What Chance has made yours, is not really yours.
Fortune; for we think that we hold them in our grasp, but they hold us in theirs.
On the Philosopher’s Seclusion
“Do you bid me,” you say, “shun the throng, & withdraw from people, & be content with my own conscience? Where are the counsels of your school, which order a person to die in the midst of active work?”
As to the course which I seem to you to be urging on you now & then, my object in shutting myself up & locking the door is to be able to help a greater number.
I never spend a day in idleness; I appropriate even a part of the night for study.
I do not allow time for sleep but yield to it when I must, & when my eyes are wearied with waking & ready to fall shut, I keep them at their task.
I have withdrawn not only from people, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them.
There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.
I point other people to the right path, which I have found late in life, when wearied with wandering.
I cry out to them: “Avoid whatever pleases the throng: avoid the gifts of Chance!
Halt before every good which Chance brings to you, in a spirit of doubt & fear; for it is the animals & fish that are deceived by tempting hopes.
Do you call these things the ‘gifts’ of Fortune? They are snares.
Any one among you who wishes to live a life of safety will avoid, to the utmost of their power, these limed twigs of its favour, by which we mortals, most wretched in this respect also, are deceived;
Such a career leads us into precipitous ways, & life on such heights ends in a fall.
Moreover, we cannot even stand up against prosperity when it begins to drive us to leeward; nor can we go down, either, ‘with the ship at least on its course,’ or once for all; Fortune does not capsize us, – it plunges our bows under & dashes us on the rocks.
“Hold fast, then, to this sound & wholesome rule of life; that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health. The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind.
Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.
It matters little whether the house be built of turf, or of variously coloured imported marble; understand that a person is sheltered just as well by a thatch as by a roof of gold.
Despise everything that useless toil creates as an ornament & an object of beauty.
Reflect that nothing except the soul is worthy of wonder; for to the soul, if it be great, naught is great.”
When I commune in such terms with myself & with future generations, do you not think that I am doing more good than when I appear as counsel in court, or stamp my seal upon a will, or lend my assistance in the senate, by word or action, to a candidate?
Believe me, those who seem to be busied with nothing are busied with the greater tasks; they are dealing at the same time with things mortal & things immortal.
But I must stop, & pay my customary contribution, to balance this letter. The payment shall not be made from my own property; for I am still conning Epicurus.
I read to-day, the following sentence: “If you would enjoy real freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy.” The person who submits & surrenders themselves to it is not kept waiting; One is emancipated on the spot.
For the very service of Philosophy is freedom.
I recall that you yourself expressed this idea much more happily & concisely: