In his tenth letter, Seneca continues to teach us to avoid crowds and to value introspection, however, he warns that many times we should not even trust ourselves since we are usually foolish and ignorant.
Initially, one might think that Seneca contradicts his earlier letters when he says that “talking to oneself” can be bad. As a matter of fact, Seneca says that if you are already wicked and ignorant, talking to yourself won’t do any good. A foolish person will only make his own-self worse. The crowd might otherwise check and temper his irrationality. Or, in other words: if you have no idea of what you are doing, don’t trust your judgment.
Seneca thinks that we should not pray for wealth or success (“that which belongs to another.“), but for intellectual and physical health. He concludes the letter with the council:
“Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.” (X,5)
- Avoid the crowds; avoid even the individual.
- Do not pray for wealth or success.
- “Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.” (§5)
Image: Preparation for a sacrifice. Marble, a fragment of an architectural relief, Louvre.
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X. On Living to Oneself
1. Yes, I do not change my opinion: avoid the many, avoid the few, avoid even the individual. I know of no one with whom I should be willing to have you shared. And see what an opinion of you I have; for I dare to trust you with your own self. Crates, they say, the disciple of the very Stilbo whom I mentioned in a former letter, noticed a young man walking by himself, and asked him what he was doing all alone. “I am communing with myself,” replied the youth. “Pray be careful, then,” said Crates, “and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!”
2. When persons are in mourning, or fearful about something, we are accustomed to watch them that we may prevent them from making a wrong use of their loneliness. No thoughtless person ought to be left alone; in such cases he only plans folly, and heaps up future dangers for himself or for others; he brings into play his base desires; the mind displays what fear or shame used to repress; it whets his boldness, stirs his passions, and goads his anger. And finally, the only benefit that solitude confers, – the habit of trusting no man, and of fearing no witnesses, – is lost to the fool; for he betrays himself. Mark therefore what my hopes are for you, – nay, rather, what I am promising myself, inasmuch as hope is merely the title of an uncertain blessing: I do not know any person with whom I should prefer you to associate rather than yourself.
3. I remember in what a great-souled way you hurled forth certain phrases, and how full of strength they were! I immediately congratulated myself and said: “These words did not come from the edge of the lips; these utterances have a solid foundation. This man is not one of the many; he has regard for his real welfare.”
4. Speak, and live, in this way; see to it that nothing keeps you down. As for your former prayers, you may dispense the gods from answering them; offer new prayers; pray for a sound mind and for good health, first of soul and then of body. And of course you should offer those prayers frequently. Call boldly upon God; you will not be asking him for that which belongs to another.
5. But I must, as is my custom, send a little gift along with this letter. It is a true saying which I have found in Athenodorus:“Know that thou art freed from all desires when thou hast reached such a point that thou prayest to God for nothing except what thou canst pray for openly.” But how foolish men are now! They whisper the basest of prayers to heaven; but if anyone listens, they are silent at once. That which they are unwilling for men to know, they communicate to God. Do you not think, then, that some such wholesome advice as this could be given you: “Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening“?
- ↑ Frag. de superstitione 36 H., according to Rossbach.