On the friendship of kindred minds

Gerrit van Honthorst, "Supper party" (1619)

1. When I urge you so strongly to your studies, it is my own interest which I am consulting; I want your friendship, and it cannot fall to my lot unless you proceed, as you have begun, with the task of developing yourself. For now, although you love me, you are not yet my friend. “But,” you reply, “are these words of different meaning?” Nay, more, they are totally unlike in meaning. A friend loves you, of course; but one who loves you is not in every case your friend. Friendship, accordingly, is always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm. Try to perfect yourself, if for no other reason, in order that you may learn how to love.
2. Hasten, therefore, in order that, while thus perfecting yourself for my benefit, you may not have learned perfection for the benefit of another. To be sure, I am already deriving some profit by imagining that we two shall be of one mind, and that whatever portion of my strength has yielded to age will return to me from your strength, although there is not so very much difference in our ages. 3. But yet I wish to rejoice in the accomplished fact. We feel a joy over those whom we love, even when separated from them, but such a joy is light and fleeting; the sight of a man, and his presence, and communion with him, afford something of living pleasure; this is true, at any rate, if one not only sees the man one desires, but the sort of man one desires. Give yourself to me, therefore, as a gift of great price, and, that you may strive the more, reflect that you yourself are mortal, and that I am old. 4. Hasten to find me, but hasten to find yourself first. Make progress, and, before all else, endeavour to be consistent with yourself. And when you would find out whether you have accomplished anything, consider whether you desire the same things today that you desired yesterday. A shifting of the will indicates that the mind is at sea, heading in various directions, according to the course of the wind. But that which is settled and solid does not wander from its place. This is the blessed lot of the completely wise man, and also, to a certain extent, of him who is progressing and has made some headway. Now what is the difference between these two classes of men? The one is in motion, to be sure, but does not change its position; it merely tosses up and down where it is; the other is not in motion at all. Farewell.

[1] Cum te tam valde rogo ut studeas, meum negotium ago: habere amicum volo, quod contingere mihi, nisi pergis ut coepisti excolere te, non potest. Nunc enim amas me, amicus non es. ‘Quid ergo? haec inter se diversa sunt?’ immo dissimilia. Qui amicus est amat; qui amat non utique amicus est; itaque amicitia semper prodest, amor aliquando etiam nocet. [2] Si nihil aliud, ob hoc profice, ut amare discas. Festina ergo dum mihi proficis, ne istuc alteri didiceris. Ego quidem percipio iam fructum, cum mihi fingo uno nos animo futuros et quidquid aetati meae vigoris abscessit, id ad me et tua, quamquam non multum abest, rediturum; sed tamen re quoque ipsa esse laetus volo. [3] Venit ad nos ex iis quos amamus etiam absentibus gaudium, sed id leve et evanidum: conspectus et praesentia et conversatio habet aliquid vivae voluptatis, utique si non tantum quem velis sed qualem velis videas. Affer itaque te mihi, ingens munus, et quo magis instes, cogita te mortalem esse, me senem. [4] Propera ad me, sed ad te prius. Profice et ante omnia hoc cura, ut constes tibi. Quotiens experiri voles an aliquid actum sit, observa an eadem hodie velis quae heri: mutatio voluntatis indicat animum natare, aliubi atque aliubi apparere, prout tulit ventus. Non vagatur quod fixum atque fundatum est: istud sapienti perfecto contingit, aliquatenus et proficienti provectoque. Quid ergo interest? hic commovetur quidem, non tamen transit, sed suo loco nutat; ille ne commovetur quidem. Vale.

—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (XXXV)



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