15. What Exercise ?

Mind & Body.

Cultivate the health of both mind & body; Whatever you do, come back soon from body to mind; Cultivate that which improves with the years.

Why should we demand of Fate that it provide & Fortune to give; I much rather demand that of myself that I should not crave & yearn ?

Reflect how pleasant it is to demand nothing, how noble it is to be contented & not to be dependent upon Fortune.

On Brawn & Brains

“If you are well, it is well; I also am well.”; People like ourselves would do well to say: “If you are studying philosophy, it is well.”

For this is just what “being well” means; Without philosophy the mind is sickly, & the body too, though it may be very powerful, is strong only as that of a lunatic is strong.

This, then, is the sort of health you should primarily cultivate; the other kind of health comes second, & will involve little effort, if you wish to be well physically.

It is indeed foolish, my dear Lucilius, & very unsuitable for a cultivated person, to work hard over developing the muscles & expanding the chest; For although your heavy feeding produce good results & your sinews grow solid, you can never be a match, either in strength or in weight, for a first-class bull.

Besides, by overloading the body with food you strangle the soul & render it less active; Accordingly, limit the flesh as much as possible, & allow free play to the spirit.

Many inconveniences beset those who devote themselves to such pursuits; In the first place, they have their exercises, at which they must work & waste their life-force & render it less fit to bear a strain or the severer studies.

Second, their keen edge is dulled by heavy eating, whose day passes satisfactorily if they have got up a good perspiration & quaffed, to make good what they have lost in sweat, huge draughts of liquor which will sink deeper because of their fasting;

Drinking & sweating, – it’s the life of a dyspeptic!

Now there are short & simple exercises which tire the body rapidly, & so save our time; & time is something of which we ought to keep strict account; These exercises are running, brandishing weights, & jumping, – Select for practice any one of these, & you will find it plain & easy.

Whatever you do, come back soon from body to mind; The mind must be exercised both day & night, for it is nourished by moderate labour; & this form of exercise need not be hampered by cold or hot weather, or even by old age;

Cultivate that good which improves with the years.

Of course I do not command you to be always bending over your books & your writing materials; the mind must have a change, – but a change of such a kind that it is not unnerved, but merely unbent; One may reead, dictate, converse, or listen to another, as well as walking, free the spirit.

You see, I have relieved you of no slight bother; & I shall throw in a little complementary present, – it too is Greek; Here is the proverb; it is an excellent one:

“The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future.”

What sort of life do you think is meant by the fool’s life?, That of Baba & Isio?

No; it means our own, for we are plunged by our blind desires into ventures which will harm us, but certainly will never satisfy us; for if we could be satisfied with anything, we should have been satisfied long ago.

Nor do we reflect how pleasant it is to demand nothing, how noble it is to be contented & not to be dependent upon Fortune.

Therefore continually remind yourself, Lucilius, how many ambitions you have attained; When you see many ahead of you, think how many are behind!, Fix a limit which you will not even desire to pass, should you have the power.

At last, away with all these treacherous goods!, They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.

If there were anything substantial in them, they would sooner or later satisfy you; as it is, they merely rouse the drinkers’ thirst.

Away with fripperies which only serve for show!, As to what the future’s uncertain lot has in store,

why should I demand of Fortune that it gives, rather than demand of myself that I should not crave?

Why should i crave?, Shall I heap up my winnings, & forget that one’s lot is unsubstantial?

For what end should I toil?, Lo,

Today is the last; if not, it is near the last.


Seneca, StoicTaoist.