Empty Days

Monday, October 04, 2004



Meditations on roman wisdom.

One reason I can never do anything for any length of time: ibi patria ubi bene - which simply means: home is anywhere I feel good. Doesn't happen much. Which closely relates to my favorite hobo-philosopher saying: omnia mea mecum porto - all my stuff i carry with me.

Seneca once put down a young friend who was talking about leaving Rome and finding some relief elsewhere: no use going, you'll carry all your problems with you. Which is an old truth and Seneca was the master of timeless cliches, no doubt about it. It is also Seneca who popularized for all times to come another perfectly roman saying: volentem fata ducunt, nolentem trahunt - fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling. If this sounds pessimistic, that's because Seneca was a stoic and thus a vintage pessimist - he hadn't met Freud and saw psychological unease as a matter of bad moral choices and basic impatience with the ways of the world ruled by Fate.

Omnia mea mecum porto is a saying of resistance.
Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt is a saying of obedience.
Ibi patria ubi bene is a saying of liberation.

All in the stoic sense of struggle for a personal stance in a world without much freedom - a very limited sort of existence but valliant to the end.

Seneca's letters are striking because all his talk is basically about limitation - and how to be content with little and possibly less than little. It's a pretty suffocating collection of epistolary wisdom, not inspiring for a bit, but totally memorable: it's like a grave-stone - it has staying power because it speaks of certain well-observed truths and a certain way of life that has been the lot of many a human who lived life in this world. The corner stone of roman philosophy is willpower - Seneca slit his veins in the bathtub when he felt his stately career was over. Roman suicide as the culmination of roman philosophy is not a fluke of destiny - it's the pinnacle of self-possession and personal stance in an endlessly limited world of fate and honor.

The reason I suddenly remembered Seneca is because it's so close to what we live today. I have to wonder what Jesus died for - or what all this wonderful universal-love christianity has gone to. I think it really tried to pull men out of this rut of personal stance and running in regular circles in the courtyard of fate - without any success whatsoever, apparently. Everybody's back in the yard and everybody's running in circles again. Today it's sometimes called the rat-race - but it was never any different, rat-race or le parcours du combattant, or Camus. Or Seneca.

Wait another century and it will be Seneca all over again - as the ultimate genius of his times. Today it's Camus with his empty stare, tomorrow it will be Seneca with his utter patience. I mean, what else can it be when the whole human universe is nothing but a small prison-yard with very, very high walls?

Of course I am not really preoccupied with what it will be a century from now - I won't be there to live it. But I live it already and as anyone else outta here I carry the seeds of the future in that vision of mine - it's a very human characteristic to be somewhat universal, despite all the personal smallness of it. Seneca did not die in his bathtub to impress posterity (though with him you never know) - but he certainly expressed the wisdom of his day well enough for it to have carried on despite all the changing circumstances. He was somehow universal in that bathtub of his.

So what happened then - and why is it still happening to me?







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