In Search of Terra Firma: Dipping into the Classics for Solace

"Hail, brother, farewell"

The Op-Ed columnists in the New York Times are all brimming with pat-answers for the wide-eyed populace's desperate woe-is-us quizzicalness about the current credit crisis; doling out pointed accusations regarding our avarice, our binging, our reckless and freewheeling ways. No doubt they all feel a little like proverbial Noahs, since these admonishments seem a good deal like heightened versions of the same sort of dispatches I've heard from them over the past few years.

Redundancy aside, I enjoyed Maureen Dowd's recent piece, primarily because a good half of it was written in a nouveau version of Latin. To me there is something rather magical (dare I say, romantic?) about Latin, it verges on art in its ability to so beautifully and succinctly convey the most complex of philosophical thoughts and sentiments. Being the dilettante that I am, I've never been able to take my study of the language beyond the level of a faux-hobby (faux since I can't rattle off much more than the common phrases and State mottoes), but I have the utmost reverence and fascination for it nonetheless.

Anyway, Dowd's article referenced Seneca, and exalted the classics for their illuminations on living the dignified good life. This stirred up memories of my own substantial brushes with "the classics" in my university studies, and in recalling some of the solid words penned by those wise men, I immediately went in search of more; forget the NY Times and their repetitious "I-told-you-so" denunciations of our government and our lives, I wanted something more substantial and meaningful to consider. What you find below is a small excerpt from Seneca's essay entitled On the Diseases of the Soul. I hope you find it a thought-provoking distraction from some of the other news headlines.


"And I shall remind you once more: the diseases are hardened and chronic vices, such as greed and ambition; they have enfolded the mind in too close a grip, and have begun to be permanent evils thereof. To give a brief definition: by “disease” we mean a persistent perversion of the judgment, so that things which are mildly desirable are thought to be highly desirable. Or, if you prefer, we may define it thus: to be too zealous in striving for things which are only mildly desirable or not desirable at all, or to value highly things which ought to be valued but slightly or valued not at all. [...]

There await us, if ever we escape from these low dregs to that sublime and lofty height, peace of mind and, when all error has been driven out, perfect liberty. You ask what this freedom is? It means not fearing either men or gods; it means not craving wickedness or excess; it means possessing supreme power over oneself. And it is a priceless good to be master of oneself. Farewell."

- Seneca

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