Seneca Minor, Epistles, CIV.XVI–XX

The Death of Seneca by Peter Paul Rubens

Seneca Minor, Epistles, CIV.XVI–XX

By Hadleigh Zinsner


Author’s Note

Seneca the Younger’s Moral Letters, written and published in the final years of his life, have often been considered the philosopher’s finest contribution to the Western canon, if only for the clarity they have provided future historians in dissecting the core tenets of Stoicism. For example, Letter 104, which I have translated below, expresses the importance of ἀπάθεια, or indifference, towards one’s surroundings.


Latin Text


[16] Quamdiu quidem nescieris quid fugiendum, quid petendum, quid necessarium, quid supervacuum, quid iustum, quid iniustum, quid honestum, quid inhonestum sit, non erit hoc peregrinari sed errare. [17] Nullam tibi opem feret iste discursus; peregrinaris enim cum adfectibus tuis et mala te tua sequuntur. Utinam quidem sequerentur! Longius abessent: nunc fers illa, non ducis. Itaque ubique te premunt et paribus incommodis urunt. Medicina aegro, non regio quaerenda est. [18] Fregit aliquis crus aut extorsit articulum: non vehiculum navemque conscendit, sed advocat medicum ut fracta pars iungatur, ut luxata in locum reponatur. Quid ergo? Animum tot locis fractum et extortum credis locorum mutatione posse sanari? Maius est istud malum quam ut gestatione curetur. [19] Peregrinatio non facit medicum, non oratorem; nulla ars loco discitur: quid ergo? sapientia, ars omnium maxima, in itinere colligitur? Nullum est, mihi crede,iter quod te extra cupiditates, extra iras, extra metus sistat; aut si quod esset, agmine facto gens illuc humana pergeret. Tamdiu ista urguebunt mala macerabuntque per terras ac maria vagum quamdiu malorum gestaveris causas. [20] Fugam tibi non prodesse miraris? tecum sunt quae fugis.



[16] As long as you cannot tell what you ought to flee from what you ought to seek, what is necessary from what is unnecessary, what is just from what is unjust, and what is honorable from what is not, you will not be traveling but instead simply wandering. [17] That running about will bring you no help; for when you travel with your feelings as company, your afflictions also follow you. If only they were truly following! Then they would be farther away: presently, you carry them with you rather than lead them. In this way, your pain presses you everywhere and vexes you with equal damage. It is medicine, not a place, which ought to be sought out by the sick man. [18] Someone who has broken his leg or dislocated a joint does not board a carriage or a ship but instead asks for a doctor so that the fractured part is healed or the dislocated joint is returned to its proper place. What, then, for the mind? Do you believe a mind that has been twisted and broken in so many places can be healed by a change of locations? That pain is too great to be cured by an outing. [19] A journey does not make for a healer, nor even an intercessor; no skill is learned because of your location: what then? Is wisdom, the greatest skill of all, gathered on the road? Believe me: there is no road that leads you beyond desires, beyond anger, beyond fears, or, if there were, the whole human race would take it as a herd. Those afflictions will press you and vex you as you wander through the earth and seas as long as you will have borne with you the causes of the afflictions. [20] Don’t you wonder why flight can be of no aid to you? It is because with you is what you flee.


Hadleigh Zinsner (’25) is a rising junior at Penn majoring in Classical Studies and Linguistics.