He then asserts that the evil-doers will still undergo punishment:

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Why do you bear with the delirium of a sick man, or the ravings of a madman, or the impudent blows of a child? Because, of course, they evidently do not know what they are doing: a man be not responsible for his actions, what does it matter by what malady he became so: the plea of ignorance holds equally good in every case. "What then?" say you, “shall he not be punished?" He will be, even supposing that you do not wish it: for the greatest punishment for having done harm is the sense of having done it, and no one is more severely punished than he who is given over to the punishment of remorse.

 

Edited by Pakobckuu

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