It is not to hide your desires & fears, that one choose a solitary life.
Livve among people as if the Gods beheld you; speak with God as if people were listening.
On Living to Oneself
Yes, I do not change my opinion: avoid the many, avoid the few, avoid even the individual.
Crates, they say, the disciple of the very Stilbo whom I mentioned in a former letter, noticed the youth walking by alone, & asked what they were doing all alone. “I am communing with myself,” replied the youth; “Pray be careful, then,” said Crates, “& take good heed; you are communing with a bad person!”
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 they only plan folly, & heaps up future dangers for themselves or for others; they bring into play their base desires; the mind displays what fear or shame used to repress; it whets their boldness, stirs their passions, & goads their anger.
Finally, the only benefit that solitude confers, – the habit of trusting no one, & of fearing no witnesses, – is lost to the fool; for they betray themselves.
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.
You are not one of the many; you have regard for your rreal welfare. Speak, & live, in this way; see to it that nothing keeps you down.
As for your former prayers, you may dispense the divine from answering them; offer new prayers; pray for a sound mind & for good health, first of soul & then of body, & of course you should offer these prayers frequently.
Call boldly upon the Divine; you will not be asking for that which belongs to another.
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 the Divine for nothing, except what thou canst pray for openly.”
How foolish people 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 people to know, they communicate to God.
The Wise One is in want of nothing, & yet needs many things.
On Philosophy & Friendship
Epicurus rebukes those who hold that the wise person is self-sufficient & for that reason does not stand in need of friendships.
This is the objection raised by Epicurus against Stilbo & those who believe that the Supreme Good is a soul which is insensible to feeling.
For it may be understood in the meaning the opposite to that which we wish it to have. What we mean to express is, a soul which rejects any sensation of evil; but people will interpret the idea as that of a soul which can endure no evil.
There is this difference between ourselves & the other school: our ideal wise person feels their troubles, but overcomes them; their wise person does not even feel them.
We & they alike hold this idea, – that the wise person is self-sufficient; Nevertheless, One desires friends, neighbours, & associates, no matter how much one is sufficient unto oneself.
Mark how self-sufficient One is; for on occasion one can be content with a part of oneself. If one lose a hand through disease, or if some accident puts out their eyes, one will be satisfied with what is left, taking as much pleasure in their impaired & maimed body as one took when it was sound.
While one does not pine for these parts if they are missing, one prefers not to lose them. In this sense the wise person is self-sufficient, that they can do without friends, not that they desire to do without them.
When I say “can,” I mean this: One endures the loss of a friend with equanimity. They need never lack friends, for it lies in their own control how soon they shall make good a loss.
Hecato, says: :
Now there is great pleasure, not only in maintaining old & established friendships, but also in beginning & acquiring new ones. There is the same difference between winning a new friend & having already won them, as there is between the farmer who sows & the farmer who reaps.
Philosopher Attalus used to say: “It is more pleasant to make than to keep a friend, as it is more pleasant to the artist to paint than to have finished painting.”
When one is busy & absorbed in one’s work, the very absorption affords great delight; but when one has withdrawn their hand from the completed masterpiece, the pleasure is not so keen.
Henceforth it is the fruits of one’s art that one enjoys; it was the art itself that one enjoyed while one was painting.
In the case of our children, their young adulthood yields the more abundant fruits, but their infancy was sweeter.
One who regards oneself only, & enters upon friendships for this reason, reckons wrongly. The end will be like the beginning: One has made friends with one who might assist them out of bondage; at the first rattle of the chain such a friend will desert them.
These are the so-called “fair-weather” friendships; one who is chosen for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as one is useful.
The beginning & the end cannot but harmonize. One who begins to be your friend because it pays will also cease because it pays.
For what purpose, then, do I make a person my friend? In order to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into exile?
The friendship which you portray is a bargain & not a friendship; it regards convenience only, & looks to the results.
Beyond question the feeling of a lover has in it something akin to friendship; one might call it friendship run mad. But, though this is true, does anyone love for the sake of gain, or renown?
Pure love, careless of all other things, kindles the soul with desire for the beautiful object, not without the hope of a return of the affection.
You may retort: “We are not now discussing the question whether friendship is to be cultivated for its own sake.” On the contrary, nothing more urgently requires demonstration; for if friendship is to be sought for its own sake, one may seek it who is self-sufficient.
“How, then,” you ask, “does one seek it?” Precisely as one seeks an object of great beauty, not attracted to it by desire for gain, nor yet frightened by the instability of Fortune.
One who seeks friendship for favourable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.
“The wise person is self-sufficient.” This phrase, my dear Lucilius, is incorrectly explained by many; for they withdraw the wise person from the world, & force them to dwell within their own skin.
We must mark with care what this sentence signifies & how far it applies; the wise person is sufficient unto themselves for a happy existence, but not for mere existence.
I should like also to state to you one of the distinctions of Chrysippus who declares that,
“On the other hand,” they say, “nothing is needed by the fool, for they do not understand how to use anything, but they are in want of everything.”
Wise people need hands, eyes, & many things that are necessary for their daily use; but they are in want of nothing. For want implies a necessity, & nothing is necessary to the wise Ones.
Therefore, although one is self-sufficient, yet one has need of friends. One craves as many friends as possible, not, however, that one may live happily; for one will live happily even without friends.
Supreme Good calls for no practical aids from outside; it is developed at home, & arises entirely within itself. If the good seeks any portion of itself from without, it begins to be subject to the play of Fortune.
People may say: “But what sort of existence will the wise person have, if they be left friendless when thrown into prison, or when stranded in some foreign nation?”
One’s life will be like that of Jupiter, who, amid the dissolution of the world, when the gods are confounded together & Nature rests for a space from its work, can retire into oneself & give themselves over to their own thoughts.
In some such way as this the sage will act; they will retreat into themselves, & live with themselves.
As long as one is allowed to order their affairs according to their judgment, one is self-sufficient – & marries a partner; one is self-sufficient – & brings up children; one is self-sufficient – & yet could not live if one had to live without the society of people.
Natural promptings, & not, one’s own selfish needs, draw one into friendships. For just as other things have for us an inherent attractiveness, so has friendship.
As we hate solitude & crave society, as nature draws people to each other, so in this matter also there is an attraction which makes us desirous of friendship.
For Stilbo, after his country was captured & his children & his wife lost, as he emerged from the general desolation alone & yet happy, spoke as follows to Demetrius, called Sacker of Cities because of the destruction he brought upon them, in answer to the question whether he had lost anything: “I have all my goods with me!”
Here is indeed, a brave & stout-hearted person for you! The enemy conquered, but Stilbo conquered his conqueror. “I have lost nothing!” Aye, he forced Demetrius to wonder whether he himself had conquered after all. “My goods are all with me!” In other words, he deemed nothing that might be taken from him to be a good.
Do you understand now how much easier it is to conquer a whole tribe than to conquer one man?
This saying of Stilbo makes common ground with Stoicism; the Stoic also can carry their goods unimpaired through cities that have been burned to ashes; for they are self-sufficient. Such are the bounds which they set to their own happiness.
You must not think that our school alone can utter noble words; Epicurus himself, the reviler of Stilbo, spoke similar language;
“Whoever does not regard what one has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though one be master of the whole world.”
Or, if the following seems to you a more suitable phrase, – for we must try to render the meaning & not the mere words: “A person may rule the world & still be unhappy, if one does not feel that one is supremely happy.”
In order, however, that you may know that these sentiments are universal, suggested, of course, by Nature, you will find in one of the comic poets this verse:
Unblest is one who thinks oneself unblest.
For what does your condition matter, if it is bad in your own eyes?
You may say: “What then? If yonder people, rich by base means, shall call themselves happy, will their own opinion make them happy?”
It matters not what one says, but what one feels; also, not how one feels on one particular day, but how one feels at all times.
There is no reason, however, why you should fear that this great privilege will fall into unworthy hands; only the wise one is pleased with one’s own.