Against Fear of Death – Cicero

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Synopsis:

In the first book of his Tusculan Disputations Cicero examines the idea of death, the quality of the human soul, the pursuit of virtue as an end, as well as the mood of human nature. The essay is conveyed in dialogue form among a teacher and his pupil.

Excerpts:

“And yet a responsible farmer will plant trees, even though he’ll never see them bear a single olive. Won’t a great man plant laws, practices, a commonwealth?

“But somehow there remains in our minds a vision, as it were, of generations to come: a vision that appears most readily and blazes forth most intensely in those with the greatest talent and the deepest soul.

“We naturally believe that gods exist, but we discern their qualities through the exercise of reason. Just so, we share a universal feeling that souls live on, but we must use reason to determine where and in what condition.

“The soul senses its own motion; when it does, it senses that it has been moved by its own power, not by anything else, and that it can never be deprived of itself. Which means it is eternal.

“Although glory is not to be sought for its own sake, it follows virtue like a shadow.

*All excerpts have been taken from Cicero: On Living and Dying Well, Penguin Classics.

On Friendship – Seneca

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Synopsis: 

In letter #3, Seneca discusses the merit and meaning of friendship. He drafts the framework by which a friendship ought to be commenced, perpetuated, or dissolved.

Excerpts:

“Deliberate upon all questions with your friend, but first deliberate about him. After friendship there must be full trust, but before it, discretion.

“Trusting everyone and trusting no one are both wrong, though I might say the one wrong is an excess of frankness and the other an excess of security.

“The two attitudes should temper one another: the easygoing man should act, the active man take it easy. Consult Nature: she will tell you that she created both day and night.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

On the Subjects of Philosophy – Seneca

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Synopsis:

In letter #89, Seneca considers the state of philosophy present in the culture of his era. He chronicles the foundations of the idea of philosophy itself, as well as the pursuit of virtue.

Excerpts:

“The sage’s mind does indeed comprehend the whole mass, which it scans no less quickly than our vision surveys the sky; but we who must still penetrate the fog and whose vision is deficient even for nearby objects are not capable of comprehending the whole and find explanation of individual parts easier.

“Wisdom is the perfect good of the human mind; philosophy, love of wisdom, and progress towards it.

“The subject and the object of the act of seeking cannot be identical.

“Philosophy is the study of virtue, but virtue is its means, so that virtue cannot exist without study of itself nor the study without virtue itself.

“Study not to increase your knowledge but to improve it.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Against the Galileans – Julian the Apostate

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Synopsis:

The Roman emperor Julian attempted a pagan revival during his brief reign in the 4th century AD. Having been raised a Christian he embraced the organizational structure of Christianity while endeavoring to manifest a new universal Hellenistic paganism. In Against the Galileans Julian bids to refute some of the fundamental assumptions of Christian doctrine such as monotheism and the universality of Christ. The work was preserved during the Middle-Ages by Christian monks as a teaching mechanism for counter-refuting the claims made by Julian – and this was important because Julian was and still is considered an intellectual heavyweight.

Excerpts:

“For if there were to be no difference between the heavens and mankind and animals too, by Zeus, and all the way down to the very tribe of creeping things and the little fish that swim in the sea, then there would have had to be one and the same creator for them all. But if there is a great gulf fixed between immortals and mortals, and this cannot become greater by addition or less by subtraction, nor can it be mixed with what is mortal and subject to fate, it follows that one set of gods were the creative cause of mortals, and another of immortals.

“Therefore, as I said, unless for every nation separately some presiding national god (and under him an angel, a demon, a hero, and a peculiar order of spirits which obey and work for the higher powers) established the differences in our laws and characters, you must demonstrate to me how these differences arose by some other agency.

“The philosophers bid us imitate the gods so far as we can, and they teach us that this imitation consists in the contemplation of realities.

“Our writers say that the creator is the common father and king of all things, but that the other functions have been assigned by him to national gods of the peoples and gods that protect the cities; every one of whom administers his own department in accordance with his own nature.

“Therefore men’s works also are naturally perishable and mutable and subject to every kind of alteration. But since God is eternal, it follows that of such sort are his ordinances also. And since they are such, they are either the natures of things or are accordant with the nature of things. For how could nature be at variance with the ordinance of God? How could it fall out of harmony therewith?

*All excerpts have been taken from Against the Galileans, Julian, Acheron Press.