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.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire – Edward Luttwak

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Synopsis: 

Military historian and strategist Edward Luttwak traverses late Roman history as well as Byzantine history in order to examine the overarching schema, notions, and prevailing strategic outlook that maintained the Byzantine Empire for nearly a thousand years following the demise of the Western Roman Empire. Surrounded on all sides by enemies, and not having the manpower dominance of republican Rome, the Byzantines were adept at remaining powerful by other means.

Excerpts:

“The Huns and all their successors inevitably used their tribute gold to buy necessities and baubles from the empire – special arrangements were negotiated for border markets – hence the gold exported to the Huns returned to circulate within the empire rather quickly, except for the minute fraction retained for jewelry.”

“Much of what they did was calculated to preserve and enhance the prestige of the imperial court even as it was being exploited to impress, overawe, recruit, even seduce. Unlike troops or gold, prestige is not consumed when it is used, and that was a very great virtue for the Byzantines, who were always looking for economical sources of power.”

“It might be said, therefore, that the loss of Syria and Egypt, unlike Latin speaking and Chalcedonian North Africa, was a mixed curse for the empire: it brought the blessing of religious harmony, and increased cultural unity.”

“It is by that same logic in dynamic action and reaction that the victories of an advancing army can bring defeat once they exceed the culminating point of success, indeed victory becomes defeat by the prosaic workings of overextension.”

“It starts with the simple, static contradiction of sivis pacem para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war) and proceeds to dynamic contradictions: if you defend every foot of a perimeter, you are not defending the perimeter; if you win too completely, destroying the enemy, you make way for another; and so on.”

*All excerpts have been taken from The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, Edward Luttwak, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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.

The Civil War – Julius Caesar

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Synopsis:

Julius Caesar wrote The Civil War for the same reason he wrote about his campaigns in Gaul – i.e. to prove to the Roman people that his cause was just and that his opponents were unjust. The work was never completed, and the reason for this may be conjectured as having won the civil war – against the Pompeian faction – Caesar no longer needed to defend his actions because he was in full control of the state.

Excerpts:

“…but let me remind you it is always at the end of a war that soldiers look for the reward of their efforts, and what that end is going to be not even you can doubt.”

“Is it conceivable that a side which could make no stand with all its forces intact can now do so when its cause is lost; and can you, who declared for Caesar when victory still hung in the balance, now think of siding with the vanquished, after the issue of the war is decided, and when you ought to be reaping the reward of your services?”

“With what seems to be a tradition among foreign nations, the African force lay scattered about their camping-ground without any properly made lines; consequently, when our troopers dashed in upon the broken groups of heavily sleeping men, numbers were slaughtered on the spot, and a considerable body took refuge in panic-stricken flight.”

“But Curio answered unhesitatingly that, having lost the army which Caesar had entrusted to his charge, he would never go back to look him in the face, and with that answer he died fighting. Only a very small proportion of the Roman cavalry escaped from the battle; but those who, as recorded above, had dropped behind in the rear for the purpose of resting their horses, on observing from their distant position that the whole army was a rout, made good their return to the camp. The infantry were all cut down to a man.”

“Inside the Pompeian lines the eye fell upon the spectacle of arbors artificially constructed, of masses of silver plate laid out for present use, of tents paved with cool, fresh cut sods, and even, in the case of Lentulus and others, protected from the heat by ivy. Many other indications could likewise be discerned of extravagant luxury and of confidence in coming victory, rendering it an easy assumption that men who went so far out of their way in the pursuit of superfluous pleasures could have had no misgivings as to the issue of the day. Yet these were the men who habitually taunted the poverty-stricken, long-suffering army of Caesar with the charge of being voluptuaries; whereas in truth they had all along been in want of the barest necessaries.”

*All excerpts have been taken from The Civil War, Julius Caesar, Barnes & Noble, Inc.