On the benefits of philosophy

Tito Lessi, "The bibliophiles" (?)

But we may fairly say that they alone are engaged in the true duties of life who shall wish to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their most intimate friends every day. No one of these will be “not at home,” no one of these will fail to have his visitor leave more happy and more devoted to himself than when he came, no one of these will allow anyone to leave him with empty hands; all mortals can meet with them by night or by day.
15. No one of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how to die; no one of these will wear out your years, but each will add his own years to yours; conversations with no one of these will bring you peril, the friendship of none will endanger your life, the courting of none will tax your purse. From them you will take whatever you wish; it will be no fault of theirs if you do not draw the utmost that you can desire. What happiness, what a fair old age awaits him who has offered himself as a client to these! He will have friends from whom he may seek counsel on matters great and small, whom he may consult every day about himself, from whom he may hear truth without insult, praise without flattery, and after whose likeness he may fashion himself.
We are wont to say that it was not in our power to choose the parents who fell to our lot, that they have been given to men by chance; yet we may be the sons of whomsoever we will. Households there are of noblest intellects; choose the one into which you wish to be adopted; you will inherit not merely their name, but even their property, which there will be no need to guard in a mean or niggardly spirit; the more persons you share it with, the greater it will become. These will open to you the path to immortality, and will raise you to a height from which no one is cast down. This is the only way of prolonging mortality—nay, of turning it into immortality. Honours, monuments, all that ambition has commanded by decrees or reared in works of stone, quickly sink to ruin; there is nothing that the lapse of time does not tear down and remove. But the works which philosophy has consecrated cannot be harmed; no age will destroy them, no age reduce them; the following and each succeeding age will but increase the reverence for them, since envy works upon what is close at hand, and things that are far off we are more free to admire. The life of the philosopher, therefore, has wide range, and he is not confined by the same bounds that shut others in. He alone is freed from the limitations of the human race; all ages serve him as if a god. Has some time passed by? This he embraces by recollection. Is time present? This he uses. Is it still to come? This he anticipates. He makes his life long by combining all times into one.


5 Hos in ueris officiis morari putamus, licet dicant, qui Zenonem, qui Pythagoran cotidie et Democritum ceterosque antistites bonarum artium, qui Aristotelen et Theophrastum uolent habere quam familiarissimos. Nemo horum non uacabit, nemo non uenientem ad se beatiorem, amantiorem sui dimittet, nemo quemquam uacuis a se manibus abire patietur; nocte conueniri, interdiu ab omnibus mortalibus possunt. XV. 1 Horum te mori nemo coget, omnes docebunt; horum nemo annos tuos conterit, suos tibi contribuit; nullius ex his sermo periculosus erit, nullius amicitia capitalis, nullius sumptuosa obseruatio. Feres ex illis quicquid uoles; per illos non stabit quominus quantum plurimum cupieris haurias. 2 Quae illum felicitas, quam pulchra senectus manet, qui se in horum clientelam contulit! Habebit cum quibus de minimis maximisque rebus deliberet, quos de se cotidie consulat, a quibus audiat uerum sine contumelia, laudetur sine adulatione, ad quorum se similitudinem effingat. 3 Solemus dicere non fuisse in nostra potestate quos sortiremur parentes, forte nobis datos: bonis uero ad suum arbitrium nasci licet. Nobilissimorum ingeniorum familiae sunt: elige in quam adscisci uelis; non in nomen tantum adoptaberis, sed in ipsa bona, quae non erunt sordide nec maligne custodienda: maiora fient quo illa pluribus diuiseris. 4 Hi tibi dabunt ad aeternitatem iter et te in illum locum ex quo nemo deicitur subleuabunt. Haec una ratio est extendendae mortalitatis, immo in immortalitatem uertendae. Honores, monumenta, quicquid aut decretis ambitio iussit aut operibus exstruxit cito subruitur, nihil non longa demolitur uetustas et mouet; at iis quae consecrauit sapientia nocere non potest; nulla abolebit aetas, nulla deminuet; sequens ac deinde semper ulterior aliquid ad uenerationem conferet, quoniam quidem in uicino uersatur inuidia, simplicius longe posita miramur. 5 Sapientis ergo multum patet uita; non idem illum qui ceteros terminus cludit; solus generis humani legibus soluitur; omnia illi saecula ut deo seruiunt. Transiit tempus aliquod? hoc recordatione comprendit; instat? hoc utitur; uenturum est? hoc praecipit. Longam illi uitam facit omnium temporum in unum collatio.

—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae (XIV, 5; XV, 1-5)

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