Spain’s LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA
“All cruelty springs from weakness.”
Before leaving the subject of Andalusia, I can’t resist mentioning Seneca—Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-A.D. 65)—the Córdoban-born Stoic philosopher, orator, essayist, playwright and poet, who some consider to be the greatest Spaniard ever to have lived.
His lifetime fell long before Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment, the main focus of my Andalusian visit. Still, I found that some in Andalusia and Spain in general remember him with such awe that I decided to ask our Spanish guide Sebastiano about him.
“Such a man!” Sebastiano beamed the moment I uttered the philosopher’s name. “He was so multifaceted! A man of letters, a political figure, consul of Rome, Nero’s tutor and later advisor, and a Stoic.”
Sebastiano went on to say that while in Nero’s employ Seneca became caught up in an alleged conspiracy to kill his master. For this supposed complicity his Nero ordered him to commit suicide, an act Seneca fulfilled with the grace of a true Stoic.
When my traveling companion Barbara heard the repeated use of the word Stoic, she asked our guide, “What is a Stoic?”
“Someone who lives simply, who is moderate and frugal. Someone who makes peace with his present circumstances.”
“Are those values you embrace?” my traveling companion Barbara asked.
“I try to hold the thought that God determines everything and that I must accept His will,” Sebastiano answered softly. He added that even today some Spanish intellectuals are so caught up in the Seneca mystique that they fancy themselves the philosopher’s progeny. “In my case,” Sebastiano said, “I wouldn’t even feel worthy to touch the great man’s hem.”
When I returned home, I looked into Seneca a bit more and found these among his quotations:
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and in our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what is not.”
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
“Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”
“Wealth is the slave of a wise man. The master of a fool.”
Some students of Seneca believe that he might have been an early Christian. He is credited with saying:
“Live with men as if God saw you; converse with God as if men heard you.”
“God is nigh to you, he is with you, he is in you: I tell you … a holy spirit resides within us, an observer and guardian of our good and our bad doings, who, as he has been dealt with by us, so he deals with us; no man is good without God.”