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Title: Seekers after God
Author: Farrar, F. W. (Frederic William), 1831-1903
Language: English
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     "Ce nuage frangé de rayons qui toucbe presqu' à l'immortelle aurore
      des vérités chrétiennes."--PONTMAOTIN.


On the banks of the Baetis--the modern Guadalquiver,--and under the
woods that crown the southern slopes of the Sierra Morena, lies the
beautiful and famous city of Cordova. It had been selected by Marcellus
as the site of a Roman colony; and so many Romans and Spaniards of high
rank chose it for their residence, that it obtained from Augustus the
honourable surname of the "Patrician Colony." Spain, during this period
of the Empire, exercised no small influence upon the literature and
politics of Rome. No less than three great Emperors--Trajan, Hadrian,
and Theodosius,--were natives of Spain. Columella, the writer on
agriculture, was born at Cadiz; Quintilian, the great writer on the
education of an orator, was born at Calahorra; the poet Martial was a
native of Bilbilis; but Cordova could boast the yet higher honour of
having given birth to the Senecas, an honour which won for it the
epithet of "The Eloquent." A ruin is shown to modern travellers which
is popularly called the House of Seneca, and the fact is at least a
proof that the city still retains some memory of its illustrious sons.

Marcus Annaeus Seneca, the father of the philosopher, was by rank a
Roman knight. What causes had led him or his family to settle in Spain
we do not know, and the names Annaeus and Seneca are alike obscure. It
has been vaguely conjectured that both names may involve an allusion to
the longevity of some of the founders of the family, for Annaeus seems
to be connected with _annus_, a year, and Seneca with _senex_, an old
man. The common English composite plant ragwort is called _senecio_ from
the white and feathery pappus or appendage of its seeds; and similarly,
Isidore says that the first Seneca was so named because "he was born
with white hair."

Although the father of Seneca was of knightly rank, his family had never
risen to any eminence; it belonged to the class of _nouveaux riches_,
and we do not know whether it was of Roman or of Spanish descent. But
his mother Helvia--an uncommon name, which, by a curious coincidence,
belonged also to the mother of Cicero--was a Spanish lady; and it was
from her that Seneca, as well as his famous nephew, the poet Lucan,
doubtless derived many of the traits which mark their intellect and
their character. There was in the Spaniard a richness and splendour of
imagination, an intensity and warmth, a touch of "phantasy and flame,"
which we find in these two men of genius, and which was wholly wanting
to the Roman temperament.

Of Cordova itself, except in a single epigram, Seneca makes no mention;
but this epigram suffices to show that he must have been familiar with
its stirring and memorable traditions. The elder Seneca must have been
living at Cordova during all the troublous years of civil war, when his
native city caused equal offence to Pompey and to Caesar. Doubtless,
too, he would have had stories to tell of the noble Sertorius, and of
the tame fawn which gained for him the credit of divine assistance; and
contemporary reminiscences of that day of desperate disaster when
Caesar, indignant that Cordova should have embraced the cause of the
sons of Pompey, avenged himself by a massacre of 22,000 of the citizens.
From his mother Helvia, Seneca must often have heard about the fierce
and gallant struggle in which her country had resisted the iron yoke of
Rome. Many a time as a boy must he have been told how long and how
heroically Saguntum had withstood the assaults and baffled the triumph
of Hannibal; how bravely Viriathus had fought, and how shamefully he
fell; and how at length the unequal contest, which reduced Spain to the
condition of a province, was closed, when the heroic defenders of
Numantia, rather than yield to Scipio, reduced their city to a heap of
bloodstained ruins.

But, whatever may have been the extent to which Seneca was influenced by
the Spanish blood which flowed in his veins, and the Spanish legends on
which his youth was fed, it was not in Spain that his lot was cast. When
he was yet an infant in arms his father, with all his family, emigrated
from Cordova to Rome. What may have been the special reason for this
important step we do not know; possibly, like the father of Horace, the
elder Seneca may have sought a better education for his sons than could
be provided by even so celebrated a provincial town as Cordova;
possibly--for he belonged to a somewhat pushing family--he may have
desired to gain fresh wealth and honour in the imperial city.

Thither we must follow him; and, as it is our object not only to depict
a character but also to sketch the characteristics of a very memorable
age in the world's history, we must try to get a glimpse of the family
in the midst of which our young philosopher grew up, of the kind of
education which he received, and of the influences which were likely to
tell upon him during his childish and youthful years. Only by such means
shall we be able to judge of him aright. And it is worth while to try
and gain a right conception of the man, not only because he was very
eminent as a poet, an author, and a politician, not only because he
fills a very prominent place in the pages of the great historian, who
has drawn so immortal a picture of Rome under the Emperors; not only
because in him we can best study the inevitable signs which mark, even
in the works of men of genius, a degraded people and a decaying
literature; but because he was, as the title of this volume designates
him, a "SEEKER AFTER GOD." Whatever may have been the dark and
questionable actions of his life--and in this narrative we shall
endeavor to furnish a plain and unvarnished picture of the manner in
which he lived,--it is certain that, as a philosopher and as a moralist,
he furnishes us with the grandest and most eloquent series of truths to
which, unilluminated by Christianity, the thoughts of man have ever
attained. The purest and most exalted philosophic sect of antiquity was
"the sect of the Stoics;" and Stoicism never found a literary exponent
more ardent, more eloquent, or more enlightened than Lucius Annaeus
Seneca. So nearly, in fact, does he seem to have arrived at the truths
of Christianity, that to many it seemed a matter for marvel that he
could have known them without having heard them from inspired lips. He
is constantly cited with approbation by some of the most eminent
Christian fathers. Tertullian, Lactantius, even St. Augustine himself,
quote his words with marked admiration, and St. Jerome appeals to him as
"_our_ Seneca." The Council of Trent go further still, and quote him as
though he were an acknowledged father of the Church. For many centuries
there were some who accepted as genuine the spurious letters supposed to
have been interchanged between Seneca and St. Paul, in which Seneca is
made to express a wish to hold among the Pagans the same beneficial
position which St. Paul held in the Christian world. The possibility of
such an intercourse, the nature and extent of such supposed obligations,
will come under our consideration hereafter. All that I here desire to
say is, that in considering the life of Seneca we are not only dealing
with a life which was rich in memorable incidents, and which was cast
into an age upon which Christianity dawned as a new light in the
darkness, but also the life of one who climbed the loftiest peaks of the
moral philosophy of Paganism, and who in many respects may be regarded
as the Coryphaeus of what has been sometimes called a Natural Religion.

It is not my purpose to turn aside from the narrative in order to
indulge in moral reflections, because such reflections will come with
tenfold force if they are naturally suggested to the reader's mind by
the circumstances of the biography. But from first to last it will be
abundantly obvious to every thoughtful mind that alike the morality and
the philosophy of Paganism, as contrasted with the splendour of revealed
truth and the holiness of Christian life, are but as moonlight is to
sunlight. The Stoical philosophy may be compared to a torch which flings
a faint gleam here and there in the dusky recesses of a mighty cavern;
Christianity to the sun pouring into the inmost depths of the same
cavern its sevenfold illumination. The torch had a value and brightness
of its own, but compared with the dawning of that new glory it appears
to be dim and ineffectual, even though its brightness was a real
brightness, and had been drawn from the same etherial source.



The exact date of Seneca's birth is uncertain, but it took place in all
probability about seven years before the commencement of the Christian
era. It will give to his life a touch of deep and solemn interest if we
remember that, during all those guilty and stormy scenes amid which his
earlier destiny was cast, there lived and taught in Palestine the Son of
God, the Saviour of the world.

The problems which for many years tormented his mind were beginning to
find their solution, amid far other scenes, by men whose creed and
condition he despised. While Seneca was being guarded by his attendant
slave through the crowded and dangerous streets of Rome on his way to
school, St. Peter and St. John were fisher-lads by the shores of
Gennesareth; while Seneca was ardently assimilating the doctrine of the
stoic Attalus, St. Paul, with no less fervancy of soul, sat learning at
the feet of Gamaliel; and long before Seneca had made his way, through
paths dizzy and dubious, to the zenith of his fame, unknown to him that
Saviour had been crucified through whose only merits he and we can ever
attain to our final rest.

Seneca was about two years old when he was carried to Rome in his
nurse's arms. Like many other men who have succeeded in attaining
eminence, he suffered much from ill-health in his early years. He tells
us of one serious illness from which he slowly recovered under the
affectionate and tender nursing of his mother's sister. All his life
long he was subject to attacks of asthma, which, after suffering every
form of disease, he says that he considers to be the worst. At one time
his personal sufferings weighed so heavily on his spirits that nothing
save a regard for his father's wishes prevented him from suicide: and
later in life he was only withheld from seeking the deliverance of death
by the tender affection of his wife Paulina. He might have used with
little alteration the words of Pope, that his various studies but served
to help him

     "Through _this long disease, my life_."

The recovery from this tedious illness is the only allusion which Seneca
has made to the circumstances of his childhood. The ancient writers,
even the ancient poets, but rarely refer, even in the most cursory
manner, to their early years. The cause of this reticence offers a
curious problem for our inquiry, but the fact is indisputable. Whereas
there is scarcely a single modern poet who has not lingered with
undisguised feelings of happiness over the gentle memories of his
childhood, not one of the ancient poets has systematically touched upon
the theme at all. From Lydgate down to Tennyson, it would be easy to
quote from our English poets a continuous line of lyric songs on the
subject of boyish years. How to the young child the fir-trees seemed to
touch the sky, how his heart leaped up at the sight of the rainbow, how
he sat at his mother's feet and pricked into paper the tissued flowers
of her dress, how he chased the bright butterfly, or in his tenderness
feared to brush even the dust from off its wings, how he learnt sweet
lessons and said innocent prayers at his father's knee; trifles like
these, yet trifles which may have been rendered noble and beautiful by a
loving imagination, have been narrated over and over again in the songs
of our poets. The lovely lines of Henry Vaughan might be taken as a type
of thousands more:--

     "Happy those early days, when I
      Shined in my Angel infancy.
      Before I understood this place
      Appointed for my second race,
      Or taught my soul to fancy aught
      But a white celestial thought;

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Before I taught my tongue to wound
      My conscience with a sinful sound
      Or had the black art to dispense
      A several sin to every sense;
      But felt through all this fleshy dress,
      Bright shoots of everlastingness."

The memory of every student of English poetry will furnish countless
parallels to thoughts like these. How is it that no similar poem could
be quoted from the whole range of ancient literature? How is it that to
the Greek and Roman poets that morning of life, which should have been
so filled with "natural blessedness," seems to have been a blank? How is
it that writers so voluminous, so domestic, so affectionate as Cicero,
Virgil, and Horace do not make so much as a single allusion to the
existence of their own mothers?

To answer this question fully would be to write an entire essay on the
difference between ancient and modern life, and would carry me far away
from my immediate subject.[1] But I may say generally, that the
explanation rests in the fact that in all probability childhood among
the ancients was a disregarded, and in most cases a far less happy,
period than it is with us. The birth of a child in the house of a Greek
or a Roman was not necessarily a subject for rejoicing. If the father,
when the child was first shown to him, stooped down and took it in his
arms, it was received as a member of the family; if he left it unnoticed
then it was doomed to death, and was exposed in some lonely or barren
place to the mercy of the wild beasts, or of the first passer by. And
even if a child escaped this fate, yet for the first seven or eight
years of life he was kept in the gynaeceum, or women's apartments, and
rarely or never saw his father's face. No halo of romance or poetry was
shed over those early years. Until the child was full grown the absolute
power of life or death rested in his father's hands; he had no freedom,
and met with little notice. For individual life the ancients had a very
slight regard; there was nothing autobiographic or introspective in
their temperament. With them public life, the life of the State, was
everything; domestic life, the life of the individual, occupied but a
small share of their consideration. All the innocent pleasures of
infancy, the joys of the hearth, the charm of the domestic circle, the
flow and sparkle of childish gaity, were by them but little appreciated.
The years before manhood were years of prospect, and in most cases they
offered but little to make them worth the retrospect. It is a mark of
the more modern character which stamps the writings of Seneca, as
compared with earlier authors, that he addresses his mother in terms of
the deepest affection, and cannot speak of his darling little son except
in a voice that seems to break with tears.

[Footnote 1: See, however, the same question treated from a somewhat
different point of view by M. Nisard, in his charming _Études sur les
Poëtes de la Décadence_, ii. 17, _sqq_.]

Let us add another curious consideration. The growth of the personal
character, the reminiscences of a life advancing into perfect
consciousness, are largely moulded by the gradual recognition of moral
laws, by the sense of mystery evolved in the inevitable struggle between
duty and pleasure,--between the desire to do right and the temptation to
do wrong. But among the ancients the conception of morality was so
wholly different from ours, their notions of moral obligation were, in
the immense majority of cases, so much less stringent and so much less
important, they had so faint a disapproval for sins which we condemn,
and so weak an indignation against vices which we abhor, that in their
early years we can hardly suppose them to have often fathomed those
"abysmal deeps of personality," the recognition of which is a necessary
element of marked individual growth.

We have, therefore, no materials for forming any vivid picture of
Seneca's childhood; but, from what we gather about the circumstances and
the character of his family, we should suppose that he was exceptionally
fortunate. The Senecas were wealthy; they held a good position in
society; they were a family of cultivated taste, of literary pursuits,
of high character, and of amiable dispositions. Their wealth raised them
above the necessity of those mean cares and degrading shifts to eke out
a scanty livelihood which mark the career of other literary men who were
their contemporaries. Their rank and culture secured them the intimacy
of all who were best worth knowing in Roman circles; and the general
dignity and morality which marked their lives would free them from all
likelihood of being thrown into close intercourse with the numerous
class of luxurious epicureans, whose unblushing and unbounded vice gave
an infamous notority to the capital of the world.

Of Marcus Annaeus Seneca, the father of our philosopher, we know few
personal particulars, except that he was a professional rhetorician, who
drew up for the use of his sons and pupils a number of oratorical
exercises, which have come down to us under the names of _Suasoriae_ and
_Controversiae_. They are a series of declamatory arguments on both
sides, respecting a number of historical or purely imaginary subjects;
and it would be impossible to conceive any reading more utterly
unprofitable. But the elder Seneca was steeped to the lips in an
artificial rhetoric; and these highly elaborated arguments, invented in
order to sharpen the faculties for purposes of declamation and debate,
were probably due partly to his note-book and partly to his memory. His
memory was so prodigious that after hearing two thousand words he could
repeat them again in the same order. Few of those who have possessed
such extraordinary powers of memory have been men of first-rate talent,
and the elder Seneca was no exception. But if his memory did not improve
his original genius, it must at any rate have made him a very agreeable
member of society, and have furnished him with an abundant store of
personal and political anecdotes. In short, Marcus Seneca was a
well-to-do, intelligent man of the world, with plenty of common sense,
with a turn for public speaking, with a profound dislike and contempt
for anything which he considered philosophical or fantastic, and with a
keen eye to the main advantage.

His wife Helvia, if we may trust the panegyric of her son, was on the
other hand a far less commonplace character. But for her husband's
dislike to learning and philosophy she would have become a proficient in
both, and in a short period of study she had made a considerable
advance. Yet her intellect was less remarkable than the nobility and
sweetness of her mind; other mothers loved their sons because their own
ambition was gratified by their honours, and their feminine wants
supplied by their riches; but Helvia loved her sons for their own sakes,
treated them with liberal generosity, but refused to reap any personal
benefit from their wealth, managed their patrimonies with disinterested
zeal, and spent her own money to bear the expenses of their political
career. She rose superior to the foibles and vices of her time.
Immodesty, the plague-spot of her age, had never infected her pure life.
Gems and pearls had little charms for her. She was never ashamed of her
children, as though their presence betrayed her own advancing age. "You
never stained your face," says her son, when writing to console her in
his exile, "with walnut-juice or rouge; you never delighted in dresses
indelicately low; your single ornament was a loveliness which no age
could destroy; your special glory was a conspicuous chastity." We may
well say with Mr. Tennyson--

     "Happy he
      With such a mother! faith in womankind
      Beats with his blood, and trust in all things high
      Comes easy to him, and, though he trip and fall,
      He shall not blind his soul with clay."

Nor was his mother Helvia the only high-minded lady in whose society
the boyhood of Seneca was spent. Her sister, whose name is unknown, that
aunt who had so tenderly protected the delicate boy, and nursed him
through the sickness of his infancy, seems to have inspired him with an
affection of unusual warmth. He tells us how, when her husband was
Prefect of Egypt, so far was she from acting as was usual with the wives
of provincial governors, that she was as much respected and beloved as
they were for the most part execrated and shunned. So serious was the
evil caused by these ladies, so intolerable was their cruel rapacity,
that it had been seriously debated in the Senate whether they should
ever be allowed to accompany their husbands. Not so with Helvia's
sister. She was never seen in public; she allowed no provincial to visit
her house; she begged no favour for herself, and suffered none to be
begged from her. The province not only praised her, but, what was still
more to her credit, barely knew anything about her, and longed in vain
for another lady who should imitate her virtue and self-control. Egypt
was the headquarters for biting and loquacious calumny, yet even Egypt
never breathed a word against the sanctity of her life. And when during
their homeward voyage her husband died, in spite of danger and tempest
and the deeply-rooted superstition which considered it perilous to sail
with a corpse on board, not even the imminent peril of shipwreck could
drive her to separate herself from her husband's body until she had
provided for its safe and honorable sepulchre. These are the traits of a
good and heroic woman; and that she reciprocated the regard which makes
her nephew so emphatic in her praise may be conjectured from the fact
that, when he made his _début_ as a candidate for the honours of the
State, she emerged from her habitual seclusion, laid aside for a time
her matronly reserve, and, in order to assist him in his canvass, faced
for his sake the rustic impertinence and ambitious turbulence of the
crowds who thronged the Forum and the streets of Rome.

Two brothers, very different from each other in their habits and
character, completed the family circle, Marcus Annaeus Novatus and
Lucius Annaeus Mela, of whom the former was older the latter younger,
than their more famous brother.

Marcus Annaeus Novatus is known to history under the name of Junius
Gallio, which he took when adopted by the orator of that name, who was a
friend of his father. He is none other than the Gallio of the Acts, the
Proconsul of Achaia, whose name has passed current among Christians as a
proverb of complacent indifference.[2]

[Footnote 2: Acts xxv. 19.]

The scene, however, in which Scripture gives us a glimpse of him has
been much misunderstood, and to talk of him as "careless Gallio," or to
apply the expression that "he cared for none of these things," to
indifference in religious matters, is entirely to misapply the spirit of
the narrative. What really happened was this. The Jews, indignant at the
success of Paul's preaching, dragged him before the tribunal of Gallio,
and accused him of introducing illegal modes of worship. When the
Apostle was about to defend himself, Gallio contemptuously cut him short
by saying to the Jews, "If in truth there were in question any act of
injustice or wicked misconduct, I should naturally have tolerated your
complaint. But if this is some verbal inquiry about mere technical
matters of your law, look after it yourselves. I do not choose to be a
judge of such matters." With these words he drove them from his
judgment-seat with exactly the same fine Roman contempt for the Jews and
their religious affairs as was subsequently expressed by Festus to the
sceptical Agrippa, and as had been expressed previously by Pontius
Pilate[3] to the tumultous Pharisees. Exulting at this discomfiture of
the hated Jews and apparently siding with Paul, the Greeks then went in
a body, seized Sosthenes, the leader of the Jewish synagogue, and beat
him in full view of the Proconsul seated on his tribunal. This was the
event at which Gallio looked on with such imperturbable disdain. What
could it possibly matter to him, the great Proconsul, whether the Greeks
beat a poor wretch of a Jew or not? So long as they did not make a riot,
or give him any further trouble about the matter, they might beat
Sosthenes or any number of Jews black and blue if it pleased them, for
all he was likely to care.

[Footnote 3: Matt. xxvii. 24, "See ye to it." Cf. Acts xiv. 15, "Look ye
to it." Toleration existed in the Roman Empire, and the magistrates
often interfered to protect the Jews from massacre; but they absolutely
and persistently refused to trouble themselves with any attempt to
understand their doctrines or enter into their disputes. The tradition
that Gallio sent some of St. Paul's writings to his brother Seneca is
utterly absurd; and indeed at this time (A.D. 54), St. Paul had written
nothing except the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. (See Conybeare and
Howson, _St. Paul_, vol. i. Ch. xii.; Aubertin, _Sénèque et St. Paul_.)]

What a vivid glimpse do we here obtain, from the graphic picture of an
eye-witness, of the daily life in an ancient provincial forum; how
completely do we seem to catch sight for a moment of that habitual
expression of contempt which curled the thin lips of a Roman aristocrat
in the presence of subject nations, and especially of Jews! If Seneca
had come across any of the Alexandrian Jews in his Egyptian travels, the
only impression left on his mind was that expressed by Tacitus, Juvenal,
and Suetonius, who never mention the Jews without execration. In a
passage, quoted by St. Augustine (_De Civit. Dei_, iv. 11) from his lost
book on Superstitions, Seneca speaks of the multitude of their
proselytes, and calls them "_gens sceleratissima_," a "_most criminal
race_." It has been often conjectured--it has even been seriously
believed--that Seneca had personal intercourse with St. Paul and learnt
from him some lessons of Christianity. The scene on which we have just
been gazing will show us the utter unlikelihood of such a supposition.
Probably the nearest opportunity which ever occurred to bring the
Christian Apostle into intellectual contact with the Roman philosopher
was this occasion, when St. Paul was dragged as a prisoner into the
presence of Seneca's elder brother. The utter contempt and indifference
with which he was treated, the manner in which he was summarily cut
short before he could even open his lips in his own defence, will give
us a just estimate of the manner in which Seneca would have been likely
to regard St. Paul. It is highly improbable that Gallio ever retained
the slightest impression or memory of so every-day a circumstance as
this, by which alone he is known to the world. It is possible that he
had not even heard the mere name of Paul, and that, if he ever thought
of him at all, it was only as a miserable, ragged, fanatical Jew, of dim
eyes and diminutive stature, who had once wished to inflict upon him a
harangue, and who had once come for a few moments "betwixt the wind and
his nobility." He would indeed have been unutterably amazed if anyone
had whispered to him that well nigh the sole circumstance which would
entitle him to be remembered by posterity, and the sole event of his
life by which he would be at all generally known, was that momentary and
accidental relation to his despised prisoner.

But Novatus--or, to give him his adopted name, Gallio--presented to his
brother Seneca, and to the rest of the world, a very different aspect
from that under which we are wont to think of him. By them he was
regarded as an illustrious declaimer, in an age when declamation was the
most valued of all accomplishments. It was true that there was a sort of
"tinkle," a certain falsetto tone in his style, which offended men of
robust and severe taste; but this meretricious resonance of style was a
matter of envy and admiration when affectation was the rage, and when
the times were too enervated and too corrupt for the manly conciseness
and concentrated force of an eloquence dictated by liberty and by
passion. He seems to have acquired both among his friends and among
strangers the epithet of "dulcis," "the charming or fascinating Gallio:"
"This is more," says the poet Statius, "than to have given Seneca to the
world, and to have begotten the sweet Gallio." Seneca's portrait of him
is singularly faultless. He says that no one was so gentle to any one as
Gallio was to every one; that his charm of manner won over even the
people whom mere chance threw in his way, and that such was the force of
his natural goodness that no one suspected his behaviour, as though it
were due to art or simulation. Speaking of flattery, in his fourth book
of Natural Questions, he says to his friend Lucilius, "I used to say to
you that my brother Gallio _(whom every one loves a little, even people
who cannot love him more)_ was wholly _ignorant_ of other vices, but
even _detested_ this. You might try him in any direction. You began to
praise his intellect--an intellect of the highest and worthiest kind,...
and he walked away! You began to praise his moderation, he instantly cut
short your first words. You began to express admiration for his
blandness and natural suavity of manner,... yet even here he resisted
your compliments; and if you were led to exclaim that you had found a
man who could not be overcome by those insidious attacks which every one
else admits, and hoped that he would at least tolerate _this_ compliment
because of its truth, even on this ground he would resist your flattery;
not as though you had been awkward, or as though he suspected that you
were jesting with him, or had some secret end in view, but simply
because he had a horror of every form of adulation." We can easily
imagine that Gallio was Seneca's favorite brother, and we are not
surprised to find that the philosopher dedicates to him his three books
on Anger, and his charming little treatise "On a Happy Life."

Of the third brother, L. Annaeus Mela, we have fewer notices; but, from
what we know, we should conjecture that his character no less than his
reputation was inferior to that of his brothers; yet he seems to have
been the favorite of his father, who distinctly asserts that his
intellect was capable of every excellence, and superior to that of his
brothers.[4] This, however, may have been because Mela, "longing only to
long for nothing," was content with his father's rank, and devoted
himself wholly to the study of eloquence. Instead of entering into
public life, he deliberately withdrew himself from all civil duties, and
devoted himself to tranquility and ease. Apparently he preferred to be a
farmer-general (_publicanus_) and not a consul. His chief fame rests in
the fact that he was father of Lucan, the poet of the decadence or
declining literature of Rome. The only anecdote about him which has come
down to us is one that sets his avarice in a very unfavourable light.
When his famous son, the unhappy poet, had forfeited his life, as well
as covered himself with infamy by denouncing his own mother Attila in
the conspiracy of Piso, Mela, instead of being overwhelmed with shame
and agony, immediately began to collect with indecent avidity his son's
debts, as though to show Nero that he felt no great sorrow for his
bereavement. But this was not enough for Nero's malice; he told Mela
that he must follow his son, and Mela was forced to obey the order,
and to die.

[Footnote 4: M. Ann. Senec. _Controv_. ii. _Praef_.]

Doubtless Helvia, if she survived her sons and grandsons, must have
bitterly rued the day when, with her husband and her young children, she
left the quiet retreat of a life in Cordova. Each of the three boys grew
up to a man of genius, and each of them grew up to stain his memory with
deeds that had been better left undone, and to die violent deaths by
their own hands or by a tyrant's will. Mela died as we have seen; his
son Lucan and his brother Seneca were driven to death by the cruel
orders of Nero. Gallio, after stooping to panic-stricken supplications
for his preservation, died ultimately by suicide. It was a shameful and
miserable end for them all, but it was due partly to their own errors,
partly to the hard necessity of the degraded times in which they lived.



For a reason which I have already indicated--I mean the habitual
reticence of the ancient writers respecting the period of their
boyhood--it is not easy to form a very vivid conception of the kind of
education given to a Roman boy of good family up to the age of fifteen,
when he laid aside the golden amulet and embroidered toga to assume a
more independent mode of life.

A few facts, however, we can gather from the scattered allusions of the
poets Horace, Juvenal, Martial, and Persius. From these we learn that
the schoolmasters were for the most part underpaid and despised,[5]
while at the same time an erudition alike minute and useless was rigidly
demanded of them. We learn also that they were exceedingly severe in the
infliction of corporeal punishment; Orbilius, the schoolmaster of
Horace, appears to have been a perfect Dr. Busby, and the poet Martial
records with indignation the barbarities of chastisement which he daily

[Footnote 5: For the miseries of the literary class, and especially of
schoolmasters, see Juv, _Sat_. vii.]

The things taught were chiefly arithmetic, grammar--both Greek and
Latin--reading, and repetition of the chief Latin poets. There was also
a good deal of recitation and of theme-writing on all kinds of trite
historical subjects. The arithmetic seems to have been mainly of a very
simple and severely practical kind, especially the computation of
interest and compound interest; and the philology generally, both
grammar and criticism, was singularly narrow, uninteresting, and
useless. Of what conceivable advantage can it have been to any human
being to know the name of the mother of Hecuba, of the nurse of
Anchises, of the stepmother of Anchemolus, the number of years Acestes
lived, and how many casks of wine the Sicilians gave to the Phrygians?
Yet these were the dispicable _minutiae_ which every schoolmaster was
then expected to have at his fingers' ends, and every boy-scholar to
learn at the point of the ferule--trash which was only fit to be
unlearned the moment it was known.

For this kind of verbal criticism and fantastic archaeology Seneca, who
had probably gone through it all, expresses a profound and very rational
contempt. In a rather amusing passage[6] he contrasts the kind of use
which would be made of a Virgil lesson by a philosopher and a
grammarian. Coming to the lines,

     "Each happiest day for mortals speeds the first,
      Then crowds disease behind and age accurst,"

the philosopher will point out why and in what sense the early days of
life are the best days, and how rapidly the evil days succeed them, and
consequently how infinitely important it is to use well the golden dawn
of our being. But the verbal critic will content himself with the
remark that Virgil always uses _fugio_ of the flight of time, and
always joins "old age" with "disease," and consequently that these are
tags to be remembered, and plagiarized hereafter in the pupils'
"_original_ composition." Similarly, if the book in hand be Cicero's
treatise "On the Commonwealth," instead of entering into great political
questions, our grammarian will note that one of the Roman kings had no
father (to speak of), and another no mother; that dictators used
formerly to be called "masters of the people;" that Romulus perished
during an eclipse; that the old form of _reipsa_ was _reapse_, and of
_se ipse_ was _sepse_; that the starting point in the circus which is
now called _creta_, or "chalk," used to be called _caix_, or _carcer_;
that in the time of Ennuis _opera_ meant not only "work," but also
"assistance," and so on, and so on. Is this true education? or rather,
should our great aim ever be to translate noble precepts into daily
action? "Teach me," he says, "to despise pleasure and glory;
_afterwards_ you shall teach me to disentangle difficulties, to
distinguish ambiguities, to see through obscurities; _now_ teach me what
is necessary." Considering the condition of much which in modern times
passes under the name of "education," we may possibly find that the
hints of Seneca are not yet wholly obsolete.

[Footnote 6: Ep. cviii.]

What kind of schoolmaster taught the little Seneca when under the care
of the slave who was called _pedagogus_, or a "boy-leader" (whence our
word _pedagogue_), he daily went with his brothers to school through the
streets of Rome, we do not know. He may have been a severe Orbilius, or
he may have been one of those noble-minded tutors whose ideal
portraiture is drawn in such beautiful colours by the learned and
amiable Quintilian. Seneca has not alluded to any one who taught him
during his early days. The only schoolfellow whom he mentions by name
in his voluminous writings is a certain Claranus, a deformed boy, whom,
after leaving school, Seneca never met again until they were both old
men, but of whom he speaks with great admiration. In spite of his
hump-back, Claranus appeared even beautiful in the eyes of those who
knew him well, because his virtue and good sense left a stronger
impression than his deformity, and "his body was adorned by the beauty
of his soul."

It was not until mere school-lessons were finished that a boy began
seriously to enter upon the studies of eloquence and philosophy, which
therefore furnish some analogy to what we should call "a university
education." Gallio and Mela, Seneca's elder and younger brothers,
devoted themselves heart and soul to the theory and practice of
eloquence; Seneca made the rarer and the wiser choice in giving his
entire enthusiasm to the study of philosophy.

I say the wiser choice, because eloquence is not a thing for which one
can give a receipt as one might give a receipt for making
_eau-de-Cologne_. Eloquence is the noble, the harmonious, the passionate
expression of truths profoundly realized, or of emotions intensely felt.
It is a flame which cannot be kindled by artificial means. _Rhetoric_
may be taught if any one thinks it worth learning; but _eloquence_ is a
gift as innate as the genius from which it springs. "_Cujus vita fulgur,
ejus verba tonitrua_"--"if a man's life be lightning, his words will be
thunders." But the kind of oratory to be obtained by a constant practice
of declamation such as that which occupied the schools of the Rhetors
will be a very artificial lightning and a very imitated thunder--not the
artillery of heaven, but the Chinese fire and rolled bladders of the
stage. Nothing could be more false, more hollow, more pernicious than
the perpetual attempt to drill numerous classes of youths into a
reproduction of the mere manner of the ancient orators. An age of
unlimited declamation, an age of incessant talk, is a hotbed in which
real depth and nobility of feeling runs miserably to seed. Style is
never worse than it is in ages which employ themselves in teaching
little else. Such teaching produces an emptiness of thought concealed
under a plethora of words. This age of countless oratorical masters was
emphatically the period of decadence and decay. There is a hollow ring
about it, a falsetto tone in its voice; a fatiguing literary grimace in
the manner of its authors. Even its writers of genius were injured and
corrupted by the prevailing mode. They can say nothing simply; they are
always in contortions. Their very indignation and bitterness of heart,
genuine as it is, assumes a theatrical form of expression.[7] They
abound in unrealities: their whole manner is defaced with would-be
cleaverness, with antitheses, epigrams, paradoxes, forced expressions,
figures and tricks of speech, straining after originality and profundity
when they are merely repeating very commonplace remarks. What else could
one expect in an age of salaried declaimers, educated in a false
atmosphere of superficial talk, for ever haranguing and perorating about
great passions which they had never felt, and great deeds which they
would have been the last to imitate? After perpetually immolating the
Tarquins and the Pisistratids in inflated grandiloquence, they would go
to lick the dust off a tyrant's shoes. How could eloquence survive when
the magnanimity and freedom which inspired it were dead, and when the
men and books which professed to teach it were filled with despicable
directions about the exact position in which the orator was to use his
hands, and as to whether it was a good thing or not for him to slap his
forehead and disarrange his hair?

[Footnote 7:
     "Juvénal, élevé dans les cris de l'école
      Poussa jusqu'à l'excès sa mordante hyperbole."--

The philosophic teaching which even from boyhood exercised a powerful
fascination on the eager soul of Seneca was at least something better
than this; and more than one of his philosophic teachers succeeded in
winning his warm affection, and in moulding the principles and habits of
his life. Two of them he mentions with special regard, namely Sotion the
Pythagorean, and Attalus the Stoic. He also heard the lectures of the
fluent and musical Fabianus Papirius, but seems to have owed less to him
than to his other teachers.

Sotion had embraced the views of Pythagoras respecting the
transmigration of souls, a doctrine which made the eating of animal food
little better than cannibalism or parricide. But, even if any of his
followers rejected this view, Sotion would still maintain that the
eating of animals, if not an impiety, was at least a cruelty and a
waste. "What hardship does my advice inflict on you?" he used to ask. "I
do but deprive you of the food of vultures and lions." The ardent
boy--for at this time he could not have been more than seventeen years
old--was so convinced by these considerations that he became a
vegetarian. At first the abstinence from meat was painful, but after a
year he tells us (and many vegetarians will confirm his experience) it
was not only easy but delightful; and he used to believe, though he
would not assert it as a fact, that it made his intellect more keen and
active. He only ceased to be a vegetarian in obedience to the
remonstrance of his unphilosophical father, who would have easily
tolerated what he regarded as a mere vagary had it not involved the
danger of giving rise to a calumny. For about this time Tiberius
banished from Rome all the followers of strange and foreign religions;
and, as fasting was one of the rites practiced in some of them, Seneca's
father thought that perhaps his son might incur, by abstaining from
meat, the horrible suspicion of being a Christian or a Jew!

Another Pythagorean philosopher whom he admired and whom he quotes was
Sextius, from whom he learnt the admirable practice of daily
self-examination:--"When the day was over, and he betook himself to his
nightly rest, he used to ask himself, What evil have you cured to day?
What vice have you resisted? In what particular have you improved?" "I
too adopt this custom," says Seneca, in his book on Anger, "and I daily
plead my cause before myself, when the light has been taken away, and my
wife, who is now aware of my habit, has become silent; I carefully
consider in my heart the entire day, and take a deliberate estimate of
my deeds and words."

It was however the Stoic Attalus who seems to have had the main share in
the instruction of Seneca; and _his_ teaching did not involve any
practical results which the elder Seneca considered objectionable. He
tells us how he used to haunt the school of the eloquent philosopher,
being the first to enter and the last to leave it. "When I heard him
declaiming," he says, "against vice, and error, and the ills of life, I
often felt compassion for the human race, and believed my teacher to be
exalted above the ordinary stature of mankind. In Stoic fashion he used
to call himself a king; but to me his sovereignty seemed more than
royal, seeing that it was in his power to pass his judgments on kings
themselves. When he began to set forth the praises of poverty, and to
show how heavy and superfluous was the burden of all that exceeded the
ordinary wants of life, I often longed to leave school a poor man. When
he began to reprehend our pleasures, to praise a chaste body, a moderate
table, and a mind pure not from all unlawful but even from all
superfluous pleasures, it was my delight to set strict limits to all
voracity and gluttony. And these precepts, my Lucilius, have left some
permanent results; for I embraced them with impetuous eagerness, and
afterwards, when I entered upon a political career, I retained a few of
my good beginnings. In consequence of them, I have all my life long
renounced eating oysters and mushrooms, which do not satisfy hunger but
only sharpen appetite; for this reason I habitually abstain from
perfumes, because the sweetest perfume for the body is none at all: for
this reason I do without wines and baths. Other habits which I once
abandoned have come back to me, but in such a way that I merely
substitute moderation for abstinence, which perhaps is a still more
difficult task; since there are some things which it is easier for the
mind to cut away altogether than to enjoy in moderation. Attalus used to
recommend a hard couch in which the body could not sink; and, even in my
old age, I use one of such a kind that it leaves no impress of the
sleeper. I have told you these anecdotes to prove to you what eager
impulses our little scholars would have to all that is good, if any one
were to exhort them and urge them on. But the harm springs partly from
the fault of preceptors, who teach us how to _argue_, not how to _live_;
and partly from the fault of pupils, who bring to their teacher a
purpose of training their intellect and not their souls. Thus it is
that philosophy has been degraded into mere philology."

In another lively passage, Seneca brings vividly before us a picture of
the various scholars assembled in a school of the philosophers. After
observing that philosophy exercises some influence even over those who
do not go deeply in it, just as people sitting in a shop of perfumes
carry away with them some of the odour, he adds, "Do we not, however,
know some who have been among the audience of a philosopher for many
years, and have been even entirely uncoloured by his teaching? Of course
I do, even most persistent and continuous hearers; whom I do not call
pupils, but mere passing auditors of philosophers. Some come to hear,
not to learn, just as we are brought into a theatre for pleasure's sake,
to delight our ears with language, or with the voice, or with plays. You
will observe a large portion of the audience to whom the philosopher's
school is a mere haunt of their leisure. Their object is not to lay
aside any vices there, or to accept any law in accordance with which
they may conform their life, but that they may enjoy a mere tickling of
their ears. Some, however, even come with tablets in their hands, to
catch up not _things_ but _words_. Some with eager countenances and
spirits are kindled by magnificent utterances, and these are charmed by
the beauty of the thoughts, not by the sound of empty words; but the
impression is not lasting. Few only have attained the power of carrying
home with them the frame of mind into which they had been elevated."

It was to this small latter class that Seneca belonged. He became a
Stoic from very early years. The Stoic philosophers, undoubtedly the
noblest and purest of ancient sects, received their name from the fact
that their founder Zeno had lectured in the Painted Porch or Stoa
Paecile of Athens. The influence of these austere and eloquent masters,
teaching high lessons of morality and continence, and inspiring their
young audience with the glow of their own enthusiasm for virtue, must
have been invaluable in that effete and drunken age. Their doctrines
were pushed to yet more extravagant lengths by the Cynics, who were so
called from a Greek word meaning "dog," from what appeared to the
ancients to be the dog-like brutality of their manners. Juvenal
scornfully remarks, that the Stoics only differed from the Cynics "by a
tunic," which the Stoics wore and the Cynics discarded. Seneca never
indeed adopted the practices of Cynicism, but he often speaks admiringly
of the arch-Cynic Diogenes, and repeatedly refers to the Cynic
Demetrius, as a man deserving of the very highest esteem. "I take with
me everywhere," writes he to Lucilius, "that best of men, Demetrius;
and, leaving those who wear purple robes, I talk with him who is half
naked. Why should I not admire him? I have seen that he has no want. Any
one may despise all things, but no one _can_ possess all things. The
shortest road to riches lies through contempt of riches. But our
Demetrius lives not as though he _despised_ all things, but as though he
simply suffered others to possess them."

These habits and sentiments throw considerable light on Seneca's
character. They show that even from his earliest days he was capable of
adopting self-denial as a principle, and that to his latest days he
retained many private habits of a simple and honourable character, even
when the exigencies of public life had compelled him to modify others.
Although he abandoned an unusual abstinence out of respect for his
father, we have positive evidence that he resumed in his old age the
spare practices which in his enthusiastic youth he had caught from the
lessons of high-minded teachers. These facts are surely sufficient to
refute at any rate those gross charges against the private character of
Seneca, venomously retailed by a jealous Greekling like Dio Cassius,
which do not rest on a tittle of evidence, and seem to be due to a mere
spirit of envy and calumny. I shall not again allude to these scandals
because I utterly disbelieve them. A man who in his "History" could, as
Dio Cassius has done, put into the mouth of a Roman senator such insane
falsehoods as he has pretended that Fufius Calenus uttered in full
senate against Cicero, was evidently actuated by a spirit which
disentitles his statements to my credence. Seneca was an inconsistent
philosopher both in theory and in practice; he fell beyond all question
into serious errors, which deeply compromise his character; but, so far
from being a dissipated or luxurious man, there is every reason to
believe that in the very midst of wealth and splendour, and all the
temptations which they involve, he retained alike the simplicity of his
habits and the rectitude of his mind. Whatever may have been the almost
fabulous value of his five hundred tables of cedar and ivory, they were
rarely spread with any more sumptuous entertainment than water,
vegetables, and fruit. Whatever may have been the amusements common
among his wealthy and noble contemporaries, we know that he found his
highest enjoyment in the innocent pleasures of his garden, and took some
of his exercise by running races there with a little slave.



We have gleaned from Seneca's own writings what facts we could
respecting his early education. But in the life of every man there are
influences of a far more real and penetrating character than those which
come through the medium of schools or teachers. The spirit of the age;
the general tone of thought, the prevalent habits of social intercourse,
the political tendencies which were moulding the destiny of the
nation,--these must have told, more insensibly indeed but more
powerfully, on the mind of Seneca than even the lectures of Sotion and
of Attalus. And, if we have had reason to fear that there was much which
was hollow in the fashionable education, we shall see that the general
aspect of the society by which our young philosopher was surrounded from
the cradle was yet more injurious and deplorable.

The darkness is deepest just before the dawn, and never did a grosser
darkness or a thicker mist of moral pestilence brood over the surface of
Pagan society than at the period when the Sun of Righteousness arose
with healing in His wings. There have been many ages when the dense
gloom of a heartless immorality seemed to settle down with unusual
weight; there have been many places where, under the gaslight of an
artificial system, vice has seemed to acquire an unusual audacity; but
never probably was there any age or any place where the worst forms of
wickedness were practiced with a more unblushing effrontery than in the
city of Rome under the government of the Caesars. A deeply-seated
corruption seemed to have fastened upon the very vitals of the national
existence. It is surely a lesson of deep moral significance that just as
they became most polished in their luxury they became most vile in their
manner of life. Horace had already bewailed that "the age of our
fathers, worse than that of our grandsires, has produced us who are yet
baser, and who are doomed to give birth to a still more degraded
offspring." But fifty years later it seemed to Juvenal that in his times
the very final goal of iniquity had been attained, and he exclaims, in a
burst of despair, that "posterity will add _nothing_ to our immorality;
our descendents can but do and desire the same crimes as ourselves." He
who would see but for a moment and afar off to what the Gentile world
had sunk, at the very period when Christianity began to spread, may form
some faint and shuddering conception from the picture of it drawn in the
Epistle to the Romans.

We ought to realize this fact if we would judge of Seneca aright. Let us
then glance at the condition of the society in the midst of which he
lived. Happily we can but glance at it. The worst cannot be told. Crimes
may be spoken of; but things monstrous and inhuman should for ever be
concealed. We can but stand at the cavern's mouth, and cast a single ray
of light into its dark depths. Were we to enter, our lamp would be
quenched by the foul things which would cluster round it.

In the age of Augustus began that "long slow agony," that melancholy
process of a society gradually going to pieces under the dissolving
influence of its own vices which lasted almost without interruption till
nothing was left for Rome except the fire and sword of barbaric
invasions. She saw not only her glories but also her virtues "star by
star expire." The old heroism, the old beliefs, the old manliness and
simplicity, were dead and gone; they had been succeeded by prostration
and superstition by luxury and lust.

     "There is the moral of all human tales,
     'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,
     First freedom, and then glory; when that fails,
     Wealth, vice, corruption,--barbarism at last:
     And history, with all her volumes vast,
     Hath but one page; 'tis better written here
     Where gorgeous tyranny hath thus amassed
     All treasures, all delights, that eye or ear,
     Heart, soul could seek, tongue ask."

The mere elements of society at Rome during this period were very
unpromising. It was a mixture of extremes. There was no middle class. At
the head of it was an emperor, often deified in his lifetime, and
separated from even the noblest of the senators by a distance of
immeasurable superiority. He, was, in the startling language of Gibbon,
at once "a priest, an atheist, and a god." [8] Surrounding his person and
forming his court were usually those of the nobility who were the most
absolutely degraded by their vices, their flatteries, or their abject
subservience. But even these men were not commonly the repositories of
political power. The people of the greatest influence were the freedmen
of the emperors--men who had been slaves, Egyptians and Bithynians who
had come to Rome with bored ears and with chalk on their naked feet to
show that they were for sale, or who had bawled "sea-urchins all alive"
in the Velabrum or the Saburra--who had acquired enormous wealth by
means often the most unscrupulous and the most degraded, and whose
insolence and baseness had kept pace with their rise to power. Such a
man was the Felix before whom St. Paul was tried, and such was his
brother Pallas,[9] whose golden statue might have been seen among the
household gods of the senator, afterwards the emperor, Vitellius.
Another of them might often have been observed parading the streets
between two consuls. Imagine an Edward II. endowed with absolute and
unquestioned powers of tyranny,--imagine some pestilent Piers Gaveston,
or Hugh de le Spenser exercising over nobles and people a hideous
despotism of the back stairs,--and you have some faint picture of the
government of Rome under some of the twelve Caesars. What the barber
Olivier le Diable was under Louis XI., what Mesdames du Barri and
Pompadour were under Louis XV., what the infamous Earl of Somerset was
under James I., what George Villiers became under Charles I., will
furnish us with a faint analogy of the far more exaggerated and
detestable position held by the freedman Glabrio under Domitian, by the
actor Tigellinus under Nero, by Pallus and Narcissus under Claudius, by
the obscure knight Sejanus under the iron tyranny of the
gloomy Tiberius.

[Footnote 8:
                               "To the sound
     Of fifes and drums they danced, or in the shade
     Sung Caesar great and terrible in war,
     Immortal Caesar! 'Lo, a god! a god!
     He cleaves the yielding skies!' Caesar meanwhile
     Gathers the ocean pebbles, or the gnat
     Enraged pursues; or at his lonely meal
     Starves a wide province; tastes, dislikes, and flings
     To dogs and sycophants. 'A god! a god!'
     The flowery shades and shrines obscene return."
     DYER, _Ruins of Rome_.]

[Footnote 9: The pride of this man was such that he never deigned to
speak a word in the presence of his own slaves, but only made known his
wishes by signs!--TACITUS.]

I. It was an age of the most enormous wealth existing side by side with
the most abject poverty. Around the splendid palaces wandered hundreds
of mendicants, who made of their mendicity a horrible trade, and even
went so far as to steal or mutilate infants in order to move compassion
by their hideous maladies. This class was increased by the exposure of
children, and by that overgrown accumulation of landed property which
drove the poor from their native fields. It was increased also by the
ambitious attempt of people whose means were moderate to imitate the
enormous display of the numerous millionaires. The great Roman conquests
in the East, the plunder of the ancient kingdoms of Antiochus, of
Attalus, of Mithridates, had caused a turbid stream of wealth to flow
into the sober current of Roman life. One reads with silent astonishment
of the sums expended by wealthy Romans on their magnificence or their
pleasures. And as commerce was considered derogatory to rank and
position, and was therefore pursued by men who had no character to lose,
these overgrown fortunes were often acquired by wretches of the meanest
stamp--by slaves brought from over the sea, who had to conceal the holes
bored in their ears;[10] or even by malefactors who had to obliterate,
by artificial means, the three letters[11] which had been branded by the
executioner on their foreheads. But many of the richest men in Rome, who
had not sprung from this convict origin, were fully as well deserving of
the same disgraceful stigma. Their houses were built, their coffers were
replenished, from the drained resources of exhausted provincials. Every
young man of active ambition or noble birth, whose resources had been
impoverished by debauchery and extravagance, had but to borrow fresh
sums in order to give magnificent gladiatorial shows, and then, if he
could once obtain an aedileship, and mount to the higher offices of the
State, he would in time become the procurator or proconsul of a
province, which he might pillage almost at his will. Enter the house of
a Felix or a Verres. Those splendid pillars of mottled green marble were
dug by the forced labour of Phrygians from the quarry of Synnada; that
embossed silver, those murrhine vases, those jeweled cups, those
masterpieces of antique sculpture, have all been torn from the homes or
the temples of Sicily or Greece. Countries were pilaged and nations
crushed that an Apicius might dissolve pearls[12] in the wine he drank,
or that Lollia Paulina might gleam in a second-best dress of emeralds
and pearls which had cost 40,000,000 sesterces, or more than

[Footnote 10: This was a common ancient practice; the very words
"thrall," "thralldom," are etymologically connected with the roots
"thrill," "trill," "drill," (Compare Exod. xxi. 6; Deut. xv. 17; Plut.
_Cic_. 26; and Juv. _Sat_. i. 104.)]

[Footnote 11: _Fur_, "thief." (See Martial, ii. 29.)]

[Footnote 12: "Dissolved pearls, Apicius' diet 'gainst the
epilepsy."--BEN JONSON.]

[Footnote 13: Pliny actually saw her thus arrayed. (Nat. Hist. ix. 35,

Each of these "gorgeous criminals" lived in the midst of an humble
crowd of flatterers, parasites, clients, dependents, and slaves. Among
the throng that at early morning jostled each other in the marble
_atrium_ were to be found a motley and hetrogeneous set of men. Slaves
of every age and nation--Germans, Egyptians, Gauls, Goths, Syrians,
Britons, Moors, pampered and consequential freedmen, impudent
confidential servants, greedy buffoons, who lived by making bad jokes at
other people's tables; Dacian gladiators, with whom fighting was a
trade; philosophers, whose chief claim to reputation was the length of
their beards; supple Greeklings of the Tartuffe species, ready to
flatter and lie with consummate skill, and spreading their vile
character like a pollution wherever they went: and among all these a
number of poor but honest clients, forced quietly to put up with a
thousand forms of contumely[14] and insult, and living in discontented
idleness on the _sportula_ or daily largesse which was administered by
the grudging liberality of their haughty patrons. The stout old Roman
burgher had well-nigh disappeared; the sturdy independence, the manly
self-reliance of an industrial population were all but unknown. The
insolent loungers who bawled in the Forum were often mere stepsons of
Italy, who had been dragged thither in chains,--the dregs of all
nations, which had flowed into Rome as into a common sewer,[15] bringing
with them no heritage except the specialty of their national vices.
Their two wants were bread and the shows of the circus; so long as the
_sportula_ of their patron, the occasional donative of an emperor, and
the ambition of political candidates supplied these wants, they lived in
contented abasement, anxious neither for liberty nor for power.

[Footnote 14: Few of the many sad pictures in the _Satires_ of Juvenal
are more pitiable than that of the wretched "Quirites" struggling at
their patrons' doors for the pittance which formed their daily dole.
(Sat i. 101.)]

[Footnote 15: See Juv. _Sat_. iii. 62. Scipio, on being interrupted by
the mob in the Forum, exclaimed,--"Silence, ye stepsons of Italy! What!
shall I fear these fellows now they are free, whom I myself have brought
in chains to Rome?" (See Cic. _De Orat_. ii. 61.)]

II. It was an age at once of atheism and superstition. Strange to say,
the two things usually go together. Just as Philippe Egalité, Duke of
Orleans, disbelieved in God, and yet tried to conjecture his fate from
the inspection of coffee-grounds at the bottom of a cup,--just as Louis
XI. shrank from no perjury and no crime, and yet retained a profound
reverence for a little leaden image which he carried in his cap,--so the
Romans under the Empire sneered at all the whole crowd of gods and
goddesses whom their fathers had worshipped, but gave an implicit
credence to sorcerers, astrologers, spirit-rappers, exorcists, and every
species of imposter and quack. The ceremonies of religion were performed
with ritualistic splendour, but all belief in religion was dead and
gone. "That there are such things as ghosts and subterranean realms not
even boys believe," says Juvenal, "except those who are still too young
to pay a farthing for a bath." [16] Nothing can exceed the cool
impertinence with which the poet Martial prefers the favour of Domitian
to that of the great Jupiter of the Capitol. Seneca, in his lost book
"Against Superstitions,"[17] openly sneered at the old mythological
legends of gods married and gods unmarried, and at the gods Panic and
Paleness, and at Cloacina, the goddess of sewers, and at other deities
whose cruelty and license would have been infamous even in mankind. And
yet the priests, and Salii, and Flamens, and Augurs continued to fulfil
their solemn functions, and the highest title of the Emperor himself was
that of _Pontifex Maximus_, or Chief Priest, which he claimed as the
recognized head of the national religion. "The common worship was
regarded," says Gibbon, "by the people as equally true, by the
philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally
useful." And this famous remark is little more than a translation from
Seneca, who, after exposing the futility of the popular beliefs, adds:
"And yet the wise man will observe them all, not as pleasing to the
gods, but as commanded by the laws. We shall so adore _all that ignoble
crowd of gods_ which long superstition has heaped together in a long
period of years, as to remember that their worship has more to do with
custom than with reality." "Because he was an illustrious senator of the
Roman people," observes St. Augustine, who has preserved for us this
fragment, "he worshipped what he blamed, he did what he refuted, he
adored that with which he found fault." Could anything be more hollow or
heartless than this? Is there anything which is more certain to sap the
very foundations of morality than the public maintenance of a creed
which has long ceased to command the assent, and even the respect of its
recognized defenders? Seneca, indeed, and a few enlightened
philosophers, might have taken refuge from the superstitions which they
abandoned in a truer and purer form of faith. "Accordingly," says
Lactantius, one of the Christian Fathers, "he has said many things like
ourselves concerning God." [18] He utters what Tertullian finely calls
"the testimony of A MIND NATURALLY CHRISTIAN." But, meanwhile, what
became of the common multitude? They too, like their superiors, learnt
to disbelieve or to question the power of the ancient deities; but, as
the mind absolutely requires _some_ religion on which to rest, they gave
their real devotion to all kinds of strange and foreign deities,--to
Isis and Osiris, and the dog Anubus, to Chaldaean magicians, to Jewish
exercisers, to Greek quacks, and to the wretched vagabond priests of
Cybele, who infested all the streets with their Oriental dances and
tinkling tambourines. The visitor to the ruins of Pompeii may still see
in her temple the statue of Isis, through whose open lips the gaping
worshippers heard the murmured answers they came to seek. No doubt they
believed as firmly that the image spoke, as our forefathers believed
that their miraculous Madonnas nodded and winked. But time has exposed
the cheat. By the ruined shrine the worshipper may now see the secret
steps by which the priest got to the back of the statue, and the pipe
entering the back of its head through which he whispered the answers of
the oracle.

[Footnote 16: JUV. _Sat_. ii. 149. Cf. Sen. _Ep_. xxiv. "Nemo tam puer
est at Cerberum timeat, et tenebras," &c.]

[Footnote 17: Fragm. xxxiv.]

[Footnote 18: Lactantius, _Divin. Inst_. i. 4.]

III. It was an age of boundless luxury,--an age in which women
recklessly vied with one another in the race of splendour and
extravagance, and in which men plunged headlong, without a single
scruple of conscience, and with every possible resource at their
command, into the pursuit of pleasure. There was no form of luxury,
there was no refinement of vice invented by any foreign nation, which
had not been eagerly adopted by the Roman patricians. "The softness of
Sybaris, the manners of Rhodes and Antioch, and of perfumed, drunken,
flower-crowned Miletus," were all to be found at Rome. There was no
more of the ancient Roman severity and dignity and self-respect. The
descendants of Aemilius and Gracchus--even generals and consuls and
praetors--mixed familiarly with the lowest _canaille_ of Rome in their
vilest and most squalid purlieus of shameless vice. They fought as
amateur gladiators in the arena. They drove as competing charioteers on
the race-course. They even condescended to appear as actors on the
stage. They devoted themselves with such frantic eagerness to the
excitement of gambling, that we read of their staking hundreds of pounds
on a single throw of the dice, when they could not even restore the
pawned tunics to their shivering slaves. Under the cold marble statues,
or amid the waxen likenesses of their famous stately ancestors, they
turned night into day with long and foolish orgies, and exhausted land
and sea with the demands of their gluttony. "Woe to that city," says an
ancient proverb, "in which a fish costs more than an ox;" and this
exactly describes the state of Rome. A banquet would sometimes cost the
price of an estate; shell-fish were brought from remote and unknown
shores, birds from Parthia and the banks of the Phasis; single dishes
were made of the brains of the peacocks and the tongues of nightingales
and flamingoes. Apicius, after squandering nearly a million of money in
the pleasures of the table, committed suicide, Seneca tells us, because
he found that he had only 80,000_l_. left. Cowley speaks of--

     "Vitellius' table, which did hold
      As many creatures as the ark of old."

"They eat," said Seneca, "and then they vomit; they vomit, and then
they eat." But even in this matter we cannot tell anything like the
worst facts about--

     "Their sumptuous gluttonies and gorgeous feasts
      On citron tables and Atlantic stone,
      Their wines of Setia, Gales, and Falerne,
      Chios, and Crete, and how they quaff in gold,
      Crystal, and myrrhine cups, embossed with gems
      And studs of pearl." [19]

Still less can we pretend to describe the unblushing and unutterable
degradation of this period as it is revealed to us by the poets and the
satirists. "All things," says Seneca, "are full of iniquity and vice;
more crime is committed than can be remedied by restraint. We struggle
in a huge contest of criminality: daily the passion for sin is greater,
the shame in committing it is less.... Wickedness is no longer committed
in secret: it flaunts before our eyes, and

     "The citron board, the bowl embossed with gems,
                      ... whatever is known
      Of rarest acquisition; Tyrian garbs,
      Neptunian Albion's high testaceous food,
      And flavoured Chian wines, with incense fumed,
      To slake patrician thirst: for these their rights
      In the vile atreets they prostitute for sale,
      Their ancient rights, their dignities, their laws,
      Their native glorious freedom.

has been sent forth so openly into public sight, and has prevailed so
completely in the breast of all, that innocence is not _rare_, but

[Footnote 19: Compare the lines in Dyer's little-remembered _Ruins of

IV. And it was an age of deep sadness. That it should have been so is an
instructive and solemn lesson. In proportion to the luxury of the age
were its misery and its exhaustion. The mad pursuit of pleasure was the
death and degradation of all true happiness. Suicide--suicide out of
pure _ennui_ and discontent at a life overflowing with every possible
means of indulgence--was extraordinarily prevalent. The Stoic
philosophy, especially as we see it represented in the tragedies
attributed to Seneca, rang with the glorification of it. Men ran to
death because their mode of life had left them no other refuge. They
died because it seemed so tedious and so superfluous to be seeing and
doing and saying the same things over and over again; and because they
had exhausted the very possibility of the only pleasures of which they
had left themselves capable. The satirical epigram of Destouches,--

     "Ci-gît Jean Rosbif, écuyer,
      Qui se pendit pour se désennuyer,"

was literally and strictly true of many Romans during this epoch.
Marcellinus, a young and wealthy noble, starved himself, and then had
himself suffocated in a warm bath, merely because he was attacked with a
perfectly curable illness. The philosophy which alone professed itself
able to heal men's sorrows applauded the supposed courage of a voluntary
death, and it was of too abstract, too fantastic, and too purely
theoretical a character to furnish them with any real or lasting
consolations. No sentiment caused more surprise to the Roman world than
the famous one preserved in the fragment of Maecenas,--

     "Debilem facito manu,
        Debilem pede, coxâ,
      Tuber adstrue gibberum,
        Lubricos quate dentes;
      Vita dum superest bene est;
        Hanc mihi vel acutâ
      Si sedeam cruce sustine;"

which may be paraphrased,--

     "Numb my hands with palsy,
        Rack my feet with gout,
      Hunch my back and shoulder,
        Let my teeth fall out;
      Still, if _Life_ be granted,
        I prefer the loss;
      Save my life, and give me
        Anguish on the cross."

Seneca, in his 101st Letter, calls this "a most disgraceful and most
contemptible wish;" but it may be paralleled out of Euripides, and still
more closely out of Homer. "Talk not," says the shade of Achilles to
Ulysses in the Odyssey,--

     "'Talk not of reigning in this dolorous gloom,
      Nor think vain lies,' he cried, 'can ease my doom.
      _Better by far laboriously to bear
      A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air,
      Slave to the meanest hind that begs his bread,
      Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead_.'"

But this falsehood of extremes was one of the sad outcomes of the
popular Paganism. Either, like the natural savage, they dreaded death
with an intensity of terror; or, when their crimes and sorrows had made
life unsupportable, they slank to it as a refuge, with a cowardice which
vaunted itself as courage.

V. And it was an age of cruelty. The shows of gladiators, the sanguinary
combats of wild beasts, the not unfrequent spectacle of savage tortures
and capital punishments, the occasional sight of innocent martyrs
burning to death in their shirts of pitchy fire, must have hardened and
imbruted the public sensibility. The immense prevalence of slavery
tended still more inevitably to the general corruption. "Lust," as
usual, was "hard by hate." One hears with perfect amazement of the
number of slaves in the wealthy houses. A thousand slaves was no
extravagant number, and the vast majority of them were idle, uneducated
and corrupt. Treated as little better than animals, they lost much of
the dignity of men. Their masters possessed over them the power of life
and death, and it is shocking to read of the cruelty with which they
were often treated. An accidental murmur, a cough, a sneeze, was
punished with rods. Mute, motionless, fasting, the slaves had to stand
by while their masters supped; A brutal and stupid barbarity often
turned a house into the shambles of an executioner, sounding with
scourges, chains, and yells.[20] One evening the Emperor Augustus was
supping at the house of Vedius Pollio, when one of the slaves, who was
carrying a crystal goblet, slipped down, and broke it. Transported with
rage Vedius at once ordered the slave to be seized, and plunged into the
fish-pond as food to the lampreys. The boy escaped from the hands of his
fellow-slaves, and fled to Caesar's feet to implore, not that his life
should be spared--a pardon which he neither expected nor hoped--but that
he might die by a mode of death less horrible than being devoured by
fishes. Common as it was to torment slaves, and to put them to death,
Augustus, to his honor be it spoken, was horrified by the cruelty of
Vedius, and commanded both that the slave should be set free, that every
crystal vase in the house of Vedius should be broken in his presence and
that the fish pond should be filled up. Even women inflicted upon their
female slaves punishments of the most cruel atrocity for faults of the
most venial character. A brooch wrongly placed, a tress of hair
ill-arranged, and the enraged matron orders her slave to be lashed and
crucified. If her milder husband interferes, she not only justifies the
cruelty, but asks in amazement: "What! is a slave so much of a human
being?" No wonder that there was a proverb, "As many slaves, so many
foes." No wonder that many masters lived in perpetual fear, and that
"the tyrant's devilish plea, necessity," might be urged in favor of that
odious law which enacted that, if a master was murdered by an unknown
hand, the whole body of his slaves should suffer death,--a law which
more than once was carried into effect under the reigns of the Emperors.
Slavery, as we see in the case of Sparta and many other nations, always
involves its own retribution. The class of free peasant proprietors
gradually disappears. Long before this time Tib. Gracchus, in coming
home from Sardinia, had observed that there was scarcely a single
freeman to be seen in the fields. The slaves were infinitely more
numerous than their owners. Hence arose the constant dread of servile
insurrections; the constant hatred of a slave population to which any
conspirator revolutionist might successfully appeal; and the constant
insecurity of life, which must have struck terror into many hearts.

[Footnote 20: Juv. _Sat_. i. 219--222.]

Such is but a faint and broad outline of some of the features of
Seneca's age; and we shall be unjust if we do not admit that much at
least of the life he lived, and nearly all the sentiments he uttered,
gain much in grandeur and purity from the contrast they offer to the
common life of--

     "That people victor once, now vile and base,
      Deservedly made vassal, who, once just,
      Frugal, and mild, and temperate, conquered well,
      But govern ill the nations under yoke,
      Peeling their provinces, exhausted all
      By lust and rapine; first ambitious grown
      Of triumph, that insulting vanity;
      Then cruel, by their sports to blood inured
      Of fighting beasts, and men to beasts exposed,
      Luxurious by their wealth, and greedier still,
      And from the daily scene effeminate.
      What wise and valient men would seek to free
      These thus degenerate, by themselves enslaved;
      Or could of inward slaves make outward free?"
           MILTON, _Paradise Regained_, iv. 132-145.



The personal notices of Seneca's life up to the period of his manhood
are slight and fragmentary. From an incidental expression we conjecture
that he visited his aunt in Egypt when her husband was Prefect of that
country, and that he shared with her the dangers of shipwreck when her
husband had died on board ship during the homeward voyage. Possibly the
visit may have excited in his mind that deep interest and curiosity
about the phenomena of the Nile which appear so strongly in several
passages of his _Natural Questions_; and, indeed nothing is more likely
than that he suggested to Nero the earliest recorded expedition to
discover the source of the mysterious river. No other allusion to his
travels occur in his writings, but we may infer that from very early
days he had felt an interest for physical inquiry, since while still a
youth he had written a book on earthquakes; which has not come down
to us.

Deterred by his father from the pursuit of philosophy, he entered on the
duties of a profession. He became an advocate, and distinguished himself
by his genius and eloquence in pleading causes. Entering on a political
career, he became a successful candidate for the quaestorship, which
was an important step towards the highest offices of the state. During
this period of his life he married a lady whose name has not been
preserved to us, and to whom we have only one allusion, which is a
curious one. As in our own history it has been sometimes the fashion for
ladies of rank to have dwarves and negroes among their attendants, so it
seems to have been the senseless and revolting custom of the Roman
ladies of this time to keep idiots among the number of their servants.
The first wife of Seneca had followed this fashion, and Seneca in his
fiftieth letter to his friend Lucilius[21] makes the following
interesting allusion to the fact. "You know," he says, "that my wife's
idiot girl Harpaste has remained in my house as a burdensome legacy. For
personally I feel the profoundest dislike to monstrosities of that kind.
If ever I want to amuse myself with an idiot, I have not far to look for
one. I laugh at myself. This idiot girl has suddenly become blind. Now,
incredible as the story seems, it is really true that she is unconscious
of her blindness, and consequently begs her attendant to go elsewhere,
because the house is dark. But you may be sure that this, at which we
laugh in her, happens to us all; no one understands that he is
avaricious or covetous. The blind seek for a guide; _we_ wander about
without a guide."

[Footnote 21: It will be observed that the main biographical facts about
the life of Seneca are to be gleaned from his letters to Lucilius, who
was his constant friend from youth to old age, and to whom he has
dedicated his Natural Questions. Lucilius was a procurator of Sicily, a
man of cultivated taste and high principle. He was the author of a poem
on Aetna, which in the opinion of many competent judges is the poem
which has come down to us, and has been attributed to Varus, Virgil, and
others. It has been admirably edited by Mr. Munro. (See _Nat. Quaest._,
iv. _ad init. Ep_. lxxix.) He also wrote a poem on the fountain
Arethusa. _(Nat. Quaest_. iii, 26.)]

This passage will furnish us with an excellent example of Seneca's
invariable method of improving every occasion and circumstance into an
opportunity for a philosophic harangue.

By this wife, who died shortly before Seneca's banishment to Corsica, he
had two sons, one of whom expired in the arms and amid the kisses of
Helvia less than a month before Seneca's departure for Corsica. To the
other, whose name was Marcus, he makes the following pleasant allusion.
After urging his mother Helvia to find consolation in the devotion of
his brothers Gallio and Mela, he adds, "From these turn your eyes also
on your grandsons--to Marcus, that most charming little boy, in sight of
whom no melancholy can last long. No misfortune in the breast of any one
can have been so great or so recent as not to be soothed by his
caresses. Whose tears would not his mirth repress? whose mind would not
his prattling loose from the pressure of anxiety? whom will not that
joyous manner of his incline to jesting? whose attention, even though he
be fixed in thought, will not be attracted and absorbed by that
childlike garrulity of which no one can grow tired? God grant that he
may survive me: may all the cruelty of destiny be weared out on me!"

Whether the prayer of Seneca was granted we do not know; but, as we do
not again hear of Marcus, it is probable that he died before his father,
and that the line of Seneca, like that of so many great men, became
extinct in the second generation.

It was probably during this period that Seneca laid the foundations of
that enormous fortune which excited the hatred and ridicule of his
opponents. There is every reason to believe that this fortune was
honourably gained. As both his father and mother were wealthy, he had
doubtless inherited an ample competency; this was increased by the
lucrative profession of a successful advocate, and was finally swollen
by the princely donations of his pupil Nero. It is not improbable that
Seneca, like Cicero, and like all the wealthy men of their day,
increased his property by lending money upon interest. No disgrace
attached to such a course; and as there is no proof for the charges of
Dio Cassius on this head, we may pass them over with silent contempt.
Dio gravely informs us that Seneca excited an insurrection in Britain,
by suddenly calling in the enormous sum of 40,000,000 sesterces; but
this is in all probability the calumny of a professed enemy. We shall
refer again to Seneca's wealth; but we may here admit that it was
undoubtedly ungraceful and incongruous in a philosopher who was
perpetually dwelling on the praises of poverty, and that even in his own
age it attracted unfavourable notice, as we may see from the epithet
_Proedives_, "the over-wealthy," which is applied to him alike by a
satiric poet and by a grave historian. Seneca was perfectly well aware
that this objection could be urged against him, and it must be admitted
that the grounds on which he defends himself in his treatise _On a Happy
Life_ are not very conclusive or satisfactory.

The boyhood of Seneca fell in the last years of the Emperor Augustus,
when, in spite of the general decorum and amiability of their ruler,
people began to see clearly that nothing was left of liberty except the
name. His youth and early manhood were spent during those
three-and-twenty years of the reign of Tiberius, that reign of terror,
during which the Roman world was reduced to a frightful silence and
torpor as of death;[22] and, although he was not thrown into personal
collision with that "brutal monster," he not unfrequently alludes to
him, and to the dangerous power and headlong ruin of his wicked minister
Sejanus. Up to this time he had not experienced in his own person those
crimes and horrors which fall to the lot of men who are brought into
close contact with tyrants. This first happened to him in the reign of
Caius Caesar, of whom we are enabled, from the writings of Seneca alone,
to draw a full-length portrait.

[Footnote 22: Milton, _Paradise Regained_, iv. 128. For a picture of
Tiberius as he appeared in his old age at Capreae, "hated of all and
hating," see Id. 90-97.]

Caius Caesar was the son of Germanicus and the elder Agrippina.
Germanicus was the bravest and most successful general, and one of the
wisest and most virtuous men, of his day. His wife Agrippina, in her
fidelity, her chastity, her charity, her nobility of mind, was the very
model of a Roman matron of the highest and purest stamp. Strange that
the son of such parents should have been one of the vilest, cruelest,
and foulest of the human race. So, however, it was; and it is a
remarkable fact that scarcely one of the six children of this marriage
displayed the virtues of their father and mother, while two of them,
Caius Caesar and the younger Agrippina, lived to earn an exceptional
infamy by their baseness and their crimes. Possibly this unhappy result
may have been partly due to the sad circumstances of their early
education. Their father, Germanicus, who by his virtue and his successes
had excited the suspicious jealousy of his uncle Tiberius, was by his
distinct connivance, if not by his actual suggestion, atrociously
poisoned in Syria. Agrippina, after being subjected to countless cruel
insults, was banished in the extremest poverty to the island of
Pandataria. Two of the elder brothers, Nero and Drusus Germanicus, were
proclaimed public enemies: Nero was banished to the island Pontia, and
there put to death; Drusus was kept a close prisoner in a secret prison
of the palace. Caius, the youngest, who is better known by the name
Caligula, was summoned by Tiberius to his wicked retirement at Capreae,
and there only saved his life by the most abject flattery and the most
adroit submission.

Capreae is a little island of surpassing loveliness, forming one
extremity of the Bay of Naples. Its soil is rich, its sea bright and
limpid, its breezes cool and healthful. Isolated by its position, it is
yet within easy reach of Rome. At that time, before Vesuvius had
rekindled those wasteful fires which first shook down, and then deluged
under lava and scoriae, the little cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii,
the scene which it commanded was even more pre-eminently beautiful than
now. Vineyards and olive-groves clothed the sides of that matchless bay,
down to the very line where the bright blue waters seem to kiss with
their ripples the many-coloured pebbles of the beach. Over all, with its
sides dotted with picturesque villas and happy villages, towered the
giant cone of the volcano which for centuries had appeared to be
extinct, and which was clothed up to the very crater with luxurious
vegetation. Such was the delicious home which Tiberius disgraced for
ever by the seclusion of his old age. Here he abandoned himself to every
refinement of wickedness, and from hence, being by common consent the
most miserable of men, he wrote to the Senate that memorable letter in
which he confesses his daily and unutterable misery under the stings of
a guilty conscience, which neither solitude nor power enabled him
to escape.

Never did a fairer scene undergo a worse degradation; and here, in one
or other of the twelve villas which Tiberius had built, and among the
azure grottoes which he caused to be constructed, the youthful Caius[23]
grew up to manhood. It would have been a terrible school even for a
noble nature; for a nature corrupt and bloodthirsty like that of Caius
it was complete and total ruin. But, though he was so obsequious to the
Emperor as to originate the jest that never had there been a worse
master and never a more cringing slave,--though he suppressed every sign
of indignation at the horrid deaths of his mother and his
brothers,--though he assiduously reflected the looks, and carefully
echoed the very words, of his patron,--yet not even by the deep
dissimulation which such a position required did he succeed in
concealing from the penetrating eye of Tiberius the true ferocity of his
character. Not being the acknowledged heir to the kingdom,--for Tiberius
Gemellus, the youthful grandson of Tiberius, was living, and Caius was
by birth only his grand-nephew,--he became a tool for the machinations
of Marco the praetorian praefect and his wife Ennia. One of his chief
friends was the cruel Herod Agrippa,[24] who put to death St. James and
imprisoned St. Peter, and whose tragical fate is recorded in the 12th
chap. of the Acts. On one occasion, when Caius had been abusing the
dictator Sulla, Tiberius scornfully remarked that he would have all
Sulla's vices and none of his virtues; and on another, after a quarrel
between Caius and his cousin, the Emperor embraced with tears his young
grandson, and said to the frowning Caius, with one of those strange
flashes of prevision of which we sometimes read in history. "Why are you
so eager? Some day you will kill this boy, and some one else will murder
you." There were some who believed that Tiberius deliberately cherished
the intention of allowing Caius to succeed him, in order that the Roman
world might relent towards his own memory under the tyranny of a worse
monster than himself. Even the Romans, who looked up to the family of
Germanicus with extraordinary affection, seem early to have lost all
hopes about Caius. They looked for little improvement under the
government of a vicious boy, "ignorant of all things, or nurtured only
in the worst," who would be likely to reflect the influence of Macro,
and present the spectacle of a worse Tiberius under a worse Sejanus.

[Footnote 23: We shall call him Caius, because it is as little correct
to write of him by the _sobriquet_ Caligula as it would be habitually to
write of our kings Edward or John as Longshanks or Lackland. The name
Caligula means "a little shoe," and was the pet name given to him by the
soldiers of his father, in whose camp he was born.]

[Footnote 24: Josephus adds some curious and interesting particulars to
the story of this Herod and his death which are not mentioned in the
narrative of St. Luke (_Antiq_. xix. 7, 8. Jahn, _Hebr. Commonwealth_,
§ cxxvi.)]

At last health and strength failed Tiberius, but not his habitual
dissimulation. He retained the same unbending soul, and by his fixed
countenance and measured language, sometimes by an artificial
affability, he tried to conceal his approaching end. After many restless
changes, he finally settled down in a villa at Misenum which had once
belonged to the luxurious Lucullus. There the real state of his health
was discovered. Charicles, a distinguished physician, who had been
paying him a friendly visit on kissing his hand to bid farewell, managed
to ascertain the state of his pulse. Suspecting that this was the case
Tiberius, concealing his displeasure, ordered a banquet to be spread,
as though in honour of his friend's departure, and stayed longer than
usual at table. A similar story is told of Louis XIV. who, noticing from
the whispers of his courtiers that they believed him to be dying, ate an
unusually large dinner on the very day of his death, and sarcastically
observed, "Il me semble que pour un homme qui va mourir je ne mange pas
mal." But, in spite of the precautions of Tiberius, Charicles informed
Macro that the Emperor could not last beyond two days.

A scene of secret intrigue at once began. The court broke up into knots
and cliques. Hasty messengers were sent to the provinces and their
armies, until at last, on the 16th of March, it was believed that
Tiberius had breathed his last. Just as on the death of Louis XV. a
sudden noise was heard as of thunder, the sound of courtiers rushing
along the corridors to congratulate Louis XVI. in the famous words, "Le
roi est mort, vive le roi," so a crowd instantly thronged round Caius
with their congratulations, as he went out of the palace to assume his
imperial authority. Suddenly a message reached him that Tiberius had
recovered voice and sight. Seneca says, that feeling his last hour to be
near, he had taken off his ring, and, holding it in his shut left hand,
had long lain motionless; then calling his servants, since no one
answered his call, he rose from his couch, and, his strength failing
him, after a few tottering steps fell prostrate on the ground.

The news produced the same consternation as that which was produced
among the conspirators at Adonijah's banquet, when they heard of the
measures taken by the dying David. There was a panic-stricken
dispersion, and every one pretended to be grieved, or ignorant of what
was going on. Caius, in stupified silence, expected death instead of
empire. Macro alone did not lose his presence of mind. With the utmost
intrepidity, he gave orders that the old man should be suffocated by
heaping over him a mass of clothes, and that every one should then leave
the chamber. Such was the miserable and unpitied end of the Emperor
Tiberius, in the seventy-eighth year of his age. Such was the death, and
so miserable had been the life, of the man to whom the Tempter had
already given "the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them," when he
tried to tempt with them the Son of God. That this man should have been
the chief Emperor of the earth at a time when its true King was living
as a peasant in his village home at Nazareth, is a fact suggestive of
many and of solemn thoughts.



The poet Gray, in describing the deserted deathbed of our own great
Edward III., says:--

     "Low on his funeral couch he lies!
      No pitying heart, no eye afford
      A tear to grace his obsequies!

       *       *       *       *       *

     "The swarm that in the noontide beam were born?
      Gone to salute the rising Morn.
      Fair laughs the Morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
      While proudly riding o'er the azure realm,
      In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;
      Youth on the prow and Pleasure at the helm;
      Regardless of the sweeping Whirlwind's sway,
    That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening prey."

The last lines of this passage would alone have been applicable to Caius
Caesar. There was nothing fair or gay even about the beginning of his
reign. From first to last it was a reign of fury and madness, and lust
and blood. There was an hereditary taint of insanity in this family,
which was developed by their being placed on the dizzy pinnacle of
imperial despotism, and which usually took the form of monstrous and
abnormal crime. If we would seek a parallel for Caius Caesar, we must
look for it in the history of Christian VII. of Denmark, and Paul of
Russia. In all three we find the same ghastly pallor, the same
sleeplessness which compelled them to rise, and pace their rooms at
night, the same incessant suspicion; the same inordinate thirst for
cruelty and torture. He took a very early opportunity to disembarrass
himself of his benefactors, Macro and Ennia, and of his rival, the young
Tiberius. The rest of his reign was a series of brutal extravagances. We
have lost the portion of those matchless Annals of Tacitus which
contained the reign of Caius, but more than enough to revolt and horrify
is preserved in the scattered notices of Seneca, and in the narratives
of Suetonius in Latin and Dio Cassius in Greek.

His madness showed itself sometimes in gluttonous extravagance, as when
he ordered a supper which cost more than 8,000_l_; sometimes in a
_bizarre_ and disgraceful mode of dress, as when he appeared in public
in women's stockings, embroidered with gold and pearls; sometimes in a
personality and insolence of demeanor towards every rank and class in
Rome, which made him ask a senator to supper, and ply him with drunken
toasts, on the very evening on which he had condemned his son to death;
sometimes in sheer raving blasphemy, as when he expressed his furious
indignation against Jupiter for presuming to thunder while he was
supping, or looking at the pantomimes; but most of all in a ferocity
which makes Seneca apply to him the name of "Bellua," or "wild monster,"
and say that he seems to have been produced "for the disgrace and
destruction of the human race."

We will quote from the pages of Seneca but one single passage to justify
his remark "that he was most greedy for human blood, which he ordered
to stream in his very presence with such eagerness as though he were
going to drink it up with his lips." He says that in one day he scourged
and tortured men of consular and quaestorial parentage, knights and
senators, not by way of examination, but out of pure caprice and rage;
he seriously meditated the butchery of the entire senate; he expressed a
wish that the Roman people had but a single neck, that he might strike
it off at one blow; he silenced the screams or reproaches of his victims
sometimes by thrusting a sponge in their mouths, sometimes by having
their mouths gagged with their own torn robes, sometimes by ordering
their tongues to be cut out before they were thrown to the wild beasts.
On one occasion, rising from a banquet, he called for his slippers,
which were kept by the slaves while the guests reclined on the purple
couches, and so impatient was he for the sight of death, that, walking
up and down his covered portico by lamplight with ladies and senators,
he then and there ordered some of his wretched victims to be beheaded in
his sight.

It is a singular proof of the unutterable dread and detestation inspired
by some of these Caesars, that their mere countenance is said to have
inspired anguish. Tacitus, in the life of his father-in-law Agricola,
mentions the shuddering recollection of the red face of Domitian, as it
looked on at the games. Seneca speaks in one place of wretches doomed to
undergo stones, sword, fire, and _Caius_; in another he says that he had
tortured the noblest Romans with everything which could possibly cause
the intensest agony,--with cords, plates, rack, fire, and, as though it
were the worst torture of all, with his look! What that look was, we
learn from Seneca himself, "His face was ghastly pale, with a look of
insanity; his fierce, dull eyes were half-hidden under a wrinkled brow;
his ill-shaped head was partly bald, partly covered with dyed-hair; his
neck covered with bristles, his legs thin, and his feet mis-shapen." Woe
to the nation that lies under the heel of a brutal despotism; treble woe
to the nation that can tolerate a despot so brutal as this! Yet this was
the nation in the midst of which Seneca lived, and this was the despot
under whom his early manhood was spent.

     "But what more oft in nations grown corrupt,
      And by their vices brought to servitude,
      Than to love bondage more than liberty,
      Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?"

It was one of the peculiarities of Caius Caesar that he hated the very
existence of any excellence. He used to bully and insult the gods
themselves, frowning even at the statues of Apollo and Jupiter of the
Capitol. He thought of abolishing Homer, and order the works of Livy and
Virgil to be removed from all libraries, because he could not bear that
they should be praised. He ordered Julius Graecinus to be put to death
for no other reason than this, "That he was a better man than it was
expedient for a tyrant that any one should be;" for, as Pliny tells us,
the Caesars deliberately preferred that their people should be vicious
than that they should be virtuous. It was hardly likely that such a man
should view with equanimity the rising splendour of Seneca's reputation.
Hitherto, the young man, who was thirty-five years old at the accession
of Caius, had not written any of his philosophic works, but in all
probability he had published his early, and no longer extant, treatises
on earthquakes, on superstitions, and the books _On India_, and _On the
Manners of Egypt_, which had been the fruit of his early travels. It is
probable, too, that he had recited in public some of those tragedies
which have come down to us under his name, and in the composition of
which he was certainly concerned. All these works, and especially the
applause won by the public reading of his poems, would have given him
that high literary reputation which we know him to have earned. It was
not, however, this reputation, but the brilliancy and eloquence of his
orations at the bar which excited the jealous hatred of the Emperor.
Caius piqued himself on the possession of eloquence; and, strange to
say, there are isolated expressions of his which seem to show that, in
lucid intervals, he was by no means devoid of intellectual acuteness.
For instance, there is real humour and insight in the nicknames of "a
golden sheep" which he gave to the rich and placid Silanus, and of
"Ulysses in petticoats," by which he designated his grandmother, the
august Livia. The two epigrammetic criticisms which he passed upon the
style of Seneca are not wholly devoid of truth; he called his works
_Commissiones meras_, or mere displays.[25] In this expression he hit
off, happily enough, the somewhat theatrical, the slightly pedantic and
pedagogic and professorial character of Seneca's diction, its rhetorical
ornament and antitheses, and its deficiency in stern masculine
simplicity and strength. In another remark he showed himself a still
more felicitous critic. He called Seneca's writings _Arenu sine Calce_,
"sand without lime," or, as we might say, "a rope of sand." This epigram
showed a real critical faculty. It exactly hits off Seneca's short and
disjointed sentences, consisting as they often do of detached
antitheses. It accords with the amusing comparison of Malebranche, that
Seneca's composition, with its perpetual and futile recurrences, calls
up to him the image of a dancer who ends where he begins.

[Footnote 25: Suet. _Calig._ liii.]

But Caius did not confine himself to clever and malignant criticism. On
one occasion, when Seneca was pleading in his presence, he was so
jealous and displeased at the brilliancy and power of the orator that he
marked him out for immediate execution. Had Seneca died at this period
he would probably have been little known, and he might have left few
traces of his existence beyond a few tragedies of uncertain
authenticity, and possibly a passing notice in the page of Dio or
Tacitus. But destiny reserved him for a more splendid and more
questionable career. One of Caius's favourites whispered to the Emperor
that it was useless to extinguish a waning lamp; that the health of the
orator was so feeble that a natural death by the progress of his
consumptive tendencies would, in a very short time, remove him out of
the tyrant's way.

Throughout the remainder of the few years during which the reign of
Caius continued, Seneca, warned in time, withdrew himself into complete
obscurity, employing his enforced leisure in that unbroken industry
which stored his mind with such encyclopaedic wealth. "None of my days,"
he says, in describing at a later period the way in which he spent his
time, "is passed in complete ease. I claim even a part of the night for
my studies. I do not _find leisure_ for sleep, but I _succumb_ to it,
and I keep my eyes at their work even when they are wearied and drooping
with watchfulness. I have retired, not only from men, but from affairs,
and especially from my own. I am doing the work for posterity; I am
writing out things which may prove of advantage to them. I am
intrusting to writing healthful admonitions--compositions, as it were,
of useful medicines."

But the days of Caius drew rapidly to an end. His gross and unheard-of
insults to Valerius Asiaticus and Cassius Chaereas brought on him
condign vengeance. It is an additional proof, if proof were wanting, of
the degradation of Imperial Rome, that the deed of retribution was due,
not to the people whom he taxed; not to the soldiers, whole regiments of
whom he had threatened to decimate; not to the knights, of whom scores
had been put to death by his orders; not to the nobles, multitudes of
whom had been treated by him with conspicuous infamy; not even to the
Senate, which illustrious body he had on all occasions deliberately
treated with contumely and hatred,--but to the private revenge of an
insulted soldier. The weak thin voice of Cassius Chaereas, tribune of
the praetorian cohort, had marked him out for the coarse and calumnious
banter of the imperial buffoon; and he determined to avenge himself, and
at the same time rid the world of a monster. He engaged several
accomplices in the conspiracy, which was nearly frustrated by their want
of resolution. For four whole days they hesitated, while day after day,
Caius presided in person at the bloody games of the amphitheatre. On the
fifth day (Jan. 24, A.D. 41), feeling unwell after one of his gluttonous
suppers, he was indisposed to return to the shows, but at last rose to
do so at the solicitation of his attendants. A vaulted corridor led from
the palace to the circus, and in that corridor Caius met a body of noble
Asiatic boys, who were to dance a Pyrrhic dance and sing a laudatory ode
upon the stage. Caius wished them at once to practice a rehearsal in his
presence, but their leader excused himself on the grounds of
hoarseness. At this moment Chaereas asked him for the watchword of the
night. He gave the watchword, "Jupiter." "Receive him in his wrath!"
exclaimed Chaereas, striking him on the throat, while almost at the same
moment the blow of Sabinus cleft the tyrant's jaw, and brought him to
his knee. He crouched his limbs together to screen himself from further
blows, screaming aloud, "I live! I live!" The bearers of his litter
rushed to his assistance, and fought with their poles, but Caius fell
pierced with thirty wounds; and, leaving the body weltering in its
blood, the conspirators rushed out of the palace, and took measures to
concert with the Senate a restoration of the old Republic. On the very
night after the murder the consuls gave to Chaereas the long-forgotten
watchword of "Liberty." But this little gleam of hope proved delusive to
the last degree. It was believed that the unquiet ghost of the murdered
madman haunted the palace, and long before it had been laid to rest by
the forms of decent sepulchre, a new emperor of the great Julian family
was securely seated upon the throne.



While the senators were deliberating, the soldiers were acting. They
felt a true, though degraded, instinct that to restore the ancient forms
of democratic freedom would be alike impossible and useless, and with
them the only question lay between the rival claimants for the vacant
power. Strange to say that, among these claimants, no one seems ever to
have thought of mentioning the prince who became the actual successor.

There was living in the palace at this time a brother of the great
Germanicus, and consequently an uncle of the late emperor, whose name
was Claudius Caesar. Weakened both in mind and body by the continuous
maladies of an orphaned infancy, kept under the cruel tyranny of a
barbarous slave, the unhappy youth had lived in despised obscurity among
the members of a family who were utterly ashamed of him. His mother
Antonia called him a monstrosity, which Nature had begun but never
finished; and it became a proverbial expression with her, as is said to
have been the case with the mother of the great Wellington, to say of a
dull person, "that he was a greater fool than her son Claudius." His
grandmother Livia rarely deigned to address him except in the briefest
and bitterest terms. His sister Livilla execrated the mere notion of
his ever becoming emperor. Augustus, his grandfather by adoption, took
pains to keep him as much out of sight as possible, as a
wool-gathering[26] and discreditable member of the family, denied him
all public honours, and left him a most paltry legacy. Tiberius, when
looking out for a successor, deliberately passed him over as a man of
deficient intellect. Caius kept him as a butt for his own slaps and
blows, and for the low buffoonery of his meanest jesters. If the unhappy
Claudius came late for dinner, he would find every place occupied, and
peer about disconsolately amid insulting smiles. If, as was his usual
custom, he dropped asleep, after a meal, he was pelted with olives and
date-stones, or rough stockings were drawn over his hands that he might
be seen rubbing his face with them when he was suddenly awaked.

[Footnote 26: He calls him [Greek meteoros] which implies awkwardness
and constant absence of mind.]

This was the unhappy being who was now summoned to support the falling
weight of empire. While rummaging the palace for plunder, a common
soldier had spied a pair of feet protruding from under the curtains
which shaded the sides of an upper corridor. Seizing these feet, and
inquiring who owned them, he dragged out an uncouth, panic-stricken
mortal, who immediately prostrated himself at his knees and begged hard
for mercy. It was Claudius, who scared out of his wits by the tragedy
which he had just beheld, had thus tried to conceal himself until the
storm was passed. "Why, this is Germanicus!" [27] exclaimed the soldier,
"let's make him emperor." Half joking and half in earnest, they hoisted
him on their shoulders--for terror had deprived him of the use of his
legs--and hurried him off to the camp of the Praetorians. Miserable and
anxious he reached the camp, an object of compassion to the crowd of
passers-by, who believed that he was being hurried off to execution. But
the soldiers, who well knew their own interests, accepted him with
acclamations, the more so as, by a fatal precedent, he promised them a
largess of more than 80_l_. apiece. The supple Agrippa (the Herod of
Acts xii.), seeing how the wind lay, offered to plead his cause with the
Senate, and succeeded partly by arguments, partly by intimidation, and
partly by holding out the not unreasonable hopes of a great improvement
on the previous reign.

[Footnote 27: The full name of Claudius was Tiberius Claudius Drusus
Caesar Germanicus.]

For although Claudius had been accused of gambling and drunkenness, not
only were no _worse_ sins laid to his charge, but he had successfully
established some claim to being considered a learned man. Had fortune
blessed him till death with a private station, he might have been the
Lucien Bonaparte of his family--a studious prince, who preferred the
charms of literature to the turmoil of ambition. The anecdotes which
have been recorded of him show that he was something of an
archaeologist, and something of a philologian. The great historian Livy,
pitying the neglect with which the poor young man was treated, had
encouraged him in the study of history; and he had written memoirs of
his own time, memoirs of Augustus, and even a history of the civil wars
since the battle of Actium, which was so correct and so candid that his
family indignantly suppressed it as a fresh proof of his stupidity.

Such was the man who, at the age of fifty, became master of the
civilized world. He offers some singular points of resemblance to our
own "most mighty and dread sovereign," King James I. Both were learned,
and both were eminently unwise;[28] both of them were authors, and both
of them were pedants; both of them delegated their highest powers to
worthless favourites, and both of them enriched these favourites with
such foolish liberality that they remained poor themselves. Both of them
had been terrified into constitutional cowardice by their involuntary
presence at deeds of blood. Both of them, though of naturally good
dispositions, were misled by selfishness into acts of cruelty; and both
of them, though laborious in the discharge of duty, succeeded only in
rendering royalty ridiculous. King James kept Sir Walter Raleigh in
prison, and Claudius drove Seneca into exile. The parallel, so far as I
am aware, has never been noticed, but is susceptible of being drawn out
into the minutest particulars.

[Footnote 28: "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers," says our own poet.
Heraclitus had said the same thing more than two thousand years before
him, [Greek: polumaoiae ou didasho].]

One of his first acts was to recall his nieces, Julia and Agrippina,
from the exile into which their brother had driven them; and both these
princesses were destined to effect a powerful influence on the life of
our philosopher.

What part Seneca had taken during the few troubled days after the murder
of Caius we do not know. Had he taken a leading part--had he been one of
those who, like Chaereas, opposed the election of Claudius as being
merely the substitution of an imbecile for a lunatic,--or who, like
Sabinus, refused to survive the accession of another Caesar,--we should
perhaps have heard of it; and we must therefore assume either that he
was still absent from Rome in the retirement into which he had been
driven by the jealousy of Caius, or that he contented himself with
quietly watching the course of events. It will be observed that his
biography is not like that of Cicero, with whose life we are acquainted
in most trifling details; but that the curtain rises and falls on
isolated scenes, throwing into sudden brilliancy or into the deepest
shade long and important periods of his history. Nor are his letters and
other writings full of those political and personal allusions which
convert them into an autobiography. They are, without exception,
occupied exclusively with philosophical questions, or else they only
refer to such personal reminiscences as may best be converted into the
text for some Stoical paradox or moral declamation. It is, however,
certain from the sequel that Seneca must have seized the opportunity of
Caius's death to emerge from his politic obscurity, and to occupy a
conspicuous and brilliant position in the imperial court.

It would have been well for his own happiness and fame if he had adopted
the wiser and manlier course of acting up to the doctrines he professed.
A court at most periods is, as the poet says,

     "A golden but a fatal circle,
      Upon whose magic skirts a thousand devils
      In crystal forms sit tempting Innocence,
      And beckon early Virtue from its centre;"

but the court of a Caius, of a Claudius, or of a Nero, was indeed a
place wherein few of the wise could find a footing, and still fewer of
the good. And all that Seneca gained from his career of ambition was to
be suspected by the first of these Emperors, banished by the second, and
murdered by the third.

The first few acts of Claudius showed a sensible and kindly disposition;
but it soon became fatally obvious that the real powers of the
government would be wielded, not by the timid and absent-minded
Emperor, but by any one who for the time being could acquire an
ascendency over his well-intentioned but feeble disposition. Now, the
friends and confidents of Claudius had long been chosen from the ranks
of his freedmen. As under Louis XI. and Don Miguel, the barbers of these
monarchs were the real governors, so Claudius was but the minister
rather than the master of Narcissus his private secretary, of Polybius
his literary adviser, and of Pallas his accountant. A third person, with
whose name Scripture has made us familiar, was a freedman of Claudius.
This was Felix, the brother of Pallas, and that Procurator who, though
he had been the husband or the paramour of three queens, trembled before
the simple eloquence of a feeble and imprisoned Jew.[29] These men
became proverbial for their insolence and wealth; and once, when
Claudius was complaining of his own poverty, some one wittily replied,
"that he would have abundance if two of his freedmen would but admit him
into partnership with them."

[Footnote 29: Acts xix.]

But these men gained additional power from the countenance and intrigues
of the young and beautiful wife of Claudius, Valeria Messalina. In his
marriage, as in all else, Claudius had been pre-eminent in misfortune.
He lived in an age of which the most frightful sign of depravity was
that its women were, if possible, a shade worse than its men; and it was
the misery of Claudius, as it finally proved his ruin, to have been
united by marriage to the very worst among them all. Princesses like the
Berenice, and the Drusilla, and the Salome, and the Herodias of the
sacred historians were in this age a familiar spectacle; but none of
them were so wicked as two at least of Claudius's wives. He was
betrothed or married no less than five times. The lady first destined
for his bride had been repudiated because her parents had offended
Augustus; the next died on the very day intended for her nuptials. By
his first actual wife, Urgulania, whom he had married in early youth, he
had two children, Drusus and Claudia; Drusus was accidentally choked in
boyhood while trying to swallow a pear which had been thrown up into the
air. Very shortly after the birth of Claudia, discovering the
unfaithfulness of Urgulania, Claudius divorced her, and ordered the
child to be stripped naked and exposed to die. His second wife, Aelia
Petina, seems to have been an unsuitable person, and her also he
divorced. His third and fourth wives lived to earn a colossal
infamy--Valeria Messalina for her shameless character, Agrippina the
younger for her unscrupulous ambition.

Messalina, when she married, could scarcely have been fifteen years old,
yet she at once assumed a dominant position, and secured it by means of
the most unblushing wickedness.

But she did not reign so absolutely undisturbed as to be without her own
jealousies and apprehensions; and these were mainly kindled by Julia and
Agrippina, the two nieces of the Emperor. They were, no less than
herself, beautiful, brilliant, and evil-hearted women, quite ready to
make their own coteries, and to dispute, as far as they dared, the
supremacy of a bold but reckless rival. They too, used their arts, their
wealth, their rank, their political influence, their personal
fascinations, to secure for themselves a band of adherents, ready, when
the proper moment arrived, for any conspiracy. It is unlikely that, even
in the first flush of her husband's strange and unexpected triumph,
Messalina should have contemplated with any satisfaction their return
from exile. In this respect it is probable that the Emperor succeeded in
resisting her expressed wishes; so that the mere appearance of the two
daughters of Germanicus in her presence was a standing witness of the
limitations to which her influence was subjected.

At this period, as is usual among degraded peoples, the history of the
Romans degenerates into mere anecdotes of their rulers. Happily,
however, it is not our duty to enter on the _chronique scandaleuse_ of
plots and counterplots, as little tolerable to contemplate as the
factions of the court of France in the worst periods of its history. We
can only ask what possible part a philosopher could play at such a
court? We can only say that his position there is not to the credit of
his philosophical professions; and that we can contemplate his presence
there with as little satisfaction as we look on the figure of the
worldly and frivolous bishop in Mr. Frith's picture of "The Last Sunday
of Charles II. at Whitehall."

And such inconsistencies involve their own retribution, not only in loss
of influence and fair fame, but even in direct consequences. It was so
with Seneca. Circumstances--possibly a genuine detestation of
Messalina's exceptional infamy--seem to have thrown him among the
partisans of her rivals. Messalina was only waiting her opportunity to
strike a blow. Julia, possibly as being the younger and the less
powerful of the two sisters, was marked out as the first victim, and the
opportunity seemed a favourable one for involving Seneca in her ruin.
His enormous wealth, his high reputation, his splendid abilities, made
him a formidable opponent to the Empress, and a valuable ally to her
rivals. It was determined to get rid of both by a single scheme. Julia
was accused of an intrigue with Seneca, and was first driven into exile
and then put to death. Seneca was banished to the barren and
pestilential shores of the island of Corsica.

Seneca, as one of the most enlightened men of his age, should have aimed
at a character which would have been above the possibility of suspicion:
but we must remember that charges such as those which were brought
against him were the easiest of all to make, and the most impossible to
refute. When we consider who were Seneca's accusers, we are not forced
to believe his guilt; his character was indeed deplorably weak, and the
laxity of the age in such matters was fearfully demoralising; but there
are sufficient circumstances in his favour to justify us in returning a
verdict of "Not guilty." Unless we attach an unfair importance to the
bitter calumny of his open enemies, we may consider that the general
tenor of his life has sufficient weight to exculpate him from an
unsupported accusation.

Of Julia, Suetonius expressly says that the crime of which she was
accused was uncertain, and that she was condemned unheard. Seneca, on
the other hand, was tried in the Senate and found guilty. He tells us
that it was not Claudius who flung him down, but rather that, when he
was falling headlong, the Emperor supported him with the moderation of
his divine hand; "he entreated the Senate on my behalf; he not only
_gave_ me life, but even _begged_ it for me. Let it be his to consider,"
adds Seneca, with the most dulcet flattery, "in what light he may wish
my cause to be regarded; either his justice will find, or his mercy will
make, it a good cause. He will alike be worthy of my gratitude, whether
his ultimate conviction of my innocence be due to his knowledge or to
his will."

This passage enables us to conjecture how matters stood. The avarice of
Messalina was so insatiable that the non-confiscation of Seneca's
immense wealth is a proof that, for some reason, her fear or hatred of
him was not implacable. Although it is a remarkable fact that she is
barely mentioned, and never once abused, in the writings of Seneca, yet
there can be no doubt that the charge was brought by her instigation
before the senators; that after a very slight discussion, or none at
all, Claudius was, or pretended to be convinced of Seneca's culpability;
that the senators, with their usual abject servility, at once voted him
guilty of high treason, and condemned him to death, and the confiscation
of his goods; and that Claudius, perhaps from his own respect for
literature, perhaps at the intercession of Agrippina, or of some
powerful freedman, remitted part of his sentence, just as King James I.
remitted all the severest portions of the sentence passed on
Francis Bacon.

Neither the belief of Claudius nor the condemnation of the Senate
furnish the slightest valid proofs against him. The Senate at this time
were so base and so filled with terror, that on one occasion a mere word
of accusation from the freedman of an Emperor was sufficient to make
them fall upon one of their number and stab him to death upon the spot
with their iron pens. As for poor Claudius, his administration of
justice, patient and laborious as it was, had already grown into a
public joke. On one occasion he wrote down and delivered the wise
decision, "that he agreed with the side which had set forth the truth."
On another occasion, a common Greek whose suit came before him grew so
impatient at his stupidity as to exclaim aloud, "You are an old fool."
We are not informed that the Greek was punished. Roman usage allowed a
good deal of banter and coarse personality. We are told that on one
occasion even the furious and bloody Caligula, seeing a provincial
smile, called him up, and asked him what he was laughing at. "At you,"
said the man, "you look such a humbug." The grim tyrant was so struck
with the humour of the thing that he took no further notice of it. A
Roman knight against whom some foul charge had been trumped up, seeing
Claudius listening to the most contemptible and worthless evidence
against him, indignantly abused him for his cruel stupidity, and flung
his pen and tablets in his face so violently as to cut his cheek. In
fact, the Emperor's singular absence of mind gave rise to endless
anecdotes. Among other things, when some condemned criminals were to
fight as gladiators, and addressed him before the games in the sublime
formula--"Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutamus!" ("Hail, Caesar! doomed
to die, we salute thee!") he gave the singularly inappropriate answer,
"Avete vos!" ("Hail ye also!") which they took as a sign of pardon, and
were unwilling to fight until they were actually forced to do so by the
gestures of the Emperor.

The decision of such judges as Claudius and his Senate is worth very
little in the question of a man's innocence or guilt; but the sentence
was that Seneca should be banished to the island of Corsica.



So, in A.D. 41, in the prime of life and the full vigour of his
faculties, with a name stained by a charge of which he may have been
innocent, but of which he was condemned as guilty, Seneca bade farewell
to his noble-minded mother, to his loving aunt, to his brothers, the
beloved Gallio and the literary Mela, to his nephew, the ardent and
promising young Lucan, and, above all--which cost him the severest
pang--to Marcus, his sweet and prattling boy. It was a calamity which
might have shaken the fortitude of the very noblest soul, and it had by
no means come upon him single handed. Already he had lost his wife, he
had suffered from acute and chronic ill-health, he had been bereaved but
three weeks previously of another little son. He had been cut short by
the jealousy of one emperor from a career of splendid success; he was
now banished by the imbecile subservience of another from all that he
held most dear.

We are hardly able to conceive the intensity of anguish with which an
ancient Roman generally regarded the thought of banishment. In the long
melancholy wail of Ovid's "Tristia;" in the bitter and heart-rending
complaints of Cicero's "Epistles," we may see something of that intense
absorption in the life of Rome which to most of her eminent citizens
made a permanent separation from the city and its interests a thought
almost as terrible as death itself. Even the stoical and heroic Thrasea
openly confessed that he should prefer death to exile. To a heart so
affectionate, to a disposition so social, to a mind so active and
ambitious as that of Seneca, it must have been doubly bitter to exchange
the happiness of his family circle, the splendour of an imperial court,
the luxuries of enormous wealth, the refined society of statesmen, and
the ennobling intercourse of philosophers for the savage wastes of a
rocky island and the society of boorish illiterate islanders, or at the
best, of a few other political exiles, all of whom would be as miserable
as himself, and some of whom would probably have deserved their fate.

The Mediteranean rocks selected for political exiles--Gyaros, Seriphos,
Scyathos, Patmos, Pontia, Pandataria--were generally rocky, barren,
fever-stricken places, chosen by design as the most wretched conceivable
spots in which human life could be maintained at all. Yet these islands
were crowded with exiles, and in them were to be found not a few
princesses of Caesarian origin. We must not draw a parallel to their
position from that of an Eleanor, the wife of Duke Humphrey, immured in
Peel Castle in the Isle of Man, or of a Mary Stuart in the Isle of Loch
Levin--for it was something incomparably worse. No care was taken even
to provide for their actual wants. Their very lives were not secure.
Agrippa Posthumus and Nero, the brothers of the Emperor Caligula, had
been so reduced by starvation that both of the wretched youths had been
driven to support life by eating the materials with which their beds
were stuffed. The Emperor Caius had once asked an exile, whom he had
recalled from banishment, in what manner he had been accustomed to
employ his time on the island. "I used," said the flatterer, "to pray
that Tiberius might die, and that you might succeed." It immediately
struck Caius that the exiles whom he had banished might be similarly
employed, and accordingly he sent centurions round the islands to put
them all to death. Such were the miserable circumstances which might be
in store for a political outlaw.[30] If we imagine what must have been
the feelings of a d'Espréménil, when a _lettee de cachet_ consigned him
to a prison in the Isle d'Hières; or what a man like Burke might have
felt, if he had been compelled to retire for life to the Bermudas; we
may realize to some extent the heavy trial which now befel the life
of Seneca.

[Footnote 30: Among the Jews the homicides who had fled to a city of
refuge were set free on the high priest's death, and, in order _to
prevent them from praying for his death_, the mother and other relatives
of the high priest used to supply them with clothes and other
necessaries. See the author's article on "Asylum" in Kitto's
_Encyclopedia_ (ed. Alexander.)]

Corsica was the island chosen for his place of banishment, and a spot
more uninviting could hardly have been selected. It was an island
"shaggy and savage," intersected from north to south by a chain of wild,
inaccessible mountains, clothed to their summits with gloomy and
impenetrable forests of pine and fir. Its untamable inhabitants are
described by the geographer Strabo as being "wilder than the wild
beasts." It produced but little corn, and scarcely any fruit-trees. It
abounded, indeed, in swarms of wild bees, but its very honey was bitter
and unpalatable, from being infected with the acrid taste of the
box-flowers on which they fed. Neither gold nor silver were found
there; it produced nothing worth exporting, and barely sufficient for
the mere necessaries of its inhabitants; it rejoiced in no great
navigable rivers, and even the trees, in which it abounded, were neither
beautiful nor fruitful. Seneca describes it in more than one of his
epigrams, as a

     "Terrible isle, when earliest summer glows
      Yet fiercer when his face the dog-star shows;"

and again as a

     "Barbarous land, which rugged rocks surround,
      Whose horrent cliffs with idle wastes are crowned,
      No autumn fruit, no tilth the summer yields,
      Nor olives cheer the winter-silvered fields:
      Nor joyous spring her tender foliage lends,
      Nor genial herb the luckless soil befriends;
      Nor bread, nor sacred fire, nor freshening wave;--
      Nought here--save exile, and the exile's grave!"

In such a place, and under such conditions, Seneca had ample need for
all his philosophy. And at first it did not fail him. Towards the close
of his first year of exile he wrote the "Consolation to his mother
Helvia," which is one of the noblest and most charming of all his works.

He had often thought, he said, of writing to console her under this deep
and wholly unlooked-for trial, but hitherto he had abstained from doing
so, lest, while his own anguish and hers were fresh, he should only
renew the pain of the wound by his unskilful treatment. He waited,
therefore till time had laid its healing hand upon her sorrows,
especially because he found no precedent for one in his position
condoling with others when he himself seemed more in need of
consolation, and because something new and admirable would be required
of a man who, as it were, raised his head from the funeral pyre to
console his friends. Still he now feels impelled to write to her,
because to alleviate her regrets will be to lay aside his own. He does
not attempt to conceal from her the magnitude of the misfortune, because
so far from being a mere novice in sorrow, she has tasted it from her
earliest years in all its varieties; and because his purpose was to
conquer her grief, not to extenuate its causes. Those many miseries
would indeed have been in vain, if they had not taught her how to bear
wretchedness. He will prove to her therefore that she has no cause to
grieve either on his account, or on her own. Not on his--because he is
happy among circumstances which others would think miserable and because
he assures her with his own lips that not only is he _not_ miserable,
but that he can never be made so. Every one can secure his own
happiness, if he learns to seek it, not in external circumstances, but
in himself. He cannot indeed claim for himself the title of wise, for,
if so, he would be the most fortunate of men, and near to God Himself;
but, which is the next best thing, he has devoted himself to the study
of wise men, and from them he has learnt to expect nothing and to be
prepared for all things. The blessings which Fortune had hitherto
bestowed on him,--wealth, honours, glory,--he had placed in such a
position that she might rob him of them all without disturbing him.
There was a great _space_ between them and himself, so that they could
be _taken_ but not _torn_ away. Undazzled by the glamour of prosperity,
he was unshaken by the blow of adversity. In circumstances which were
the envy of all men he had never seen any real or solid blessing, but
rather a painted emptiness, a gilded deception; and similarly he found
nothing really hard or terrible in ills which the common voice has so

What, for instance, was exile? it was but a change of place, an absence
from one's native land; and, if you looked at the swarming multitudes in
Rome itself, you would find that the majority of them were practically
in contented and willing exile, drawn thither by necessity, by ambition,
or by the search for the best opportunities of vice. No isle so wretched
and so bleak which did not attract some voluntary sojourners; even this
precipitous and naked rock of Corsica, the hungriest, roughest, most
savage, most unhealthy spot conceivable, had more foreigners in it than
native inhabitants. The natural restlessness and mobility of the human
mind, which arose from its aetherial origin, drove men to change from
place to place. The colonies of different nations, scattered all over
the civilized and uncivilized world even in spots the most chilly and
uninviting, show that the condition of place is no necessary ingredient
in human happiness. Even Corsica had often changed its owners; Greeks
from Marseilles had first lived there, then Ligurians and Spaniards,
then some Roman colonists, whom the aridity and thorniness of the rock
had not kept away.

"Varro thought that nature, Brutus that the consciousness of virtue,
were sufficient consolations for any exile. How little have I lost in
comparison with those two fairest possessions which I shall everywhere
enjoy--nature and my own integrity! Whoever or whatever made the
world--whether it were a deity, or disembodied reason, or a divine
interfusing spirit, or destiny, or an immutable series of connected
causes--the result was that nothing, except our very meanest
possessions, should depend on the will of another. Man's best gifts lie
beyond the power of man either to give or to take away. This Universe,
the grandest and loveliest work of nature, and the Intellect which was
created to observe and to admire it, are our special and eternal
possessions, which shall last as long as we last ourselves. Cheerful,
therefore, and erect, let us hasten with undaunted footsteps
whithersoever our fortunes lead us.

"There is no land where man cannot dwell,--no land where he cannot
uplift his eyes to heaven; wherever we are, the distance of the divine
from the human remains the same. So then, as long as my eyes are not
robbed of that spectacle with which they cannot be satiated, so long as
I may look upon the sun and moon, and fix my lingering gaze on the other
constellations, and consider their rising and setting and the spaces
between them and the causes of their less and greater speed,--while I
may contemplate the multitude of stars glittering throughout the heaven,
some stationary, some revolving, some suddenly blazing forth, others
dazzling the gaze with a flood of fire as though they fell, and others
leaving over a long space their trails of light; while I am in the midst
of such phenomena, and mingle myself, as far as a man may, with things
celestial,--while my soul is ever occupied in contemplations so sublime
as these, what matters it what ground I tread?

"What though fortune has thrown me where the most magnificent abode is
but a cottage? the humblest cottage, if it be but the home of virtue,
may be more beautiful than all temples; no place is narrow which can
contain the crowd of glorious virtues; no exile severe into which you
may go with such a reliance. When Brutus left Marcellus at Mitylene, he
seemed to be himself going into exile because he left that illustrious
exile behind him. Caesar would not land at Mitylene, because he blushed
to see him. Marcellus therefore, though he was living in exile and
poverty, was living a most happy and a most noble life.

     "'One self-approving hour whole worlds outweighs
      Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas;
      And more true joy Marcellus exiled feels,
      Than Caesar with a senate at his heels.'

"And as for poverty every one who is not corrupted by the madness of
avarice and luxury know that it is no evil. How little does man need,
and how easily can he secure that! As for me, I consider myself as
having lost not wealth, but the trouble of looking after it. Bodily
wants are few--warmth and food, nothing more. May the gods and goddesses
confound that gluttony which sweeps the sky, and sea and land for birds,
and animals, and fish; which eats to vomit and vomits to eat, and hunts
over the whole world for that which after all it cannot even digest!
They might satisfy their hunger with little, and they excite it with
much. What harm can poverty inflict on a man who despises such excesses?
Look at the god-like and heroic poverty of our ancestors, and compare
the simple glory of a Camillus with the lasting infamy of a luxurious
Apicius! Even exile will yield a sufficiency of necessaries, but not
even kingdoms are enough for superfluities. It is the soul that makes us
rich or poor: and the soul follows us into exile, and finds and enjoys
its own blessings even in the most barren solitudes.

"But it does not even need philosophy to enable us to despise poverty.
Look at the poor: are they not often obviously happier than the rich?
And the times are so changed that what we would now consider the poverty
of an exile would then have been regarded as the patrimony of a prince.
Protected by such precedents as those of Homer, and Zeno, and Menenius
Agrippa, and Regulus, and Scipio, poverty becomes not only safe but
even estimable.

"And if you make the objection that the ills which assail me are not
exile only, or poverty only, but disgrace as well, I reply that the soul
which is hard enough to resist one wound is invulnerable to all. If we
have utterly conquered the fear of death, nothing else can daunt us.
What is disgrace to one who stands above the opinion of the multitude?
what was even a death of disgrace to Socrates, who by entering a prison
made it cease to be disgraceful? Cato was twice defeated in his
candidature for the praetorship and consulship: well, this was the
disgrace of those honours, and not of Cato. No one can be despised by
another until he has learned to despise himself. The man who has learned
to triumph over sorrow wears his miseries as though they were sacred
fillets upon his brow, and nothing is so entirely admirable as a man
bravely wretched. Such men inflict disgrace upon disgrace itself. Some
indeed say that death is preferable to contempt; to whom I reply that he
who is great when he falls is great in his prostration, and is no more
an object of contempt than when men tread on the ruins of sacred
buildings, which men of piety venerate no less than if they stood.

"On my behalf therefore, dearest mother; you have no cause for endless
weeping: nor have you on your own. You cannot grieve for me on selfish
grounds, in consequence of any personal loss to yourself; for you were
ever eminently unselfish, and unlike other women in all your dealings
with your sons, and you were always a help and a benefactor to them
rather than they to you. Nor should you give way out of a regret and
longing for me in my absence. We have often previously been separated,
and, although it is natural that you should miss that delightful
conversation, that unrestricted confidence, that electrical sympathy of
heart and intellect that always existed between us, and that boyish glee
wherewith your visits always affected me, yet, as you rise above the
common herd of women in virtue, the simplicity, the purity of your life,
you must abstain from feminine tears as you have done from all feminine
follies. Consider how Cornelia, who had lost ten children by death,
instead of wailing for her dead sons, thanked fortune that had made her
sons _Gracchi_. Rutilia followed her son Cotta into exile so dearly did
she love him, yet no one saw her shed a tear after his burial. She had
shown her affection when it was needful, she restrained her sorrow when
it was superflous. Imitate the example of these great women as you have
imitated their virtues. I want you not to _beguile_ your sorrow by
amusements or occupations, but to _conquer_ it. For you may now return
to those philosophical studies in which you once showed yourself so apt
a proficient, and which formerly my father checked. They will gradually
sustain and comfort you in your hour of grief.

"And meanwhile consider how many sources of consolation already exist
for you. My brothers are still with you; the dignity of Gallio, the
leisure of Mela, will protect you; the ever-sparkling mirth of my
darling little Marcus will cheer you up; the training of my little
favourite Novatilla will be a duty which will assuage your sorrow. For
your father's sake, too, though he is absent from you, you must moderate
your lamentations. Above all, your sister--that truly faithful, loving,
and high-souled lady, to whom I owe so deep a debt of affection for her
kindness to me from my cradle until now,--she will yield you the
fondest sympathy and the truest consolation.

"But since I know that after all your thoughts will constantly revert to
me, and that none of your children will be more frequently before your
mind than I,--not because they are less dear to you than I, but because
it is natural to lay the hand most often upon the spot which pains,--I
will tell you how you are to think of me. Think of me as happy and
cheerful, as though I were in the midst of blessings; as indeed I am,
while my mind, free from every care, has leisure for its own pursuits,
and sometimes amuses itself with lighter studies, sometimes, eager for
truth, soars upwards to the contemplation of its own nature, and the
nature of the universe. It inquires first of all about the lands and
their situation; then into the condition of the surrounding sea, its
ebbings and flowings; then it carefully studies all this terror-fraught
interspace between heaven and earth, tumultuous with thunders and
lightnings, and the blasts of winds, and the showers of rain, and snow
and hail; then, having wandered through all the lower regions, it bursts
upwards to the highest things, and revels in the most lovely--spectacle
of that which is divine, and, mindful of its own eternity, passes into
all that hath been and all that shall be throughout all ages."

Such in briefest outline, and without any of that grace of language with
which Seneca has invested it, is a sketch of the little treatise which
many have regarded as among the most delightful of Seneca's works. It
presents the picture of that grandest of all spectacles--

     "A good man struggling with the storms of fate."

So far there was something truly Stoical in the aspect of Seneca's
exile. But was this grand attitude consistently maintained? Did his
little raft of philosophy sink under him, or did it bear him safely over
the stormy waves of this great sea of adversity.



There are some misfortunes of which the very essence consists in their
continuance. They are tolerable so long as they are illuminated by a ray
of hope. Seclusion and hardship might even come at first with some charm
of novelty to a philosopher who, as was not unfrequent among the amateur
thinkers of his time, occasionally practised them in the very midst of
wealth and friends. But as the hopeless years rolled on, as the efforts
of friends proved unavailing, as the loving son, and husband, and father
felt himself cut off from the society of those whom he cherished in such
tender affection, as the dreary island seemed to him ever more barbarous
and more barren, while season after season added to its horrors without
revealing a single compensation, Seneca grew more and more disconsolate
and depressed. It seemed to be his miserable destiny to rust away,
useless, unbefriended, and forgotten. Formed to fascinate society, here
there were none for him to fascinate; gifted with an eloquence which
could keep listening senates hushed, here he found neither subject nor
audience; and his life began to resemble a river which, long before it
has reached the sea, is lost in dreary marshes and choking sands.

Like the brilliant Ovid, when he was banished to the frozen wilds of
Tomi, Seneca vented his anguish in plaintive wailing and bitter verse.
In his handful of epigrams he finds nothing too severe for the place of
his exile. He cries--

     "Spare thou thine exiles, lightly o'er thy dead,
      Alive, yet buried, be thy dust bespread."

And addressing some malignant enemy--

     "Whoe'er thou art,--thy name shall I repeat?--
      Who o'er mine ashes dar'st to press thy feet,
      And, uncontented with a fall so dread,
      Draw'st bloodstained weapons on my darkened head,
      Beware! for nature, pitying, guards the tomb,
      And ghosts avenge th' invaders of their gloom,
      Hear, Envy, hear the gods proclaim a truth,
      Which my shrill ghost repeats to move thy ruth,
      WRETCHES ARE SACRED THINGS,--thy hands refrain:
      E'en sacrilegious hands from TOMBS abstain."

The one fact that seems to have haunted him most was that his abode in
Corsica was a living death.

But the most complete picture of his state of mind, and the most
melancholy memorial of his inconsistency as a philosopher, is to be
found in his "Consolation to Polybius." Polybius was one of those
freedmen of the Emperor whose bloated wealth and servile insolence were
one of the darkest and strangest phenomena of the time. Claudius, more
than any of his class, from the peculiar imbecility of his character,
was under the powerful influence of this class of men; and so dangerous
was their power that Messalina herself was forced to win her ascendency
over her husband's mind by making these men her supporters, and
cultivating their favour. Such were "the most excellent Felix," the
judge of St. Paul, and the slave who became a husband to three
queens,--Narcissus, in whose household (which moved the envy of the
Emperor) were some of those Christians to whom St. Paul sends greetings
from the Christians of Corinth,[31]--Pallas, who never deigned to speak
to his own slaves, but gave all his commands by signs, and who actually
condescended to receive the thanks of the Senate, because he, the
descendant of Etruscan kings, yet condescended to serve the Emperor and
the Commonwealth; a preposterous and outrageous compliment, which
appears to have been solely due to the fact of his name being identical
with that of Virgil's young hero, the son of the mythic Evander!

[Footnote 31: Rom. xvi. 11.]

Among this unworthy crew a certain Polybius was not the least
conspicuous. He was the director of the Emperor's studies,--a worthy
Alcuin to such a Charlemagne. All that we know about him is that he was
once the favourite of Messalina, and afterwards her victim, and that in
the day of his eminence the favour of the Emperor placed him so high
that he was often seen walking between the two consuls. Such was the man
to whom, on the occasion of his brother's death, Seneca addressed this
treatise of consolation. It has come down to us as a fragment, and it
would have been well for Seneca's fame if it had not come down to us at
all. Those who are enthusiastic for his reputation would gladly prove it
spurious, but we believe that no candid reader can study it without
perceiving its genuineness. It is very improbable that he ever intended
it to be published, and whoever suffered it to see the light was the
successful enemy of its illustrious author.

Its sad and abject tone confirms the inference, drawn from an allusion
which it contains, that it was written towards the close of the third
year of Seneca's exile. He apologises for its style by saying that if it
betrayed any weakness of thought or inelegance of expression this was
only what might be expected from a man who had so long been surrounded
by the coarse and offensive _patois_ of barbarians. We need hardly
follow him into the ordinary topics of moral philosophy with which it
abounds, or expose the inconsistency of its tone with that of Seneca's
other writings. He consoles the freedman with the "common commonplaces"
that death is inevitable; that grief is useless; that we are all born to
sorrow; that the dead would not wish us to be miserable for their sakes.
He reminds him that, owing to his illustrious position, all eyes are
upon him. He bids him find consolation in the studies in which he has
always shown himself so pre-eminent, and lastly he refers him to those
shining examples of magnanimous fortitude, for the climax of which, no
doubt, the whole piece of interested flattery was composed. For this
passage, written in a _crescendo_ style, culminates, as might have been
expected, in the sublime spectacle of Claudius Caesar. So far from
resenting his exile, he crawls in the dust to kiss Caesar's beneficent
feet for saving him from death; so far from asserting his
innocence--which, perhaps, was impossible, since to do so might have
involved him in a fresh charge of treason--he talks with all the
abjectness of guilt. He belauds the clemency of a man, who, he tells us
elsewhere, used to kill men with as much _sang froid_ as a dog eats
offal; the prodigious powers of memory of a divine creature who used to
ask people to dice and to dinner whom he had executed the day before,
and who even inquired as to the cause of his wife's absence a few days
after having given the order for her execution; the extraordinary
eloquence of an indistinct stutterer, whose head shook and whose broad
lips seemed to be in contortions whenever he spoke.[32] If Polybius
feels sorrowful, let him turn his eyes to Caesar; the splendour of that
most great and radiant deity will so dazzle his eyes that all their
tears will be dried up in the admiring gaze. Oh that the bright
occidental star which has beamed on a world which, before its rising,
was plunged in darkness and deluge, would only shed one little beam
upon him!

[Footnote 32: These slight discrepancies of description are taken from
counter passages of _Consol, ad Polyb._. and the _Ludus de Morte

No doubt these grotesque and gorgeous flatteries, contrasting strangely
with the bitter language of intense hatred and scathing contempt which
Seneca poured out on the memory of Claudius after his death, were penned
with the sole purpose of being repeated in those divine and benignant
ears. No doubt the superb freedman, who had been allowed so rich a share
of the flatteries lavished on his master, would take the opportunity--if
not out of good nature, at least out of vanity,--to retail them in the
imperial ear. If the moment were but favourable, who knows but what at
some oblivious and crapulous moment the Emperor might be induced to sign
an order for our philosopher's recall?

Let us not be hard on him. Exile and wretchedness are stern trials, and
it is difficult for him to brave a martyr's misery who has no conception
of a martyr's crown. To a man who, like Seneca, aimed at being not only
a philosopher, but also a man of the world--who in this very treatise
criticises the Stoics for their ignorance of life--there would not have
seemed to be even the shadow of disgrace in a private effusion of
insincere flattery intended to win the remission of a deplorable
banishment. Or, if we condemn Seneca, let us remember that Christians,
no less than philosophers, have attained a higher eminence only to
exemplify a more disastrous fall. The flatteries of Seneca to Claudius
are not more fulsome, and are infinitely less disgraceful, than those
which fawning bishops exuded on his counterpart, King James. And if the
Roman Stoic can gain nothing from a comparison with the yet more
egregious moral failure of the greatest of Christian thinkers---Francis
Bacon, Viscount St. Alban's--let us not forget that a Savonarola and a
Cranmer recanted under torment, and that the anguish of exile drew even
from the starry and imperial spirit of Dante Alighieri words and
sentiments for which in his noblest moments he might have blushed.



Of the last five years of Seneca's weary exile no trace has been
preserved to us. What were his alternations of hope and fear, of
devotion to philosophy and of hankering after the world which he had
lost, we cannot tell. Any hopes which he may have entertained respecting
the intervention of Polybius in his favour must have been utterly
quenched when he heard that the freedman, though formerly powerful with
Messalina, had forfeited his own life in consequence of her
machinations. But the closing period of his days in Corsica must have
brought him thrilling news, which would save him from falling into
absolute despair.

For the career of Messalina was drawing rapidly to a close. The life of
this beautiful princess, short as it was, for she died at a very early
age, was enough to make her name a proverb of everlasting infamy. For a
time she appeared irresistible. Her personal fascination had won for her
an unlimited sway over the facile mind of Claudius, and she had either
won over by her intrigues, or terrified by her pitiless severity, the
noblest of the Romans and the most powerful of the freedmen. But we see
in her fate, as we see on every page of history, that vice ever carries
with it the germ of its own ruin, and that a retribution, which is all
the more inevitable from being often slow, awaits every violation of the
moral law.

There is something almost incredible in the penal infatuation which
brought about her fall. During the absence of her husband at Ostia, she
wedded in open day with C. Silius, the most beautiful and the most
promising of the young Roman nobles. She had apparently persuaded
Claudius that this was merely a mock-marriage, intended to avert some
ominous auguries which threatened to destroy "the husband of Messalina;"
but, whatever Claudius may have imagined, all the rest of the world knew
the marriage to be real, and regarded it not only as a vile enormity,
but also as a direct attempt to bring about a usurpation of the
imperial power.

It was by this view of the case that the freedman Narcissus roused the
inert spirit and timid indignation of the injured Emperor. While the
wild revelry of the wedding ceremony was at its height, Vettius Valens,
a well-known physician of the day, had in the license of the festival
struggled up to the top of a lofty tree, and when they asked him what he
saw, he replied in words which, though meant for jest, were full of
dreadful significance, "I see a fierce storm approaching from Ostia." He
had scarcely uttered the words when first an uncertain rumour, and then
numerous messengers brought the news that Claudius knew all, and was
coming to take vengeance. The news fell like a thunderbolt on the
assembled guests. Silius, as though nothing had happened, went to
transact his public duties in the Forum; Messalina instantly sending for
her children, Octavia and Britannicus, that she might meet her husband
with them by her side, implored the protection of Vibidia, the eldest of
the chaste virgins of Vesta, and, deserted by all but three companions,
fled on foot and unpitied, through the whole breadth of the city, until
she reached the Ostian gate, and mounted the rubbish-cart of a market
gardener which happened to be passing. But Narcissus absorbed both the
looks and the attention of the Emperor by the proofs and the narrative
of her crimes, and, getting rid of the Vestal by promising her that the
cause of Messalina should be tried, he hurried Claudius forward, first
to the house of Silius, which abounded with the proofs of his guilt, and
then to the camp of the Praetorians, where swift vengeance was taken on
the whole band of those who had been involved in Messalina's crimes. She
meanwhile, in alternative paroxysms of fury and abject terror, had taken
refuge in the garden of Lucullus, which she had coveted and made her own
by injustice. Claudius, who had returned home, and had recovered some of
his facile equanimity in the pleasures of the table, showed signs of
relenting; but Narcissus knew that delay was death, and on his own
authority sent a tribune and centurions to despatch the Empress. They
found her prostrate on the ground at the feet of her mother Lepida, with
whom in her prosperity she had quarrelled, but who now came to pity and
console her misery, and to urge her to that voluntary death which alone
could save her from imminent and more cruel infamy. But the mind of
Messalina, like that of Nero afterwards, was so corrupted by wickedness
that not even such poor nobility was left in her as is implied in the
courage of despair. While she wasted the time in tears and lamentations,
a noise was heard of battering at the doors, and the tribune stood by
her in stern silence, the freedman with slavish vituperation. First she
took the dagger in her irresolute hand, and after she had twice stabbed
herself in vain, the tribune drove home the fatal blow, and the corpse
of Messalina, like that of Jezebel, lay weltering in its blood in the
plot of ground of which her crimes had robbed its lawful owner.
Claudius, still lingering at his dinner, was informed that she had
perished, and neither asked a single question at the time, nor
subsequently displayed the slightest sign of anger, of hatred, of pity,
or of any human emotion.

The absolute silence of Seneca respecting the woman who had caused him
the bitterest anguish and humiliation of his life is, as we have
remarked already, a strange and significant phenomenon. It is clearly
not due to accident, for the vices which he is incessantly describing
and denouncing would have found in this miserable woman their most
flagrant illustration, nor could contemporary history have furnished a
more apposite example of the vindication by her fate of the stern
majesty of the moral law. But yet, though Seneca had every reason to
loathe her character and to detest her memory, though he could not have
rendered to his patrons a more welcome service than by blackening her
reputation, he never so much as mentions her name. And this honourable
silence gives us a favourable insight into his character. For it can
only be due to his pitying sense of the fact that even Messalina, bad as
she undoubtedly was, had been judged already by a higher Power, and had
met her dread punishment at the hand of God. It has been conjectured,
with every appearance of probability, that the blackest of the scandals
which were believed and circulated respecting her had their origin in
the published autobiography of her deadly enemy and victorious
successor. The many who had had a share in Messalina's fall would be
only too glad to poison every reminiscence of her life; and the deadly
implacable hatred of the worst woman who ever lived would find peculiar
gratification in scattering every conceivable hue of disgrace over the
acts of a rival whose young children it was her dearest object to
supplant. That Seneca did not deign to chronicle even of an enemy what
Agrippina was not ashamed to write,--that he spared one whom it was
every one's interest and pleasure to malign,--that he regarded her
terrible fall as a sufficient claim to pity, as it was a sufficient
Nemesis upon her crimes,--is a trait in the character of the philosopher
which has hardly yet received the credit which it deserves.



Scarcely had the grave closed over Messalina when the court was plunged
into the most violent factions about the appointment of her successor.
There were three principal candidates for the honour of the aged
Emperor's hand. They were his former wife, Aelia Petina, who had only
been divorced in consequence of trivial disagreements, and who was
supported by Narcissus; Lollia Paulina, so celebrated in antiquity for
her beauty and splendour, and who for a short time had been the wife of
Caius; and Agrippina the younger, the daughter of the great Germanicus,
and the niece of Claudius himself. Claudius, indeed, who had been as
unlucky as Henry VIII. himself in the unhappiness which had attended his
five experiments of matrimony, had made the strongest possible
asseverations that he would never again submit himself to such a yoke.
But he was so completely a tool in the hands of his own courtiers that
no one attached the slightest importance to anything which he had said.

The marriage of an uncle with his own niece was considered a violation
of natural laws, and was regarded with no less horror among the Romans
than it would be among ourselves. But Agrippina, by the use of means the
most unscrupulous, prevailed over all her rivals, and managed her
interests with such consummate skill that, before many months had
elapsed, she had become the spouse of Claudius and the Empress of Rome.

With this princess the destinies of Seneca were most closely
intertwined, and it will enable us the better to understand his
position, and his writings, if we remember that all history discloses to
us no phenomenon more portentous and terrible than that presented to us
in the character of Agrippina, the mother of Nero.

Of the virtues of her great parents she, like their other children, had
inherited not one; and she had exaggerated their family tendencies into
passions which urged her into every form of crime. Her career from the
very cradle had been a career of wickedness, nor had any one of the many
fierce vicissitudes of her life called forth in her a single noble or
amiable trait. Born at Oppidum Ubiorum (afterwards called in her honour
Colonia Agrippina, and still retaining its name in the form Cologne),
she lost her father at the age of three, and her mother (by banishment)
at the age of twelve. She was educated with bad sisters, with a wild and
wicked brother, and under a grandmother whom she detested. At the age of
fourteen she was married to Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, one of the most
worthless and ill-reputed of the young Roman nobles of his day. The
gossiping biographies of the time still retain some anecdotes of his
cruelty and selfishness. They tell us how he once, without the slightest
remorse, ran over a poor boy who was playing on the Appian Road; how on
another occasion he knocked out the eye of a Roman knight who had given
him a hasty answer; and how, when his friend congratulated him on the
birth of his son (the young Claudius Domitius, afterwards the Emperor
Nero), he brutally remarked that from people like himself and Agrippina
could only be born some monster destined for the public ruin.

Domitius was forty years old when he married Agrippina, and the young
Nero was not born till nine years afterwards. Whatever there was of
possible affection in the tigress-nature of Agrippina was now absorbed
in the person of her child. For that child, from its cradle to her own
death by his means, she toiled and sinned. The fury of her own ambition,
inextricably linked with the uncontrollable fierceness of her love for
this only son, henceforth directed every action of her life. Destiny had
made her the sister of one Emperor; intrigue elevated her into the wife
of another; her own crimes made her the mother of a third. And at first
sight her career might have seemed unusually successful, for while still
in the prime of life she was wielding, first in the name of her husband,
and then in that of her son, no mean share in the absolute government of
the Roman world. But meanwhile that same unerring retribution, whose
stealthy footsteps in the rear of the triumphant criminal we can track
through page after page of history, was stealing nearer and nearer to
her with uplifted hand. When she had reached the dizzy pinnacle of
gratified love and pride to which she had waded through so many a deed
of sin and blood, she was struck down into terrible ruin and violent
shameful death, by the hand of that very son for whose sake she had so
often violated the laws of virtue and integrity, and spurned so often
the pure and tender obligations which even the heathen had been taught
by the voice of God within their conscience to recognize and to adore.

Intending that her son should marry Octavia, the daughter of Claudius,
her first step was to drive to death Silanus, a young nobleman to whom
Octavia had already been betrothed. Her next care was to get rid of all
rivals possible or actual. Among the former were the beautiful Calpurnia
and her own sister-in-law, Domitia Lepida. Among the latter was the
wealthy Lollia Paulina, against whom she trumped up an accusation of
sorcery and treason, upon which her wealth was confiscated, but her life
spared by the Emperor, who banished her from Italy. This half-vengeance
was not enough for the mother of Nero. Like the daughter of Herodias in
sacred history, she despatched a tribune with orders to bring her the
head of her enemy; and when it was brought to her, and she found a
difficulty in recognizing those withered and ghastly features of a
once-celebrated beauty, she is said with her own hand to have lifted one
of the lips, and to have satisfied herself that this was indeed the head
of Lollia. To such horrors may a woman sink, when she has abandoned the
love of God; and a fair face may hide a soul "leprous as sin itself."
Well may Adolf Stahr observe that Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and
husband-murdering Gertrude are mere children by the side of this awful
giant-shape of steely feminine cruelty.

Such was the princess who, in the year A.D. 49, recalled Seneca from
exile.[33] She saw that her cruelties were inspiring horror even into a
city that had long been accustomed to blood, and Tacitus expressly tells
us that she hoped to counterbalance this feeling by a stroke of
popularity in recalling from the waste solitudes of Corsica the
favourite philosopher and most popular author of the Roman world. Nor
was she content with this public proof of her belief in his innocence
of the crime which had been laid to his charge, for she further procured
for him the Praetorship, and appointed him tutor and governor to her
youthful son. Even in taking this step she did not forget her ambitious
views; for she knew that Seneca cherished a secret indignation against
Claudius, and that Nero could have no more wise adviser in taking steps
to secure the fruition of his imperial hopes. It might perhaps have been
better for Seneca's happiness if he had never left Corsica, or set his
foot again in that Circean and bloodstained court. Let it, however, be
added in his exculpation, that another man of undoubted and scrupulous
honesty,--Afranius Burrus--a man of the old, blunt, faithful type of
Roman manliness, whom Agrippina had raised to the Prefectship of the
Praetorian cohorts, was willing to share his danger and his
responsibilities. Yet he must have lived from the first in the very
atmosphere of base and criminal intrigues. He must have formed an
important member of Agrippina's party, which was in daily and deadly
enmity against the party of Narcissus. He must have watched the
incessant artifices by which Agrippina secured the adoption of her son
Nero by an Emperor whose own son Britannicus was but three years his
junior. He must have seen Nero always honoured, promoted, paraded before
the eyes of the populace as the future hope of Rome, whilst Britannicus,
like the young Edward V. under the regency of his uncle, was neglected,
surrounded with spies, kept as much as possible out of his father's
sight, and so completely thrust into the background from all observation
that the populace began seriously to doubt whether he were alive or
dead. He must have seen Agrippina, who had now received the
unprecedented honour of the title "Augusta" in her lifetime, acting
with such haughty insolence that there could be little doubt as to her
ulterior designs upon the throne. He must have known that his splendid
intellect was practically at the service of a woman in whom avarice,
haughtiness, violence, treachery, and every form of unscrupulous
criminality had reached a point hitherto unmatched even in a corrupt and
pagan world. From this time forth the biography of Seneca must assume
the form of an apology rather than of a panegyric.

[Footnote 33: Gallio was Proconsul of Achaia about A.D. 53, when St.
Paul was brought before his tribunal. Very possibly his elevation may
have been due to the restoration of Seneca's influence.]

The Emperor could not but feel that in Agrippina he had chosen a wife
even more intolerable than Messalina herself. Messalina had not
interfered with the friends he loved, had not robbed him of the insignia
of empire, had not filled his palace with a hard and unfeminine tyranny,
and had of course watched with a mother's interest over the lives and
fortunes of his children. Narcissus would not be likely to leave him
long in ignorance that, in addition to her other plots and crimes,
Agrippina had been as little true to him as his former unhappy wife. The
information sank deep into his heart, and he was heard to mutter that it
had been his destiny all along first to bear, and then to avenge, the
enormities of his wives. Agrippina, whose spies filled the palace, could
not long remain uninformed of so significant a speech; and she probably
saw with an instinct quickened by the awful terrors of her own guilty
conscience that the Emperor showed distinct signs of his regret for
having married his niece, and adopted her child to the prejudice, if not
to the ruin, of his own young son. If she wanted to reach the goal which
she had held so long in view no time was to be lost. Let us hope that
Seneca and Burrus were at least ignorant of the means which she took to
effect her purpose.

Fortune favoured her. The dreaded Narcissus, the most formidable
obstacle to her murderous plans, was seized with an attack of the gout.
Agrippina managed that his physician should recommend him the waters of
Sinuessa in Campania by way of cure. He was thus got out of the way, and
she proceeded at once to her work of blood. Entrusting the secret to
Halotus, the Emperor's _praegustator_--the slave whose office it was to
protect him from poison by tasting every dish before him--and to his
physician, Xenophon of Cos, she consulted Locusta, the Mrs. Turner of
the period of this classical King James, as to the poison best suited to
her purpose. Locusta was mistress of her art, in which long practice had
given her a consummate skill. The poison must not be too rapid, lest it
should cause suspicion; nor too slow, lest it should give the Emperor
time to consult for the interests of his son Britannicus; but it was to
be one which should disturb his intellect without causing immediate
death. Claudius was a glutton, and the poison was given him with all the
more ease because it was mixed with a dish of mushrooms, of which he was
extravagantly fond. Agrippina herself handed him the choicest mushroom
in the dish, and the poison at once reduced him to silence. As was too
frequently the case, Claudius was intoxicated at the time, and was
carried off to his bed as if nothing had happened. A violent colic
ensued, and it was feared that this, with a quantity of wine which he
had drunk, would render the poison innocuous. But Agrippina had gone too
far for retreat, and Xenophon, who knew that great crimes if frustrated
are perilous, if successful are rewarded, came to her assistance. Under
pretence of causing him to vomit, he tickled the throat of the Emperor
with a feather smeared with a swift and deadly poison. It did its work,
and before morning the Caesar was a corpse.[34]

[Footnote 34: There is usually found among the writings of Seneca a most
remarkable burlesque called _Ludus de Morte Caesaris_. As to its
authorship opinions will always vary, but it is a work of such undoubted
genius, so interesting, and so unique in its character, that I have
thought it necessary to give in an Appendix a brief sketch of its
argument. We may at least _hope_ that this satire, which overflows with
the deadliest contempt of Claudius, is not from the same pen which wrote
for Nero his funeral oration. It has, however, been supposed (without
sufficient grounds) to be the lost [Greek: Apokolokuntoois] which Seneca
is said to have written on the apotheosis of Claudius. The very name is
a bitter satire. It imagines the Emperor transformed, not into a God,
but into a gourd--one of those "bloated gourds which sun their speckled
bellies before the doors of the Roman peasants." "The Senate decreed his
_divinity_; Seneca translated it into _pumpkinity_" (Merivale, _Rom.
Emp_. v. 601). The _Ludus_ begins by spattering mud on the memory of the
divine Claudius; it ends with a shower of poetic roses over the glory of
the diviner Nero!]

As has been the case not unfrequently in history, from the times of
Tarquinius Priscus to those of Charles II., the death was concealed
until everything had been prepared for the production of a successor.
The palace was carefully watched; no one was even admitted into it
except Agrippina's most trusty partisans. The body was propped up with
pillows; actors were sent for "by his own desire" to afford it some
amusement; and priests and consuls were bidden to offer up their vows
for the life of the dead. Giving out that the Emperor was getting
better, Agrippina took care to keep Britannicus and his two sisters,
Octavia and Antonia, under her own immediate eye. As though overwhelmed
with sorrow she wept, and embraced them, and above all kept Britannicus
by her side, kissing him with the exclamation "that he was the very
image of his father," and taking care that he should on no account
leave her room. So the day wore on till it was the hour which the
Chaldaeans declared would be the only lucky hour in that unlucky
October day.

Noon came; the palace doors were suddenly thrown open: and Nero with
Burrus at his side went out to the Praetorian cohort which was on guard.
By the order of their commandant, they received him with cheers. A few
only hesitated, looking round them and asking "Where was Britannicus?"
Since, however, he was not to be seen, and no one stirred in his favour,
they followed the multitude. Nero was carried in triumph to the camp,
made the soldiers a short speech, and promised to each man of them a
splendid donative. He was at once saluted Emperor. The Senate followed
the choice of the soldiers, and the provinces made no demur. Divine
honors were decreed to the murdered man, and preparations made for a
funeral which was to rival in its splendour the one which Livia had
ordered for Augustus. But the will--which beyond all doubt had provided
for the succession of Britannicus--was quietly done away with, and its
exact provisions were never known.

And on the first evening of his imperial power, Nero, well aware to whom
he owed his throne, gave to the sentinel who came to ask him the pass
for the night the grateful and significant watchword of "Optima
Mater,"--"the best of mothers!"



The imperial youth, whose destinies are now inextricably mingled with
those of Seneca, was accompanied to the throne by the acclamations of
the people. Wearied by the astuteness of an Augustus, the sullen wrath
of a Tiberius, the mad ferocity of a Caius, the senile insensibility of
a Claudius, they could not but welcome the succession of a bright and
beautiful youth, whose fair hair floated over his shoulders, and whose
features displayed the finest type of Roman beauty. There was nothing in
his antecedents to give a sinister augury to his future development, and
all classes alike dreamt of the advent of a golden age. We can
understand their feelings if we compare them with those of our own
countrymen when the sullen tyranny of Henry VIII. was followed by the
youthful virtue and gentleness of Edward VI. Happy would it have been
for Nero if his reign, like that of Edward, could have been cut short
before the thick night of many crimes had settled down upon the promise
of its dawn. For the first five years of Nero's reign--the famous
_Quinquennium Neronis_--were fondly regarded by the Romans as a period
of almost ideal happiness. In reality, it was Seneca who was ruling in
Nero's, name. Even so excellent an Emperor as Trajan is said to have
admitted "that no other prince had nearly equalled the praise of that
period." It is indeed probable that those years appeared to shine with
an exaggerated splendour from the intense gloom which succeeded them;
yet we can see in them abundant circumstances which were quite
sufficient to inspire an enthusiasm of hope and joy. The young Nero was
at first modest and docile. His opening speeches, written with all the
beauty of thought and language which betrayed the _style_ of Seneca no
less than his habitual sentiments, were full of glowing promises. All
those things which had been felt to be injurious or oppressive he
promised to eschew. He would not, he said, reserve to himself, as
Claudius had done, the irresponsible decision in all matters of
business; no office or dignity should be won from him by flattery or
purchased by bribes; he would not confuse his own personal interests
with those of the commonwealth; he would respect the ancient
prerogatives of the Senate; he would confine his own immediate attention
to the provinces and the army.

Nor were such promises falsified by his immediate conduct. The odious
informers who had flourished in previous reigns were frowned upon and
punished. Offices of public dignity were relieved from unjust and
oppressive burdens. Nero prudently declined the gold and silver statues
and other extravagant honours which were offered to him by the corrupt
and servile Senate, but he treated that body, which, fallen as it was,
continued still to be the main representative of constitutional
authority, with favour and respect. Nobles and officials begun to
breathe more freely, and the general sense of an intolerable tyranny was
perceptibly relaxed. Severity was reserved for notorious criminals, and
was only inflicted in a regular and authorized manner, when no one
could doubt that it had been deserved. Above all, Seneca had
disseminated an anecdote about his young pupil which tended more than
any other circumstance to his wide spread popularity. England has
remembered with gratitude and admiration the tearful reluctance of her
youthful Edward to sign the death-warrant of Joan Boucher; Rome,
accustomed to a cruel indifference to human life, regarded with
something like transport the sense of pity which had made Nero, when
asked to affix his signature to an order for execution, exclaim, "_How I
wish that I did not know how to write_!"

It is admitted that no small share of the happiness of this period was
due to the firmness of the honest Burrus, and the wise, high-minded
precepts of Seneca. They deserve the amplest gratitude and credit for
this happy interregnum, for they had no easy task to perform. Besides
the difficulties which arose from the base and frivolous character of
their pupil, besides the infinite delicacy which was requisite for the
restraint of a youth who was absolute master of such gigantic destinies,
they had the task of curbing the wild and imperious ambition of
Agrippina, and of defeating the incessant intrigues of her many powerful
dependents. Agrippina had no doubt persuaded herself that her crimes had
been mainly committed in the interest of her son; but her conduct showed
that she wished him to be a mere instrument in her hands. She wished to
govern him, and had probably calculated on doing so by the assistance of
Seneca, just as our own Queen Caroline completely managed George II.
with the aid of Sir Robert Walpole. She rode in a litter with him;
without his knowledge she ordered the poisoning of M. Silanus, a brother
of her former victim, she goaded Narcissus to death, against his will;
through her influence the Senate was sometimes assembled in the palace,
and she took no pains to conceal from the senators that she was herself
seated behind a curtain where she could hear every word of their
deliberations;--nay, on one occasion, when Nero was about to give
audience to an important Armenian legation, she had the audacity to
enter the audience-chamber, and advance to take her seat by the side of
the Emperor. Every one else was struck dumb with amazement, and even
terror, at a proceeding so unusual; but Seneca, with ready and admirable
tact, suggested to Nero that he should rise and meet his mother, thus
obviating a public scandal under the pretext of filial affection.

But Seneca from the very first had been guilty of a fatal error in the
education of his pupil. He had governed him throughout on the ruinous
principle of _concession_. Nero was not devoid of talent; he had a
decided turn for Latin versification, and the few lines of his
composition which have come down to us, _bizarre_ and effected as they
are, yet display a certain sense of melody and power of language. But
his vivid imagination was accompained by a want of purpose; and Seneca,
instead of trying to train him in habits of serious attention and
sustained thought, suffered him to waste his best efforts in pursuits
and amusements which were considered partly frivolous and partly
disreputable, such as singing, painting, dancing, and driving. Seneca
might have argued that there was, at any rate, no great harm in such
employments, and that they probably kept Nero out of worse mischief. But
we respect Nero the less for his indifferent singing and harp-twanging
just as we respect Louis XVI. less for making very poor locks; and, if
Seneca had adopted a loftier tone with his pupil from the first, Rome
might have been spared the disgraceful folly of Nero's subsequent
buffooneries in the cities of Greece and the theatres of Rome. We may
lay it down as an invariable axiom in all high education, that it is
_never_ sensible to permit what is bad for the supposed sake of
preventing what is worse. Seneca very probably persuaded himself that
with a mind like Nero's--the innate worthlessness of which he must early
have recognised--success of any high description would be simply
impossible. But this did not absolve him from attempting the only noble
means by which success could, under any circumstances, be attainable.
Let us, however, remember that his concessions to his pupil were mainly
in matters which he regarded as indifferent--or, at the worst, as
discreditable--rather than as criminal; and that his mistake probably
arose from an error in judgment far more than from any deficiency in
moral character.

Yet it is clear that, even intellectually, Nero was the worse for this
laxity of training. We have already seen that, in his maiden-speech
before the Senate, every one recognized the hand of Seneca, and many
observed with a sigh that this was the first occasion on which an
Emperor had not been able, at least to all appearance, to address the
Senate in his own words and with his own thoughts. Tiberius, as an
orator, had been dignified and forcible; Claudius had been learned and
polished; even the disturbed reason of Caligula had not been wanting in
a capacity for delivering forcible and eloquent harangues; but Nero's
youth had been frittered away in paltry and indecorus accomplishments,
which had left him neither time nor inclination for weightier and
nobler pursuits.

The fame of Seneca has, no doubt, suffered grieviously from the
subsequent infamy of his pupil; and it is obvious that the dislike of
Tacitus to his memory is due to his connexion with Nero. Now, even
though the tutor's system had not been so wise as, when judged by an
inflexible standard, it might have been, it is yet clearly unjust to
make him responsible for the depravity of his pupil; and it must be
remembered, to Seneca's eternal honour, that the evidence of facts, the
testimony of contemporaries, and even the grudging admission of Tacitus
himself, establishes in his favour that whatever wisdom and moderation
characterized the earlier years of Nero's reign were due to his
counsels; that he enjoyed the cordial esteem of the virtuous Burrus;
that he helped to check the sanguinary audacities of Agrippina; that the
writings which he addressed to Nero, and the speeches which he wrote for
him, breathed the loftiest counsels; and that it was not until he was
wholly removed from power and influence that Nero, under the fierce
impulses of despotic power, developed those atrocious tendencies of
which the seeds had long been latent in his disposition. An ancient
writer records the tradition that Seneca very early observed in Nero a
savagery of disposition which he could not wholly eradicate; and that to
his intimate friends he used to observe that, "when once the lion tasted
human blood, his innate cruelty would return."

But while we give Seneca this credit, and allow that his _intentions_
were thoroughly upright, we cannot but impugn his _judgment_ for having
thus deliberately adopted the morality of expedience; and we believe
that to this cause, more than to any other, was due the extent of his
failure and the misery of his life. We may, indeed, be permitted to
doubt whether Nero himself--a vain and loose youth, the son of bad
parents, and heir to boundless expectations--would, under any
circumstances, have grown up much better than he did; but it is clear
that Seneca might have been held in infinitely higher honour but for the
share which he had in his education. Had Seneca been as firm and wise as
Socrates, Nero in all probability would not have been much worse than
Alcibiades. If the tutor had set before his pupil no ideal but the very
highest, if he had inflexibly opposed to the extent of his ability every
tendency which was dishonourable and wrong, he might _possibly_ have
been rewarded by success, and have earned the indelible gratitude of
mankind; and if he had failed he would at least have failed nobly, and
have carried with him into a calm and honourable retirement the respect,
if not the affection, of his imperial pupil. Nay, even if he had failed
_completely_, and lost his life in the attempt, it would have been
infinitely better both for him and for mankind. Even Homer might have
taught him that "it is better to die than live in sin." At any rate he
might have known from study and observation that an education founded on
compromise must always and necessarily fail. It must fail because it
overlooks that great eternal law of retribution for and continuity in
evil, which is illustrated by every single history of individuals and of
nations. And the education which Seneca gave to Nero--noble as it was in
many respects, and eminent as was its partial and temporary success--was
yet an education of compromises. Alike in the studies of Nero's boyhood
and the graver temptations of his manhood, he acted on the
foolishly-fatal principle that

     "Had the wild oat not been sown,
      The soil left barren scarce had grown,
      The grain whereby a man may live."

Any Christian might have predicted the result; one would have thought
that even a pagan philosopher might have been enlightened enough to
observe it. We often quote the lines--

     "The child is father of the man,"


     "Just as the twig is bent the tree inclines."

But the ancients were quite as familiar with the same truth under other
images. "The cask," wrote Horace, "will long retain the odour of that
which has once been poured into it when new." Quintilian, describing the
depraved influences which surrounded even the infancy of a Roman child,
said, "From these arise _first familiarity, then nature_."

No one has laid down the principle more emphatically than Seneca
himself. Take, for instance, the following passage from his Letters, on
evil conversation. "The conversation," he says, "of these men is very
injurious; for, even if it does no immediate harm, it leaves its seeds
in the mind, and follows us even when we have gone from the speakers,--a
plague sure to spring up in future resurrection. Just as those who have
heard a symphony carry in their ears the tune and sweetness of the song
which entangles their thoughts, and does not suffer them to give their
whole energy to serious matters; so the conversation of flatterers and
of those who praise evil things, lingers longer in the mind than the
time of hearing it. Nor is it easy to shake out of the soul a sweet
sound; it pursues us, and lingers with us, and at perpetual intervals
recurs. Our ears therefore must be closed to evil words, and that to the
very first we hear. For when they have once begun and been admitted,
they acquire more and more audacity;" and so he adds a little
afterwards, "our days flow on, and irreparable life passes beyond our
reach." Yet he who wrote these noble words was not only a flatterer to
his imperial pupil, but is charged with having deliberately encouraged
him in a foolish passion for a freedwoman named Acte, into which Nero
fell. It was of course his duty to recall the wavering affections of the
youthful Emperor to his betrothed Octavia, the daughter of Claudius, to
whom he had been bound by every tie of honour and affection, and his
union with whom gave some shadow of greater legitimacy to his practical
usurpation. But princes rarely love the wives to whom they owe any part
of their elevation. Henry VII. treated Elizabeth of York with many
slights. The union of William III. with Mary was overshadowed by her
superior claim to the royal power; and Nero from the first regarded with
aversion, which ended in assassination, the poor young orphan girl who
recalled to the popular memory his slender pretensions to hereditary
empire, and whom he regarded as a possible rival, if her cowed and
plastic nature should ever become a tool in the hands of more powerful
intriguers. But we do not hear of any attempt on Seneca's part to urge
upon Nero the fulfillment of this high duty, and we find him sinking
into the degraded position of an accomplice with young profligates like
Otho, as the confident of a dishonourable love. Such conduct, which
would have done discredit to a mere courtier, was to a Stoic
disgraceful. But the principle which led to it is the very principle to
which we have been pointing,--the principle of moral compromise, the
principle of permitting and encouraging what is evil in the vain hope of
thereby preventing what is worse. It is hardly strange that Seneca
should have erred in this way, for compromise was the character of his
entire life. He appears to have set before himself the wholly impossible
task of being both a genuine philosopher and a statesman under the
Caesars. He prided himself on being not only a philosopher, but also a
man of the world, and the consequence was, that in both capacities he
failed. It was as true in Paganism as it is in Christianity, that a man
_must_ make his choice between duty and interest--between the service of
Mammon and the service of God. No man ever gained anything but contempt
and ruin by incessantly halting between two opinions.

And by not taking that lofty line of duty which a Zeno or an Antisthenes
would have taken, Seneca became more or less involved in some of the
most dreadful events of Nero's reign. Every one of the terrible doubts
under which his reputation has suffered arose from his having permitted
the principle of expedience to supercede the laws of virtue. One or two
of these events we must briefly narrate.

We have already pointed out that the Nemesis which for so many years had
been secretly dogging the footsteps of Agrippina made her tremble under
the weight of its first cruel blows when she seemed to have attained the
highest summit of her ambition. Very early indeed Nero began to be
galled and irritated by the insatiate assumption and swollen authority
of "the best of mothers." The furious reproaches which she heaped upon
him when she saw in Acte a possible rival to her power drove him to take
refuge in the facile and unphilosophic worldliness of Seneca's
concessions, and goaded him almost immediately afterwards into an
atrocious crime. He naturally looked on Britannicus, the youthful son of
Claudius, with even more suspicion and hatred than that with which he
regarded Octavia. Kings have rarely been able to abstain from acts of
severity against those who might become claimants to the throne. The
feelings of King John towards Prince Arthur, of Henry IV. towards the
Earl of March, of Mary towards Lady Jane Grey, of Elizabeth towards Mary
Stuart, of King James towards Lady Arabella Stuart, resembled, but
probably by no means equalled in intensity, those of Nero towards his
kinsman and adoptive brother. To show him any affection was a dangerous
crime, and it furnished a sufficient cause for immediate removal if any
attendant behaved towards him with fidelity. Such a line of treatment
foreshadowed the catastrophe which was hastened by the rage of
Agrippina. She would go, she said, and take with her to the camp the
noble boy who was now of full age to undertake those imperial duties
which a usurper was exercising in virtue of crimes which she was now
prepared to confess. Then let the mutilated Burrus and the glib-tongued
Seneca see whether they could be a match for the son of Claudius and the
daughter of Germanicus. Such language, uttered with violent gestures and
furious imprecations, might well excite the alarm of the timid Nero. And
that alarm was increased by a recent circumstance, which showed that all
the ancestral spirit was not dead in the breast of Britannicus. During
the festivities of the Saturnalia, which were kept by the ancients with
all the hilarity of the modern Christmas, Nero had been elected by lot
as "governor of the feast," and, in that capacity, was entitled to issue
his orders to the guests. To the others he issued trivial mandates which
would not make them blush; but Britannicus in violation of every
principle of Roman decorum, was ordered to stand up in the middle and
sing a song. The boy, inexperienced as yet even in sober banquets, and
wholly unaccustomed to drunken convivialities, might well have faltered;
but he at once rose, and with a steady voice began a strain--probably
the magnificent wail of Andromache over the fall of Troy, which has been
preserved to us from a lost play of Ennius--in which he indicated his
own disgraceful ejection from his hereditary rights. His courage and his
misfortunes woke in the guests a feeling of pity which night and wine
made them less careful to disguise. From that moment the fate of
Britannicus was sealed. Locusta, the celebrated poisoner of ancient
Rome, was summoned to the councils of Nero to get rid of Britannicus, as
she had already been summoned to those of his mother when she wished to
disembarrass herself of Britannicus's father. The main difficulty was to
avoid discovery, since nothing was eaten or drunk at the imperial table
till it had been tasted by the _praegustator_. To avoid this difficulty
a very hot draught was given to Britannicus, and when he wished for
something cooler a swift and subtle poison was dropped into the cold
water with which it was tempered. The boy drank, and instantly sank from
his seat, gasping and speechless. The guests started up in
consternation, and fixed their eyes on Nero. He with the utmost coolness
assured them that it was merely a fit of epilepsy, to which his brother
was accustomed, and from which he would soon recover. The terror and
agitation of Agrippina showed to every one that she at least was
guiltless of this dark deed; but the unhappy Octavia, young as she was,
and doubly terrible on every ground as the blow must have been to her,
sat silent and motionless, having already learnt by her misfortunes the
awful necessity for suppressing under an impassive exterior her
affections and sorrows, her hopes and fears. In the dead of night, amid
storms and murky rain, which were thought to indicate the wrath of
heaven, the last of the Claudii was hastily and meanly hurried into a
dishonourable grave.

We may believe that in this crime Seneca had no share whatever, but we
can hardly believe that he was ignorant of it after it had been
committed, or that he had no share in the intensely hypocritical edict
in which Nero bewailed the fact of his adoptive brother's death, excused
his hurried funeral, and threw himself on the additional indulgence and
protection of the Senate. Nero showed the consciousness of guilt by the
immense largesses which he distributed to the most powerful of his
friends, "Nor were there wanting men," says Tacitus, in a most
significant manner, "_who accused certain people, notorious for their
high professions, of having at that period divided among them villas and
houses as though they had been so much spoil_." There can hardly be a
doubt that the great historian intends by this remark to point at
Seneca, to whom he tries to be fair, but whom he could never quite
forgive for his share in the disgraces of Nero's reign. That avarice was
one of Seneca's temptations is too probable; that expediency was a
guiding principle of his conduct is but too evident; and for a man with
such a character to rebut an innuendo is never an easy task. Nay more,
it was _after_ this foul event, at the close of Nero's first year, that
Seneca addressed him in the extravagant and glowing language of his
treatise on Clemency. "The quality of mercy," and the duty of princes to
practise it, has never been more eloquently extolled; but it is
accompanied by a fulsome flattery which has in it something painfully
grotesque as addressed by a philosopher to one whom he knew to have been
guilty, that very year, of an inhuman fratricide. Imagine some Jewish
Pharisee,--a Nicodemus or a Gamaliel--pronouncing an eulogy on the
tenderness of a Herod, and you have some picture of the appearance which
Seneca's consistency must have worn in the eyes of his contemporaries.

This event took place A.D. 55, in the first year of Nero's
_Quinquennium_, and the same year was nearly signalized by the death of
his mother. A charge of pretended conspiracy was invented against her,
and it is probable that but for the intervention of Burrus, who with
Seneca was appointed to examine into the charge, she would have fallen a
very sudden victim to the cowardly credulity and growing hatred of her
son. The extraordinary and eloquent audacity of her defence created a
reaction in her favour, and secured the punishment of her accusers. But
the ties of affection could not long unite two such wicked and imperious
natures as those of Agrippina and her son. All history shows that there
can be no real love between souls exceptionally wicked, and that this is
still more impossible when the alliance between them has been sealed by
a complicity in crime. Nero had now fallen into a deep infatuation for
Poppaea Sabina, the beautiful wife of Otho, and she refused him her hand
so long as he was still under the control of his mother. At this time
Agrippina, as the just consequence of her many crimes, was regarded by
all classes with a fanaticism of hatred which in Poppaea Sabina was
intensified by manifest self-interest. Nero, always weak, had long
regarded his mother with real terror and disgust, and he scarcely needed
the urgency of constant application to make him long to get rid of her.
But the daughter of Germanicus could not be openly destroyed, while her
own precautions helped to secure her against secret assassination. It
only remained to compass her death by treachery. Nero had long compelled
her to live in suburban retirement, and had made no attempt to conceal
the open rapture which existed between them. Anicetus, admiral of the
fleet at Misenum, and a former instructor of Nero, suggested the
expedient of a pretended public reconciliation, in virtue of which
Agrippina should be invited to Baiae, and on her return should be placed
on board a vessel so constructed as to come to pieces by the removal of
bolts. The disaster might then be attributed to a mere naval accident,
and Nero might make the most ostentatious display of his affection
and regret.

The invitation was sent, and a vessel specially decorated was ordered to
await her movements. But, either from suspicion or from secret
information, she declined to avail herself of it, and was conveyed to
Baiae in a litter. The effusion of hypocritical affection with which she
was received, the unusual tenderness and honour with which she was
treated, the earnest gaze, the warm embrace, the varied conversation,
removed her suspicions, and she consented to return in the vessel of
honour. As though for the purpose of revealing the crime, the night was
starry and the sea calm. The ship had not sailed far, and Crepereius
Gallus, one of her friends, was standing near the helm, while a lady
named Acerronia was seated at her feet as she reclined, and both were
vieing with each other in the warmth of their congratulations upon the
recent interview, when a crash was heard, and the canopy above them
which had been weighted with a quantity of lead, was suddenly let go.
Crepereius was crushed to death upon the spot; Agrippina and Acerronia
were saved by the projecting sides of the couch on which they were
resting; in the hurry and alarm, as accomplices were mingled with a
greater number who were innocent of the plot, the machinery of the
treacherous vessel failed. Some of the rowers rushed to one side of the
ship, hoping in that manner to sink it, but here too their councils were
divided and confused. Acerronia, in the selfish hope of securing
assistance, exclaimed that she was Agrippina, and was immediately
despatched with oars and poles; Agrippina, silent and unrecognized,
received a wound upon the shoulder, but succeeded in keeping herself
afloat till she was picked up by fishermen and carried in safety to
her villa.

The hideous attempt from which she had been thus miraculously rescued
did not escape her keen intuition, accustomed as it was to deeds of
guilt; but, seeing that her only chance of safety rested in
dissimulation and reticense, she sent her freedman Agerinus to tell her
son that by the mercy of heaven she had escaped from a terrible
accident, but to beg him not to be alarmed, and not to come to see her
because she needed rest.

The news filled Nero with the wildest terror, and the expectation of an
immediate revenge. In horrible agitation and uncertainty he instantly
required the presence of Burrus and Seneca. Tacitus doubts whether they
may not have been already aware of what he had attempted, and Dion, to
whose gross calumnies, however, we need pay no attention, declares that
Seneca had frequently urged Nero to the deed, either in the hope of
overshadowing his own guilt, or of involving Nero in a crime which
should hasten his most speedy destruction at the hands of gods and men.
In the absence of all evidence we may with perfect confidence acquit the
memory of these eminent men from having gone so far as this.

It must have been a strange and awful scene. The young man, for Nero was
but twenty-two years old, poured into the ears their tumult of his
agitation and alarm. White with fear, weak with dissipation, and
tormented by the furies of a guilty conscience, the wretched youth
looked from one to another of his aged ministers. A long and painful
pause ensued. If they dissuaded him in vain from the crime which he
meditated their lives would have been in danger; and perhaps they
sincerely thought that things had gone so far that, unless Agrippina
were anticipated, Nero would be destroyed. Seneca was the first to break
that silence of anguish by inquiring of Burrus whether the soldiery
could be entrusted to put her to death. His reply was that the
praetorians would do nothing against a daughter of Germanicus and that
Anicetus should accomplish what he had promised. Anicetus showed himself
prompt to crime, and Nero thanked him in a rapture of gratitude. While
the freedman Agerinus was delivering to Nero his mother's message,
Anicetus dropped a dagger at his feet, declared that he had caught him
in the very act of attempting the Emperor's assassination, and hurried
off with a band of soldiers to punish Agrippina as the author of
the crime.

The multitude meanwhile were roaming in wild excitement along the shore;
their torches were seen glimmering in evident commotion about the scene
of the calamity, where some were wading into the water in search of the
body, and others were shouting incoherent questions and replies. At the
rumour of Agrippina's escape they rushed off in a body to her villa to
express their congratulations, where they were dispersed by the soldiers
of Anicetus, who had already token possession of it. Scattering or
seizing the slaves who came in their way, and bursting their passage
from door to door, they found the Empress in a dimly-lighted chamber,
attended only by a single handmaid. "Dost thou too desert me?"
exclaimed the wretched woman to her servant, as she rose to slip away.
In silent determination the soldiers surrounded her couch, and Anicetus
was the first to strike her with a stick. "Strike my womb," she cried to
him faintly, as he drew his sword, "for it bore Nero." The blow of
Anicetus was the signal for her immediate destruction: she was
dispatched with many wounds, and was buried that night at Misenum on a
common couch and with a mean funeral. Such an end, many years
previously, this sister, and wife, and mother of emperors had
anticipated and despised; for when the Chaldaeans had assured her that
her son would become Emperor, and would murder her, she is said to have
exclaimed, "Occidat dum imperet," "Let him slay me if he but reign."

It only remained to account for the crime, and offer for it such lying
defences as were most likely to gain credit. Flying to Naples from a
scene which had now become awful to him,--for places do not change as
men's faces change, and, besides this, his disturbed conscience made him
fancy that he heard from the hill of Misenum the blowing of a ghostly
trumpet and wailings about his mother's tomb in the hours of night,--he
sent from thence a letter to the Senate, saying that his mother had been
punished for an attempt upon his life, and adding a list of her crimes,
real and imaginary, the narrative of her _accidental_ shipwreck, and his
opinion that her death was a public blessing. The author of this
shameful document was Seneca, and in composing it he reached the nadir
of his moral degradation. Even the lax morality of a most degenerate age
condemned him for calmly sitting down to decorate with the graces of
rhetoric and antithesis an atrocity too deep for the powers of
indignation. A Seneca could stoop to write what a Thrasea Paetus could
scarcely stoop to hear; for in the meeting of the Senate at which the
letter was recited, Thrasea rose in indignation, and went straight home
rather than seem to sanction by his presence the adulation of a

And the composition of that guily, elaborate, shameful letter was the
last prominent act of Seneca's public life.



Nor was it unnatural that it should be. Moral precepts, philosophic
guidance were no longer possible to one whose compliances or whose
timidity had led him so far as first to sanction matricide, and then to
defend it. He might indeed be still powerful to recommend principles of
common sense and political expediency, but the loftier lessons of
Stoicism, nay, even the better utterances of a mere ordinary Pagan
morality, could henceforth only fall from his lips with something of a
hollow ring. He might interfere, as we know he did, to render as
innocuous as possible the pernicious vanity which made Nero so ready to
degrade his imperial rank by public appearances on the orchestra or in
the race-course, but he could hardly address again such noble teachings
as that of the treatise on Clemency to one whom, on grounds of political
expediency, he had not dissuaded from the treacherous murder of a
mother, who, whatever her enormities, yet for his sake had sold her
very soul.

Although there may have been a strong suspicion that foul play had been
committed, the actual facts and details of the death of Agrippina would
rest between Nero and Seneca as a guilty secret, in the guilt of which
Seneca himself must have his share. Such a position of things was the
inevitable death-blow, not only to all friendship, but to all
confidence, and ultimately to all intercourse. We see in sacred history
that Joab's participation in David's guilty secret gave him the absolute
mastery over his own sovereign; we see repeatedly in profane history
that the mutual knowledge of some crime is the invariable cause of
deadly hatred between a subject and a king. Such feelings as King John
may be supposed to have had to Hubert de Burgh, or King Richard III. to
Sir James Tyrrel, or King James I. to the Earl of Somerset, such
probably, in still more virulent intensity, were the feelings of Nero
towards his whilome "guide, philosopher, and friend."

For Nero very soon learnt that Seneca was no longer _necessary_ to him.
For a time he lingered in Campania, guiltily dubious as to the kind of
reception that awaited him in the capital. The assurances of the vile
crew which surrounded him soon made that fear wear off, and when he
plucked up the courage to return to his palace, he might himself have
been amazed at the effusion of infamous loyalty and venal acclamation
with which he was received. All Rome poured itself forth to meet him;
the Senate appeared in festal robes with their wives and girls and boys
in long array; seats and scaffoldings were built up along the road by
which he had to pass, as though the populace had gone forth to see a
triumph. With haughty mein, the victor of a nation of slaves, he
ascended the Capitol, gave thanks to the gods, and went home to betray
henceforth the full perversity of a nature which the reverence for his
mother, such as it was, had hitherto in part restrained. But the
instincts of the populace were suppressed rather than eradicated. They
hung a sack from his statue by night in allusion to the old punishment
of parricides, who were sentenced to be flung into the sea, tied up in a
sack with a serpent, a monkey, and a cock. They exposed an infant in the
Forum with a tablet on which was written, "I refuse to rear thee, lest
thou shouldst slay thy mother." They scrawled upon the blank walls of
Rome an iambic line which reminded all who read it that Nero, Orestes,
and Alcmaeon were murderers of their mothers. Even Nero must have been
well aware that he presented a hideous spectacle in the eyes of all who
had the faintest shade of righteousness among the people whom he ruled.

All this took place in A.D. 59, and we hear no more of Seneca till the
year 62, a year memorable for the death of Burrus, who had long been his
honest, friendly, and faithful colleague. In these dark times, when all
men seemed to be speaking in a whisper, almost every death of a
conspicuous and high-minded man, if not caused by open violence, falls
under the suspicion of secret poison. The death of Burrus may have been
due (from the description) to diphtheria, but the popular voice charged
Nero with having hastened his death by a pretended remedy, and declared
that, when the Emperor visited his sick bed, the dying man turned away
from his inquiries with the laconic answer, "I am well."

His death was regretted, not only from the memory of his virtues, but
also from the fact that Nero appointed two men as his successors, of
whom the one, Fenius Rufus, was honorable but indolent; the other and
more powerful, Sofonius Tigellinus had won for himself among cruel and
shameful associates a pre-eminence of hatred and of shame.

However faulty and inconsistent Seneca may have been, there was at any
rate no possibility that he should divide with a Tigellinus the
direction of his still youthful master. He was by no means deceived as
to the position in which he stood, and the few among Nero's followers in
whom any spark of honour was left informed him of the incessant
calumnies which were used to undermine his influence. Tigellinus and his
friends dwelt on his enormous wealth and his magnificent villas and
gardens, which could only have been acquired with ulterior objects, and
which threw into the shade the splendour of the Emperor himself. They
tried to kindle the inflammable jealousies of Nero's feeble mind by
representing Seneca as attempting to rival him in poetry, and as
claiming the entire credit of his eloquence, while he mocked his divine
singing, and disparaged his accomplishments as a harper and charioteer
because he himself was unable to acquire them. Nero, they urged was a
boy no longer; let him get rid of his schoolmaster, and find sufficient
instruction in the example of his ancestors.

Foreseeing how such arguments must end; Seneca requested an interview
with Nero; begged to be suffered to retire altogether from public life;
pleaded age and increasing infirmities as an excuse for desiring a calm
retreat; and offered unconditionally to resign the wealth and honours
which had excited the cupidity of his enemies, but which were simply due
to Nero's unexampled liberality during the eight years of his
government, towards one whom he had regarded as a benefactor and a
friend. But Nero did not choose to let Seneca escape so lightly. He
argued that, being still young, he could not spare him, and that to
accept his offers would not be at all in accordance with his fame for
generosity. A proficient in the imperial art of hiding detestation under
deceitful blandishments, Nero ended the interview with embraces and
assurances of friendship. Seneca thanked him--the usual termination, as
Tacitus bitterly adds, of interviews with a ruler--but nevertheless
altered his entire manner of life, forbade his friends to throng to his
levees, avoided all companions, and rarely appeared in public--wishing
it to be believed that he was suffering from weak health, or was wholly
occupied in the pursuit of philosophy. He well knew the arts of courts,
for in his book on Anger he has told an anecdote of one who, being asked
how he had managed to attain so rare a gift as old age in a palace,
replied, "By submitting to injuries, and _returning thanks for them_."
But he must have known that his life hung upon a thread, for in the very
same year an attempt was made to involve him in a charge of treason as
one of the friends of C. Calpurnius Piso, an illustrious nobleman whose
wealth and ability made him an object of jealousy and suspicion, though
he was naturally unambitious and devoid of energy. The attempt failed at
the time, and Seneca was able triumphantly to refute the charge of any
treasonable design. But the fact of such a charge being made showed how
insecure was the position of any man of eminence under the deepening
tyranny of Nero, and it precipitated the conspiracy which two years
afterwards was actually formed.

Not long after the death of Burrus, when Nero began to add sacrilege to
his other crimes, Seneca made one more attempt to retire from Rome; and,
when permission was a second time refused, he feigned a severe illness,
and confined himself to his chamber. It was asserted, and believed, that
about this time Nero made an attempt to poison him by the
instrumentality of his freedman Cleonicus, which was only defeated by
the confession of an accomplice or by the abstemious habits of the
philosopher who now took nothing but bread and fruit, and never quenched
his thirst except out of the running stream.

It was during those two years of Seneca's seclusion and disgrace that an
event happened of imperishable interest. On the orgies of a shameful
court, on the supineness of a degenerate people, there burst--as upon
the court of Charles II.--a sudden lightning-flash of retribution. In
its character, in its extent, in the devastation and anguish of which it
was the cause, in the improvements by which it was followed, in the
lying origin to which it was attributed, even in the general
circumstances of the period and character of the reign in which it
happened, there is a close and singular analogy between the Great Fire
of London in 1666 and the Great Fire of Rome in 64. Beginning in the
crowded part of the city, under the Palatine and Caelian Hills, it
raged, first for six, and then again for three days, among the
inflammable material of booths and shops, and driven along by a furious
wind, amid feeble and ill-directed efforts to check its course, it burst
irresistibly over palaces, temples, and porticoes, and amid the narrow
tortuous streets of old Rome, involving in a common destruction the most
magnificent works of ancient art, the choicest manuscripts of ancient
literature, and the most venerable monuments of ancient superstition. In
a few touches of inimitable compression, such as the stern genius of the
Latin language permits, but which are too condensed for direct
translation, Tacitus has depicted the horror of the scene,--wailing of
panic-stricken women, the helplessness of the very aged and the very
young, the passionate eagerness for themselves and for others, the
dragging along of the feeble or the waiting for them, the lingering and
the hurry, the common and inextricable confusion. Many, while they
looked backward, were cut off by the flames in front or at the sides; if
they sought some neighboring refuge, they found it in the grasp of the
conflagration; if they hurried to some more distant spot, that too was
found to be involved in the same calamity. At last, uncertain what to
seek or what to avoid, they crowded the streets, they lay huddled
together in the fields. Some, having lost all their possessions, died
from the want of daily food; and others, who might have escaped died of
a broken heart from the anguish of being bereaved of those whom they had
been unable to rescue; while, to add to the universal horror, it was
believed that all attempts to repress the flames were checked by
authoritive prohibition; nay more, that hired incendiaries were seen
flinging firebrands in new directions, either because they had been
bidden to do so, or that they might exercise their rapine undisturbed.

The historians and anecdotists of the time, whose accounts must be taken
for what they are worth, attribute to Nero the origin of the
conflagration; and it is certain that he did not return to Rome until
the fire had caught the galleries of his palace. In vain did he use
every exertion to assist the homeless and ruined population; in vain did
he order food to be sold to them at a price unprecedentedly low, and
throw open to them the monuments of Agrippa, his own gardens, and a
multitude of temporary sheds. A rumour had been spread that, during the
terrible unfolding of that great "flower of flame," he had mounted to
the roof of his distant villa, and delighted with the beauty of the
spectacle, exulting in the safe sensation of a new excitement, had
dressed himself in theatrical attire, and sung to his harp a poem on the
burning of Troy. Such a heartless mixture of buffoonery and affectation
had exasperated the people too deeply for forgiveness, and Nero thought
it necessary to draw off the general odium into a new channel, since
neither his largesses nor any other popular measures succeeded in
removing from himself the ignominy of this terrible suspicion. What
follows is so remarkable, and, to a Christian reader, so deeply
interesting, that I will give it in the very words of that great
historian whom I have been so closely following.

"Therefore, to get rid of this report, Nero trumped up an accusation
against a sect, detested for their atrocities, whom the common people
called Christians, and inflicted on them the most recondite punishments.
Christ, the founder of this sect, had been capitally punished by the
Procurator Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius; and this damnable
superstition, repressed for the present, was again breaking out, not
only through Judaea, where the evil originated, but even through the
City, whither from all regions all things that are atrocious or shameful
flow together and gain a following. Those, therefore, were first
arrested who confessed their religion, and then on their evidence a vast
multitude were condemned, not so much on the charge of incendiarism, as
for their hatred towards the human race. And mockery was added to their
death; for they were covered in the skins of wild beasts and were torn
to death by dogs, or crucified, or set apart for burning, and after the
close of the day were reserved for the purpose of nocturnal
illumination. Nero lent his own gardens for the spectacle, and gave a
chariot-race, mingling with the people in the costume of a charioteer,
or driving among them in his chariot; by which conduct he raised a
feeling of commiseration towards the sufferers, guilty though they were,
and deserving of the extremest penalties, as though they were being
exterminated, not for the public interests, but to gratify the savage
cruelty of one man."

Such are the brief but deeply pathetic particulars which have come down
to us respecting the first great persecution of the Christians, and such
must have been the horrid events of which Seneca was a contemporary, and
probably an actual eye-witness, in the very last year of his life.
Profoundly as in all likelihood he must have despised the very name of
Christian, a heart so naturally mild and humane as his must have
shuddered at the monstrous cruelties devised against the unhappy
votaries of this new religion. But to the relations of Christianity with
the Pagan world we shall return in a subsequent chapter and we must now
hasten to the end of our biography.



The false charge which had been brought against Seneca, and in which the
name of Piso had been involved, tended to urge that nobleman and his
friends into a real and formidable conspiracy. Many men of influence and
distinction joined in it, and among others Annaeus Lucanus, the
celebrated poet-nephew of Seneca, and Fenius Rufus the colleague of
Tigellinus in the command of the imperial guards. The plot was long
discussed, and many were admitted into the secret, which was
nevertheless marvellously well kept. One of the most eager conspirators
was Subrius Flavus, an officer of the guards, who suggested the plan of
stabbing Nero as he sang upon the stage, or of attacking him as he went
about without guards at night in the galleries of his burning palace.
Flavus is even said to have cherished the design of subsequently
murdering Piso likewise, and of offering the imperial power to Seneca,
with the full cognisance of the philosopher himself.[35] However this
may have been--and the story has no probability--many schemes were
discussed and rejected, from the difficulty of finding a man
sufficiently bold and sufficiently in earnest to put his own life to
such imminent risk. While things were still under discussion, the plot
was nearly ruined by the information of Volusius Proculus, an admiral of
the fleet, to whom it had been mentioned by a freedwoman of the name of
Ephicharis. Although no sufficient evidence could be adduced against
her, the conspirators thought it advisable to hasten matters, and one of
them, a senator named Scaevinus, undertook the dangerous task of
assassination. Plautius Lateranus, the cousul-elect, was to pretend to
offer a petition, in which he was to embrace the Emperor's knees and
throw him to the ground, and then Scaevinus was to deal the fatal blow.
The theatrical conduct of Scaevinus--who took an antique dagger from the
Temple of Safety, made his will, ordered the dagger to be sharpened, sat
down to an unusually luxurious banquet, manumitted or made presents to
his slaves, showed great agitation, and finally ordered ligaments for
wounds to be prepared,--awoke the suspicions of one of his freedmen
named Milichus, who hastened to claim a reward for revealing his
suspicions. Confronted with Milichus, Scaevinus met and refuted his
accusations with the greatest firmness; but when Milichus mentioned
among other things that, the day before, Scaevinus had held a long and
secret conversation with another friend of Piso named Natalis, and when
Natalis, on being summoned, gave a very different account of the subject
of this conversation from that which Scaevinus had given, they were both
put in chains; and, unable to endure the threats and the sight of
tortures, revealed the entire conspiracy. Natalis was the first to
mentioned the name of Piso, and he added the hated name of Seneca,
either because he had been the confidential messenger between the two,
or because he knew that he could not do a greater favour to Nero than by
giving him the opportunity of injuring a man whom he had long sought
every possible opportunity to crush. Scaevinus, with equal weakness,
perhaps because he thought that Natalis had left nothing to reveal,
mentioned the names of the others, and among them of Lucan, whose
complicity in the plot would undoubtedly tend to give greater
probability to the supposed guilt of Seneca. Lucan, after long denying
all knowledge of the design, corrupted by the promise of impunity, was
guilty of the incredible baseness of making up for the slowness of his
confession by its completeness, and of naming among the conspirators his
chief friend Gallus and Pollio, and his own mother Atilla. The woman
Ephicharis, slave though she had once been, alone showed the slightest
constancy, and, by her brave unshaken reticence under the most
excruciating and varied tortures, put to shame the pusillanimous
treachery of senators and knights. On the second day, when, with limbs
too dislocated to admit of her standing, she was again brought to the
presence of her executioners, she succeeded, by a sudden movement, in
strangling herself with her own girdle.

[Footnote 35: See Juv. _Sat_. viii. 212.]

In the hurry and alarm of the moment the slightest show of resolution
would have achieved the object of the conspiracy. Fenius Rufus had not
yet been named among the conspirators, and as he sat by the side of the
Emperor, and presided over the torture of his associates, Subrius Flavus
made him a secret sign to inquire whether even then and there he should
stab Nero. Rufus not only made a sign of dissent, but actually held the
hand of Subrius as it was grasping the hilt of his sword. Perhaps it
would have been better for him if he had not done so, for it was not
likely that the numerous conspirators would long permit the same man to
be at once their accomplice and the fiercest of their judges. Shortly
afterwards, as he was urging and threatening, Scaevinus remarked, with a
quiet smile, "that nobody knew more about the matter than he did
himself, and that he had better show his gratitude to so excellent a
prince by telling all he knew." The confusion and alarm of Rufus
betrayed his consciousness of guilt; he was seized and bound on the
spot, and subsequently put to death.

Meanwhile the friends of Piso were urging to take some bold and sudden
step, which, if it did not succeed in retrieving his fortunes, would at
least shed lustre on his death. But his somewhat slothful nature,
weakened still further by a luxurious life, was not to be aroused, and
he calmly awaited the end. It was customary among the Roman Emperors at
this period to avoid the disgrace and danger of public executions by
sending a messenger to a man's house, and ordering him to put himself to
death by whatever means he preferred. Some raw recruits--for Nero dared
not intrust any veterans with the duty--brought the mandate to Piso, who
proceeded to make a will full of disgraceful adulation towards Nero,
opened his veins, and died. Plautius Lateranus was not even allowed the
poor privilege of choosing his own death, but, without time even to
embrace his children, was hurried off to a place set apart for the
punishment of slaves, and there died, without a word, by the sword of a
tribune whom he knew to be one his own accomplices.

Lucan, in the prime of his life and the full bloom of his genius, was
believed to have joined the plot from his indignation at the manner in
which Nero's jealousy had repressed his poetic fame, and forbidden him
the opportunity of public rectitations. He too opened his veins; and as
he felt the deathful chill creeping upwards from the extremities of his
limbs, he recited some verses from his own "Pharsalia," in which he had
described the similar death of the soldier Lycidas. They were his last
words. His mother Atilla, whom to his everlasting infamy, he had
betrayed, was passed over as a victim too insignificant for notice, and
was neither pardoned nor punished.

But, of all the many deaths which were brought about by this unhappy and
ill-managed conspiracy, none caused more delight to Nero than that of
Seneca, whom he was now able to dispatch by the sword, since he had been
unable to do so by secret poison. What share Seneca really had in the
conspiracy is unknown. If he were really cognisant of it, he must have
acted with consummate tact, for no particle of convincing evidence was
adduced against him. All that even Natalis could relate was, that when
Piso had sent him to complain to Seneca of his not admitting Piso to
more of his intercourse, Seneca had replied "that it was better for them
both to hold aloof from each other, but that his own safety depended on
that of Piso." A tribune was sent to ask Seneca as to the truth of this
story, and found,--which was in itself regarded as a suspicious
circumstance,--that on that very day he had returned from Campania to a
villa four miles from the city. The tribune arrived in the evening, and
surrounded the villa with soldiers. Seneca was at supper, with his wife
Paulina and two friends. He entirely denied the truth of the evidence,
and said that "the only reason which he had assigned to Piso for seeing
so little of him was his weak health and love of retirement. Nero, who
knew how little prone he was to flattery, might judge whether or no it
was likely that he, a man of consular rank, would prefer the safety of a
man of private station to his own." Such was the message which the
tribune took back to Nero, whom he found sitting with his dearest and
most detestable advisers, his wife Poppaea and his minister Tigellinus.
Nero asked "whether Seneca was preparing a voluntary death." On the
tribune replying that he showed no gloom or terror in his language or
countenance, Nero ordered that he should at once be bidden to die. The
message was taken, and Seneca, without any sign of alarm, quietly
demanded leave to revise his will. This was refused him, and he then
turned to his friends with the remark that, as he was unable to reward
their merits as they had deserved, he would bequeath to them the only,
and yet the most precious, possession left to him, namely, the example
of his life, and if they were mindful of it they would win the
reputation alike for integrity and for faithful friendship. At the same
time he checked their tears, sometimes by his conversation, and
sometimes with serious reproaches, asking them "where were their
precepts of philosophy, and where the fortitude under trials which
should have been learnt from the studies of many years? Did not every
one know the cruelty of Nero? and what was left for him to do but to
make an end of his master and tutor after the murder of his mother and
his brother?" He then embraced his wife Paulina, and, with a slight
faltering of his lofty sternness, begged and entreated her not to enter
on an endless sorrow, but to endure the loss of her husband by the aid
of those noble consolations which she must derive from the contemplation
of his virtuous life. But Paulina declared that she would die with him,
and Seneca, not opposing the deed which would win her such permanent
glory, and at the same time unwilling to leave her to future wrongs,
yielded to her wish. The veins of their arms were opened by the same
blow; but the blood of Seneca, impoverished by old age and temperate
living, flowed so slowly that it was necessary also to open the veins of
his legs. This mode of death, chosen by the Romans as comparatively
painless, is in fact under certain circumstances most agonizing. Worn
out by these cruel tortures, and unwilling to weaken his wife's
fortitude by so dreadful a spectacle, glad at the same time to spare
himself the sight of _her_ sufferings, he persuaded her to go to another
room. Even then his eloquence did not fail. It is told of Andrè Chénier,
the French poet, that on his way to execution he asked for writing
materials to record some of the strange thoughts which filled his mind.
The wish was denied him, but Seneca had ample liberty to record his last
utterances. Amanuenses were summoned, who took down those dying
admonitions, and in the time of Tacitus they still were extant. To us,
however, this interesting memorial of a Pagan deathbed is
irrevocably lost.

Nero, meanwhile, to whom the news of these circumstances was taken,
having no dislike to Paulina, and unwilling to incur the odium of too
much bloodshed, ordered her death to be prohibited and her wounds to be
bound. She was already unconscious, but her slaves and freedmen
succeeded in saving her life. She lived a few years longer, cherishing
her husband's memory, and bearing in the attenuation of her frame, and
the ghastly pallor of her countenance, the lasting proofs of that deep
affection which had characterised their married life.

Seneca was not yet dead, and, to shorten these protracted and useless
sufferings, he begged his friend and physician Statius Annaeus to give
him a draught of hemlock, the same poison by which the great philosopher
of Athens had been put to death. But his limbs were already cold, and
the draught proved fruitless. He then entered a bath of hot water,
sprinkling the slaves who stood nearest to him, with the words that he
was pouring a libation to Jupiter the Liberator.[36] Even the warm
water failed to make the blood flow more speedily, and he was finally
carried into one of those vapour baths which the Romans called
_sudatoria_, and stifled with its steam. His body was burned privately,
without any of the usual ceremonies. Such had been his own wish,
expressed, not after the fall of his fortunes, but at a time when his
thoughts had been directed to his latter end, in the zenith of his great
wealth and conspicuous power.

[Footnote 36: Sicco Polentone, an Italian, who wrote a Life of Seneca
(d. 1461), makes Seneca a secret Christian, and represents this as an
invocation of Christ, and says that he baptized himself with the water
of the bath!]

So died a Pagan philosopher, whose life must always excite our interest
and pity, although we cannot apply to him the titles of great or good.
He was a man of high genius, of great susceptibility, of an ardent and
generous temperament, of far-sighted and sincere humanity. Some of his
sentiments are so remarkable for their moral beauty and profundity that
they forcibly remind us of the expressions of St. Paul. But Seneca fell
infinitely short of his own high standard, and has contemptuously been
called "the father of all them that wear shovel hats." Inconsistency is
written on the entire history of his life, and it has earned him the
scathing contempt with which many writers have treated his memory. "The
business of a philosopher," says Lord Macaulay, in his most scornful
strain, "was to declaim in praise of poverty, with two millions sterling
out at usury; to meditate epigrammatic conceits about the evils of
luxury in gardens which moved the envy of sovereigns; to rant about
liberty while fawning on the insolent and pampered freedmen of a tyrant;
to celebrate the divine beauty of virtue with the same pen which had
just before written a defence of the murder of a mother by a son."
"Seneca," says Niebuhr, "was an accomplished man of the world, who
occupied himself very much with virtue, and may have considered himself
to be an ancient Stoic. He certainly believed that he was a most
ingenious and virtuous philosopher; but he acted on the principle that,
as far as he himself was concerned, he could dispense with the laws of
morality which he laid down for others, and that he might give way to
his natural propensities."

In Seneca's life, then, we see as clearly as in those of many professing
Christians that it is impossible to be at once worldly and righteous.
Seneca's utter failure was due to the vain attempt to combine in his own
person two opposite characters--that of a Stoic and that of a courtier.
Had he been a true philosopher, or a mere courtier, he would have been
happier, and even more respected. To be both was absurd: hence, even in
his writings, he was driven into inconsistency. He is often compelled to
abandon the lofty utterances of Stoicism, and to charge philosophers
with ignorance of life. In his treatise on a Happy Life he is obliged to
introduce a sort of indirect autobiographical apology for his wealth and
position.[37] In spite of his lofty pretensions to simplicity, in spite
of that sort of amateur asceticism which, in common with other wealthy
Romans, he occasionally practised, in spite of his final offer to
abandon his entire patrimony to the Emperor, we fear that he cannot be
acquitted of an almost insatiable avarice. We need not indeed believe
the fierce calumnies which charged him with exhausting Italy by a
boundless usury, and even stirring up a war in Britain by the severity
of his exactions; but it is quite clear that he deserved the title of
_Proedives_, "the over-wealthy," by which he has been so pointedly
signalized. It is strange that the most splendid intellects should so
often have sunk under the slavery of this meanest vice. In the Bible we
read how the "rewards of divination" seduced from his allegiance to God
the splendid enchanter of Mesopotamia:

       "In outline dim and vast
        Their fearful shadows cast
    The giant form of Empires on their way
        To ruin:--one by one
        They tower and they are gone,
    Yet in the prophet's soul the dreams of avarice stay.

       "No sun or star so bright,
        In all the world of light,
    That they should draw to heaven his downward eye:
        He hears the Almighty's word,
        He sees the angel's sword,
    Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie."

[Footnote 37: See _Ad. Polyb_. 37: _Ep_. 75; _De Vit. Beat_. 17, 18,

And in Seneca we see some of the most glowing pictures of the nobility
of poverty combined with the most questionable avidity in the pursuit of
wealth. Yet how completely did he sell himself for naught. It is the
lesson which we see in every conspicuously erring life, and it was
illustrated less than three years afterwards in the terrible fate of the
tyrant who had driven him to death. For a short period of his life,
indeed, Seneca was at the summit of power; yet, courtier as he was, he
incurred the hatred, the suspicion, and the punishment of all the three
Emperors during whose reigns his manhood was passed. "Of all
unsuccessful men," says Mr. Froude, "in every shape, whether divine or
human, or devilish, there is none equal to Bunyan's Mr.
Facing-both-ways--the fellow with one eye on heaven and one on
earth--who sincerely preaches one thing and sincerely does another, and
from the intensity of his unreality is unable either to see or feel the
contradiction. He is substantially trying to cheat both God and the
devil, and is in reality only cheating himself and his neighbours. This
of all characters upon the earth appears to us to be the one of which
there is no hope at all, a character becoming in these days alarmingly
abundant; and the aboundance of which makes us find even in a Reineke an
inexpressible relief." And, in point of fact, the inconsistency of
Seneca's life was a _conscious_ inconsistency. "To the student," he
says, "who professes his wish to rise to a loftier grade of virtue, I
would answer that this is my _wish_ also, but I dare not hope it. _I am
preoccupied with vices. All I require of myself is, not to be equal to
the best_, but only _to be better than the bad_." No doubt Seneca meant
this to be understood merely for modest depreciation; but it was far
truer than he would have liked seriously to confess. He must have often
and deeply felt that he was not living in accordance with the light
which was in him.

It would indeed be cheap and easy, to attribute the general inferiority
and the many shortcomings of Seneca's life and character to the fact
that he was a Pagan, and to suppose that if he had known Christianity he
would necessarily have attained to a loftier ideal. But such a style of
reasoning and inference, commonly as it is adopted for rhetorical
purposes, might surely be refused by any intelligent child. A more
intellectual assent to the lessons of Christianity would have probably
been but of little avail to inspire in Seneca a nobler life. The fact
is, that neither the gift of genius nor the knowledge of Christianity
are adequate to the ennoblement of the human heart, nor does the grace
of God flow through the channels of surpassing intellect or of orthodox
belief. Men there have been in all ages, Pagan no less than Christian,
who with scanty mental enlightenment and spiritual knowledge have yet
lived holy and noble lives: men there have been in all ages, Christian
no less than Pagan, who with consummate gifts and profound erudition
have disgraced some of the noblest words which ever were uttered by some
of the meanest lives which were ever lived. In the twelfth century was
there any mind that shone more brightly, was there any eloquence which
flowed more mightily, than that of Peter Abelard? Yet Abelard sank
beneath the meanest of his scholastic cotemporaries in the degradation
of his career as much as he towered above the highest of them in the
grandeur of his genius. In the seventeenth century was there any
philosopher more profound, any moralist more elevated, than Francis
Bacon? Yet Bacon could flatter a tyrant, and betray a friend, and
receive a bribe, and be one of the latest of English judges to adopt the
brutal expedient of enforcing confession by the exercise of torture. If
Seneca defended the murder of Agrippina, Bacon blackened the character
of Essex. "What I would I do not; but the thing that I would not, that I
do," might be the motto for many a confession of the sins of genius; and
Seneca need not blush if we compare him with men who were his equals in
intellectual power, but whose "means of grace," whose privileges, whose
knowledge of the truth, were infinitely higher than his own. Let the
noble constancy of his death shed a light over his memory which may
dissipate something of those dark shades which rest on portions of his
history. We think of Abelard, humble, silent, patient, God-fearing,
tended by the kindly-hearted Peter in the peaceful gardens of Clugny; we
think of Bacon, neglected, broken, and despised, dying of the chill
caught in a philosophical experiment and leaving his memory to the
judgment of posterity; let us think of Seneca, quietly yielding to his
destiny without a murmur, cheering the constancy of the mourners round
him during the long agonies of his enforced suicide and dictating some
of the purest utterances of Pagan wisdom almost with his latest breath.
The language of his great contemporary, the Apostle St. Paul, will best
help us to understand his position. He was one of those who was _seeking
the Lord, if haply he might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be
not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have
our being_.



In the spring of the year 61, not long after the time when the murder of
Agrippina, and Seneca's justifications of it, had been absorbing the
attention of the Roman world, there disembarked at Puteoli a troop of
prisoners, whom the Procurator of Judaea had sent to Rome under the
charge of a centurion. Walking among them, chained and weary, but
affectionately tended by two younger companions,[38] and treated with
profound respect by little deputations of friends who met him at Appii
Forum and the Three Taverns, was a man of mean presence and
weather-beaten aspect, who was handed over like the rest to the charge
of Burrus, the Praefect of the Praetorian Guards. Learning from the
letters of the Jewish Procurator that the prisoner had been guilty of no
serious offence,[39] but had used his privilege of Roman citizenship to
appeal to Caesar for protection against the infuriated malice of his
co-religionists--possibly also having heard from the centurion Julius
some remarkable facts about his behaviour and history--Burrus allowed
him, pending the hearing of his appeal, to live in his own hired
apartments.[40] This lodging was in all probability in that quarter of
the city opposite the island in the Tiber, which corresponds to the
modern Trastevere. It was the resort of the very lowest and meanest of
the populace--that promiscuous jumble of all nations which makes Tacitus
call Rome at this time "the sewer of the universe." It was here
especially that the Jews exercised some of the meanest trades in Rome,
selling matches, and old clothes, and broken glass, or begging and
fortune-telling on the Cestian or Fabrican bridges.[41] In one of these
narrow, dark, and dirty streets, thronged by the dregs of the Roman
populace, St. Mark and St. Peter had in all probability lived when they
founded the little Christian Church at Rome. It was undoubtedly in the
same despised locality that St. Paul,--the prisoner who had been
consigned to the care of Burrus,--hired a room, sent for the principle
Jews, and for two years taught to Jews and Christians, to any Pagans who
would listen to him, the doctrines which were destined to regenerate
the world.

[Footnote 38: Luke and Aristarchus.]

[Footnote 39: Acts xxiv. 23, xxvii. 3.]

[Footnote 40: Acts xxviii. 30, [Greek: en idio misthomati].]

[Footnote 41: MART. _Ep_. i. 42: JUV. xiv. 186. In these few paragraphs
I follow M. Aubertin, who (as well as many other authors) has collected
many of the principal passages in which Roman writers allude to the Jews
and Christians.]

Any one entering that mean and dingy room would have seen a Jew with
bent body and furrowed countenance, and with every appearance of age,
weakness, and disease chained by the arm to a Roman soldier. But it is
impossible that, had they deigned to look closer, they should not also
have seen the gleam of genius and enthusiasm, the fire of inspiration,
the serene light of exalted hope and dauntless courage upon those
withered features. And though _he_ was chained, "the Word of God was not
chained." [42] Had they listened to the words which he occasionally
dictated, or overlooked the large handwriting which alone his weak
eyesight and bodily infirmities, as well as the inconvenience of his
chains, permitted, they would have heard or read the immortal utterances
which strengthened the faith of the nascent and struggling Churches in
Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, and which have since been treasured
among the most inestimable possessions of a Christian world.

[Footnote 42: 2 Tim. ii. 9.]

His efforts were not unsuccessful; his misfortunes were for the
furtherance of the Gospel; his chains were manifest "in all the palace,
and in all other places;" [43] and many waxing confident by his bonds
were much more bold to speak the word without fear. Let us not be misled
by assuming a wrong explanation of these words, or by adopting the
Middle Age traditions which made St. Paul convert some of the immediate
favourites of the Emperor, and electrify with his eloquence an admiring
Senate. The word here rendered "palace" [44] may indeed have that
meaning, for we know that among the early converts were "they of
Caesar's household;" [45] but these were in all probability--if not
certainly--Jews of the lowest rank, who were, as we know, to be found
among the _hundreds_ of unfortunates of every age and country who
composed a Roman _familia_. And it is at least equally probable that the
word "praetorium" simply means the barrack of that detachment of Roman
soldiers from which Paul's gaolers were taken in turn. In such labours
St. Paul in all probability spent two years (61-63), during which
occurred the divorce of Octavia, the marriage with Poppaea, the death of
Burrus, the disgrace of Seneca, and the many subsequent infamies
of Nero.

[Footnote 43: Phil. i. 12.]

[Footnote 44: [Greek: en olo to praitorio].]

[Footnote 45: Phil. iv. 22.]

It is out of such materials that some early Christian forger thought it
edifying to compose the work which is supposed to contain the
correspondence of Seneca and St. Paul. The undoubted spuriousness of
that work is now universally admitted, and indeed the forgery is too
clumsy to be even worth reading. But it is worth while inquiring whether
in the circumstances of the time there is even a bare possibility that
Seneca should ever have been among the readers or the auditors of Paul.

And the answer is, There is absolutely no such probability. A vivid
imagination is naturally attracted by the points of contrast and
resemblance offered by two such characters, and we shall see that there
is a singular likeness between many of their sentiments and expressions.
But this was a period in which, as M. Villemain observes, "from one
extremity of the social world to the other truths met each other without
recognition." Stoicism, noble as were many of its precepts, lofty as was
the morality it professed, deeply as it was imbued in many respects with
a semi-Christian piety, looked upon Christianity with profound contempt.
The Christians disliked the Stoics, the Stoics despised and persecuted
the Christians. "The world knows nothing of its greatest men." Seneca
would have stood aghast at the very notion of his receiving the lessons,
still more of his adopting the religion, of a poor, accused, and
wandering Jew. The haughty, wealthy, eloquent, prosperous, powerful
philosopher would have smiled at the notion that any future ages would
suspect him of having borrowed any of his polished and epigrammatic
lessons of philosophic morals or religion from one whom, if he heard of
him, he would have regarded as a poor wretch, half fanatic and half

We learn from St. Paul himself that the early converts of Christianity
were men in the very depths of poverty,[46] and that its preachers were
regarded as fools, and weak, and were despised, and naked, and
buffeted--persecuted and homeless labourers--a spectacle to the world,
and to angels, and to men, "made as the filth of the earth and the
off-scouring of all things." We know that their preaching was to the
Greeks "foolishness," and that, when they spoke of Jesus and the
resurrection, their hearers mocked[47] and jeered. And these indications
are more than confirmed by many contemporary passages of ancient
writers. We have already seen the violent expressions of hatred which
the ardent and high-toned soul of Tacitus thought applicable to the
Christians; and such language is echoed by Roman writers of every
character and class. The fact is that at this time and for centuries
afterwards the Romans regarded the Christians with such lordly
indifference that--like Festus, and Felix and Seneca's brother
Gallio--they never took the trouble to distinguish them from the Jews.
The distinction was not fully realized by the Pagan world till the cruel
and wholesale massacre of the Christians by the pseudo-Messiah
Barchochebas in the reign of Adrian opened their eyes to the fact of the
irreconcilable differences which existed between the two religions. And
pages might be filled with the ignorant and scornful allusions which the
heathen applied to the Jews. They confused them with the whole degraded
mass of Egyptian and Oriental impostors and brute-worshippers; they
disdained them as seditious, turbulent, obstinate, and avaricious; they
regarded them as mainly composed of the very meanest slaves out of the
gross and abject multitude; their proselytism they considered as the
clandestine initiation into some strange and revolting mystery, which
involved as its direct teachings contempt of the gods, and the negation
of all patriotism and all family affection; they firmly believed that
they worshipped the head of an ass; they thought it natural that none
but the vilest slaves and the silliest woman should adopt so
misanthropic and degraded a superstition; they characterized their
customs as "absurd, sordid, foul, and depraved," and their nation as
"prone to superstition, opposed to religion." [48] And as far as they
made _any_ distinction between Jews and Christians, it was for the
latter that they reserved their choicest and most concentrated epithets
of hatred and abuse. A "new," "pernicious," "detestable," "execrable,"
superstition is the only language with which Suetonius and Tacitus
vouchsafe to notice it. Seneca,--though he must have heard the name of
Christian during the reign of Claudius (when both they and the Jews were
expelled from Rome, "because of their perpetual turbulence, at the
instigation of Chrestus," as Suetonius ignorantly observed), and during
the Neronian persecution--never once alludes to them, and only mentions
the Jews to apply a few contemptuous remarks to the idleness of their
sabbaths, and to call them "a most abandoned race."

[Footnote 46: 2 Cor. viii. 2.]

[Footnote 47: [Greek: _Echleuazon_], Acts xvii. 32. The word expresses
the most profound and unconcealed contempt.]

[Footnote 48: Tac. _Hist_. i. 13: ib. v. 5: JUV. xiv. 85: Pers. v. 190,

The reader will now judge whether there is the slightest probability
that Seneca had any intercourse with St. Paul, or was likely to have
stooped from his superfluity of wealth, and pride of power, to take
lessons from obscure and despised slaves in the purlieus inhabited by
the crowded households of Caesar or Narcissus.



And yet in a very high sense of the word Seneca may be called, as he is
called in the title of this book, a Seeker after God; and the
resemblances to the sacred writings which may be found in the pages of
his works are numerous and striking. A few of these will probably
interest our readers, and will put them in a better position for
understanding how large a measure of truth and enlightenment had
rewarded the honest search of the ancient philosophers. We will place a
few such passages side by side with the texts of Scripture which they
resemble or recall.

1. _God's Indwelling Presence_.

"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God
dwelleth in you?" asks St. Paul (1 Cor. iii. 16).

"_God is near you, is with you, is within you_," writes Seneca to his
friend Lucilius, in the 41st of those _Letters_ which abound in his most
valuable moral reflections; "_a sacred Spirit dwells within us, the
observer and guardian of all our evil and our good ... there is no good
man without God_."

And again (_Ep._ 73): "_Do you wonder that man goes to the gods? God
comes to men: nay, what is yet nearer; He comes into men. No good mind
is holy without God_."

2. _The Eye of God_.

"All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have
to do." (Heb. iv. 13.)

"Pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in
secret shall reward thee openly." (Matt. vi. 6.)

Seneca (_On Providence_, 1): "_It is no advantage that conscience is
shut within us; we lie open to God_."

_Letter_ 83: "_What advantage is it that anything is hidden from man?
Nothing is closed to God: He is present to our minds, and enters into
our central thoughts_."

_Letter_ 83: "_We must live as if we were living in sight of all men; we
must think as though some one could and can gaze into our
inmost breast_."

3. _God is a Spirit_.

St. Paul, "We ought not to think that the God-head is like unto gold, or
silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." (Acts xvii. 29.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 31): "_Even from a corner it is possible to spring up
into heaven: rise, therefore, and form thyself into a fashion worthy of
God; thou canst not do this, however, with gold and silver: an image
like to God cannot be formed out of such materials as these_."

4. _Imitating God_.

"Be ye therefore followers ([Greek: _mimaetai_], imitators) of God, as
dear children." (Eph. v. 1.)

"He that in these things [righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost]
serveth Christ is acceptable to God." (Rom. xiv. 18.)

Seneca _(Letter_ 95): "_Do you wish to render the gods propitious? Be
virtuous. To honour them it is enough to imitate them_."

_Letter_ 124: "_Let man aim at the good which belongs to him. What is
this good? A mind reformed and pure, the imitator of God, raising itself
above things human, confining all its desires within itself_."

5. _Hypocrites like whited Sepulchres_.

"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto
whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within
full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matt, xxiii. 27.)

Seneca: "_Those whom you regard as happy, if you saw them, not in their
externals, but in their hidden aspect, are wretched, sordid, base; like
their own walls adorned outwardly. It is no solid and genuine felicity;
it is a plaster, and that a thin one; and so, as long as they can stand
and be seen at their pleasure, they shine and impose on us: when
anything has fallen which disturbs and uncovers them, it is evident how
much deep and real foulness an extraneous splendour has concealed_."

6. _Teaching compared to Seed_.

"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit; some an
hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold." (Matt xiii. 8.)

Seneca (Letter 38): "_Words must be sown like seed; which, although it
be small, when it hath found a suitable ground, unfolds its strength,
and from very small size is expanded into the largest increase. Reason
does the same.... The things spoken are few; but if the mind have
received them well, they gain strength and grow_."

7. _All Men are Sinners_.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is
not in us." (1 John i. 8.)

Seneca (_On Anger_, i. 14, ii. 27): "_If we wish to be just judges of
all things, let us first persuade ourselves of this:--that there is not
one of us without fault.... No man is found who can acquit himself; and
he who calls himself innocent does so with reference to a witness, and
not to his conscience_."

8. _Avarice_.

"The love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Tim. vi. 10.)

Seneca (_On Tranquillity of Soul_, 8): "_Riches ... the greatest source
of human trouble_."

"Be content with such things as ye have." (Heb. xiii. 5.)

"Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." (1 Tim. vi. 8.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 114): "_We shall be wise if we desire but little; if
each man takes count of himself, and at the same time measures his own
body, he will know how little it can contain, and for how short
a time_."

_Letter_ 110: "_We have polenta, we have water; let us challenge Jupiter
himself to a comparison of bliss!_"

"Godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim. vi. 6.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 110): "_Why are you struck with wonder and
astonishment? It is all display! Those things are shown, not
possessed_.... _Turn thyself rather to the true riches, learn to be
content with little_."

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a
rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matt. xix. 24.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 20): "_He is a high-souled man who sees riches spread
around him, and hears rather than feels that they are his. It is much
not to be corrupted by fellowship with riches: great is he who in the
midst of wealth is poor, but safer he who has no wealth at all_."

9. _The Duty of Kindness_.

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love." (Rom. xii.

Seneca (_On Anger_, i. 5): "_Man is born for mutual assistance_."

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Lev. xiv. 18.)

_Letter_ 48: "_You must live for another, if you wish to live for

_On Anger_, iii. 43: "_While we are among men let us cultivate kindness;
let us not be to any man a cause either of peril or of fear_."

10. _Our common Membership_.

"Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. xii.

"We being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of
another." (Rom. xii. 5.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 95): "_Do we teach that he should stretch his hand to
the shipwrecked, show his path to the wanderer, divide his bread with
the hungry_?... _when I could briefly deliver to him the formula of
human duty: all this that you see, in which things divine and human are
included, is one: we are members of one great body_."

11. _Secrecy in doing Good_.

"Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." (Matt. vi. 3.)

Seneca (_On Benefits_, ii. 11): "_Let him who hath conferred a favour
hold his tongue_.... _In conferring a favour nothing should be more
avoided than pride_."

12. _God's impartial Goodness_.

"He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain
on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. v. 45.)

Seneca (_On Benefits_, i. 1): "_How many are unworthy of the light! and
yet the day dawns_."

Id. vii. 31: "_The gods begin to confer benefits on those who recognize
them not, they continue them to those who are thankless for them....
They distribute their blessings in impartial tenor through the nations
and peoples;... they sprinkle the earth with timely showers, they stir
the seas with wind, they mark out the seasons by the revolution of the
constellations, they temper the winter and summer by the intervention of
a gentler air_."

It would be a needless task to continue these parallels, because by
reading any treatise of Seneca a student might add to them by scores;
and they prove incontestably that, as far as moral illumination was
concerned, Seneca "was not far from the kingdom of heaven." They have
been collected by several writers; and all of these here adduced,
together with many others, may be found in the pages of Fleury,
Troplong, Aubertin, and others. Some authors, like M. Fleury, have
endeavoured to show that they can only be accounted for by the
supposition that Seneca had some acquaintance with the sacred writings.
M. Aubertin, on the other hand, has conclusively demonstrated that this
could not have been the case. Many words and expressions detached from
their context have been forced into a resemblance with the words of
Scripture, when the context wholly militates against its spirit; many
belong to that great common stock of moral truths which had been
elaborated by the conscientious labours of ancient philosophers; and
there is hardly one of the thoughts so eloquently enunciated which may
not be found even more nobly and more distinctly expressed in the
writings of Plato and of Cicero. In a subsequent chapter we shall show
that, in spite of them all, the divergences of Seneca from the spirit of
Christianity are at least as remarkable as the closest of his
resemblances; but it will be more convenient to do this when we have
also examined the doctrines of those two other great representatives of
spiritual enlightenment in Pagan souls, Epictetus the slave and Marcus
Aurelius the emperor.

Meanwhile, it is a matter for rejoicing that writings such as these give
us a clear proof that in all ages the Spirit of the Lord has entered
into holy men, and made them sons of God and prophets. God "left not
Himself without witness" among them. The language of St. Thomas Aquinas,
that many a heathen has had an "implicit faith," is but another way of
expressing St. Paul's statement that "not having the law they were a law
unto themselves, and showed the work of the law written in their
hearts." [49] To them the Eternal Power and Godhead were known from the
things that do appear, and alike from the voice of conscience and the
voice of nature they derived a true, although a partial and inadequate,
knowledge. To them "the voice of nature was the voice of God." Their
revelation was the law of nature, which was confirmed, strengthened, and
extended, but _not_ suspended, by the written law of God.[50]

[Footnote 49: Rom. i. 2.]

[Footnote 50: Hooker, _Eccl. Pol_. iii. 8.]

The knowledge thus derived, i.e. the sum-total of religious impressions
resulting from the combination of reason and experience, has been called
"natural religion;" the term is in itself a convenient and
unobjectionable one, so long as it is remembered that natural religion
is itself a revelation. No _antithesis_ is so unfortunate and pernicious
as that of natural with revealed religion. It is "a contrast rather of
words than of ideas; it is an opposition of abstractions to which no
facts really correspond." God has revealed Himself, not in one but in
many ways, not only by inspiring the hearts of a few, but by vouchsafing
His guidance to all who seek it. "The spirit of man is the candle of the
Lord," and it is not religion but apostasy to deny the reality of any of
God's revelations of truth to man, merely because they have not
descended through a single channel. On the contrary, we ought to hail
with gratitude, instead of viewing with suspicion, the enunciation by
heathen writers of truths which we might at first sight have been
disposed to regard as the special heritage of Christianity. In
Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato,--in Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus
Aurelius--we see the light of heaven struggling its impeded way through
clouds of darkness and ignorance; we thankfully recognize that the souls
of men in the Pagan world, surrounded as they were by perplexities and
dangers, were yet enabled to reflect, as from the dim surface of silver,
some image of what was divine and true; we hail, with the great and
eloquent Bossuet, "THE CHRISTIANITY OF NATURE." "The divine image in
man," says St. Bernard, "may be burned, but it cannot be burnt out."

And this is the pleasantest side on which to consider the life and the
writings of Seneca. It is true that his style partakes of the defects of
his age, that the brilliancy of his rhetoric does not always compensate
for the defectiveness of his reasoning; that he resembles, not a mirror
which clearly reflects the truth, but "a glass fantastically cut into a
thousand spangles;" that side by side with great moral truths we
sometimes find his worst errors, contradictions, and paradoxes; that his
eloquent utterances about God often degenerate into a vague Pantheism;
and that even on the doctrine of immortality his hold is too slight to
save him from waverings and contradictions;[51] yet as a moral teacher
he is full of real greatness, and was often far in advance of the
general opinion of his age. Few men have written more finely, or with
more evident sincerity, about truth and courage, about the essential
equality of man,[52] about the duty of kindness and consideration to
slaves,[53] about tenderness even in dealing with sinners,[54] about the
glory of unselfishness,[55] about the great idea of humanity[56] as
something which transcends all the natural and artificial prejudices of
country and of caste. Many of his writings are Pagan sermons and moral
essays of the best and highest type. The style, as Quintilian says,
"abounds in delightful faults," but the strain of sentiment is never
otherwise than high and true.

[Footnote 51: Consol. ad Polyb. 27; Ad Helv. 17; Ad Marc. 24, _seqq_.]

[Footnote 52: Ep. 32; De Benef. iii. 2.]

[Footnote 53: De Irâ, iii. 29, 32.]

[Footnote 54: Ibid. i. 14; De Vit. beat. 24.]

[Footnote 55: Ep. 55, 9.]

[Footnote 56: Ibid. 28; De Oti Sapientis, 31.]

He is to be regarded rather as a wealthy, eminent, and successful Roman,
who devoted most of his leisure to moral philosophy, than as a real
philosopher by habit and profession. And in this point of view his very
inconsistencies have their charm, as illustrating his ardent, impulsive,
imaginative temperament. He was no apathetic, self-contained, impassible
Stoic, but a passionate, warm-hearted man, who could break into a flood
of unrestrained tears at the death of his friend Annaeus Serenus,[57]
and feel a trembling solicitude for the welfare of his wife and little
ones. His was no absolute renunciation, no impossible perfection;[58]
but few men have painted more persuasively, with deeper emotion, or more
entire conviction, the pleasures of virtue, the calm of a
well-regulated soul, the strong and severe joys of a lofty self-denial.
In his youth, he tells us, he was preparing himself for a righteous
life, in his old age for a noble death.[59] And let us not forget, that
when the hour of crisis came which tested the real calm and bravery of
his soul, he was not found wanting. "With no dread," he writes to
Lucilius, "I am preparing myself for that day on which, laying aside all
artifice or subterfuge, I shall be able to judge respecting myself
whether I merely _speak_ or really _feel_ as a brave man should; whether
all those words of haughty obstinacy which I have hurled against fortune
were mere pretence and pantomime.... Disputations and literary talks,
and words collected from the precepts of philosophers, and eloquent
discourse, do not prove the true strength of the soul. For the mere
_speech_ of even the most cowardly is bold; what you have really
achieved will then be manifest when your end is near. I accept the
terms, I do not shrink from the decision." [60]

[Footnote 57: Ep. 63.]

[Footnote 58: Martha, _Les Moralistes_, p. 61.]

[Footnote 59: Ep. 61.]

[Footnote 60: Ep. 26.]

"_Accipio conditionem, non reformido judicrum_." They were courageous
and noble words, and they were justified in the hour of trial. When we
remember the sins of Seneca's life, let us recall also the constancy of
his death; while we admit the inconsistencies of his systematic
philosophy, let us be grateful for the genius, the enthusiasm, the glow
of intense conviction, with which he clothes his repeated utterance of
truths, which, when based upon a surer basis, were found adequate for
the moral regeneration of the world. Nothing is more easy than to sneer
at Seneca, or to write clever epigrams on one whose moral attainments
fell infinitely short of his own great ideal. But after all he was not
more inconsistent than thousands of those who condemn him. With all his
faults he yet lived a nobler and a better life, he had loftier aims, he
was braver, more self-denying--nay, even more consistent--than the
majority of professing Christians. It would be well for us all if those
who pour such scorn upon his memory attempted to achieve one tithe of
the good which he achieved for humanity and for Rome. His thoughts
deserve our imperishable gratitude: let him who is without sin among us
be eager to fling stones at his failures and his sins!




In the court of Nero, Seneca must have been thrown into more or less
communication with the powerful freedmen of that Emperor, and especially
with his secretary or librarian, Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was a
constant companion of the Emperor; he was the earliest to draw Nero's
attention to the conspiracy in which Seneca himself perished. There can
be no doubt that Seneca knew him, and had visited at his house. Among
the slaves who thronged that house, the natural kindliness of the
philosopher's heart may have drawn his attentions to one little lame
Phrygian boy, deformed and mean-looking, whose face--if it were any
index of the mind within--must even from boyhood have worn a serene and
patient look. The great courtier, the great tutor of the Emperor, the
great Stoic and favourite writer of his age, would indeed have been
astonished if he had been suddenly told that that wretched-looking
little slave-lad was destined to attain purer and clearer heights of
philosophy than he himself had ever done, and to become quite as
illustrious as himself, and far more respected as an exponent of Stoic
doctrines. For that lame boy was Epictetus--Epictetus for whom was
written the memorable epitaph: "I was Epictetus, a slave, and maimed in
body, and a beggar for poverty, _and dear to the immortals_."

Although we have a clear sketch of his philosophical doctrines, we have
no materials whatever for any but the most meagre description of his
life. The picture of his mind--an effigy of that which he alone regarded
as his true self--may be seen in his works, and to this we can add
little except a few general facts and uncertain anecdotes.

Epictetus was probably born in about the fiftieth year of the Christian
era; but we do not know the exact date of his birth, nor do we even know
his real name. "Epictetus" means "bought" or "acquired," and is simply a
servile designation. He was born at Hierapolis, in Phrygia, a town
between the rivers Lycus and Meander, and considered by some to be the
capital of the province. The town possessed several natural
wonders--sacred springs, stalactite grottoes, and a deep cavern
remarkable for its mephitic exhalations. It is more interesting to us to
know that it was within a few miles of Colossae and Laodicea, and is
mentioned by St. Paul (Col. iv. 13) in connexion with those two cities.
It must, therefore, have possessed a Christian Church from the earliest
times, and, if Epictetus spent any part of his boyhood there, he might
have conversed with men and women of humble rank who had heard read in
their obscure place of meeting the Epistle of St. Paul to the
Colossians, and the other, now lost, which he addressed to the Church of

[Footnote 61: Col. iv. 16.]

It is probable, however, that Hierapolis and its associations produced
very little influence on the mind of Epictetus. His parents were people
in the very lowest and humblest class, and their moral character could
hardly have been high, or they would not have consented under any
circumstance to sell into slavery their sickly child. Certainly it could
hardly have been possible for Epictetus to enter into the world under
less enviable or less promising auspices. But the whole system of life
is full of divine and memorable compensations, and Epictetus experienced
them. God kindles the light of genius where He will, and He can inspire
the highest and most regal thoughts even into the meanest slave:--

     "Such seeds are scattered night and day
        By the soft wind from Heaven,
      And in the poorest human clay
        Have taken root and thriven."

What were the accidents--or rather, what was "the unseen Providence, by
man nicknamed chance"--which assigned Epictetus to the house of
Epaphroditus we do not know. To a heart refined and noble there could
hardly have been a more trying position. The slaves of a Roman _familia_
were crowded together in immense gangs; they were liable to the most
violent and capricious punishments; they might be subjected to the most
degraded and brutalising influences. Men sink too often to the level to
which they are supposed to belong. Treated with infamy for long years,
they are apt to deem themselves worthy of infamy--to lose that
self-respect which is the invariable concomitant of religious feeling,
and which, apart from religious feeling, is the sole preventive of
personal degradation. Well may St. Paul say, "Art thou called, being a
servant? care not for it: _but if thou mayest be made free, use it
rather_." [62]

[Footnote 62: 1 Cor. vii. 21.]

It is true that even in the heathen world there began at this time to
be disseminated among the best and wisest thinkers a sense that slaves
were made of the same clay as their masters, that they differed from
freeborn men only in the externals and accidents of their position, and
that kindness to them and consideration for their difficulties was a
common and elementary duty of humanity. "I am glad to learn," says
Seneca, in one of his interesting letters to Lucilius, "that you live on
terms of familiarity with your slaves; it becomes your prudence and your
erudition. Are they slaves? Nay, they are men. Slaves? Nay, companions.
Slaves? Nay, humble friends. Slaves? _Nay, fellow-slaves,_ if you but
consider that fortune has power over you both." He proceeds, in a
passage to which we have already alluded, to reprobate the haughty and
inconsiderate fashion of keeping them standing for hours, mute and
fasting, while their masters gorged themselves at the banquet. He
deplores the cruelty which thinks it necessary to punish with terrible
severity an accidental cough or sneeze. He quotes the proverb--a proverb
which reveals a whole history--"So many slaves, so many foes," and
proves that they are not foes, but that men _made_ them so; whereas,
when kindly treated, when considerately addressed, they would be silent,
even under torture, rather than speak to their master's disadvantage.
"Are they not sprung," he asks, "from the same origin, do they not
breathe the same air, do they not live and die just as we do?" The
blows, the broken limbs, the clanking chains, the stinted food of the
_ergastula_ or slave-prisons, excited all Seneca's compassion, and in
all probability presented a picture of misery which the world has rarely
seen surpassed, unless it were in that nefarious trade which England to
her shame once practised, and, to her eternal glory, resolutely
swept away.

But Seneca's inculcation of tenderness towards slaves was in reality
one of the most original of his moral teachings; and, from all that we
know of Roman life, it is to be feared that the number of those who
acted in accordance with it was small. Certainly Epaphroditus, the
master of Epictetus, was not one of them. The historical facts which we
know of this man are slight. He was one of the four who accompanied the
tragic and despicable flight of Nero from Rome in the year 69, and when,
after many waverings of cowardice, Nero at last, under imminent peril of
being captured and executed, put the dagger to his breast, it was
Epaphroditus who helped the tyrant to drive it home into his heart, for
which he was subsequently banished, and finally executed by the
Emperor Domitian.

Epictetus was accustomed to tell one or two anecdotes which, although
given without comment, show the narrowness and vulgarity of the man.
Among his slaves was a certain worthless cobbler named Felicio; as the
cobbler was quite useless, Epaphroditus sold him, and by some chance he
was bought by some one of Caesar's household, and made Caesar's cobbler.
Instantly Epaphroditus began to pay him the profoundest respect, and to
address him in the most endearing terms, so that if any one asked what
Epaphroditus was doing, the answer, as likely as not, would be, "He is
holding an important consultation with Felicio."

On one occasion, some one came to him bewailing, and weeping, and
embracing his knees in a paroxysm of grief, because of all his fortune
little more than 50,000_l_. was left! "What did Epaphroditus do?" asks
Epictetus; "did he laugh at the man as we did? Not at all; on the
contrary, he exclaimed, in a tone of commiseration and surprise, 'Poor
fellow! how could you possibly keep silence and endure such a

How brutally he could behave, and how little respect he inspired, we may
see in the following anecdote. When Plautius Lateranus, the brave
nobleman whose execution during Piso's conspiracy we have already
related, had received on his neck an ineffectual blow of the tribune's
sword, Epaphroditus, even at that dread moment, could not abstain from
pressing him with questions. The only reply which he received from the
dying man was the contemptuous remark, "Should I wish to say anything, I
will say it (not to a slave like you, but) to _your master_."

Under a man of this calibre it is hardly likely that a lame Phrygian boy
would experience much kindness. An anecdote, indeed, has been handed
down to us by several writers, which would show that he was treated with
atrocious cruelty. Epaphroditus, it is said, once gratified his cruelty
by twisting his slave's leg in some instrument of torture. "If you go
on, you will break it," said Epictetus. The wretch did go on, and did
break it. "I told you that you would break it," said Epictetus quietly,
not giving vent to his anguish by a single word or a single groan.
Stories of heroism no less triumphant have been authenticated both in
ancient and modern times; but we may hope for the sake of human nature
that this story is false, since another authority tells us that
Epictetus became lame in consequence of a natural disease. Be that
however as it may, some of the early writers against Christianity--such,
for instance, as the physician Celsus--were fond of adducing this
anecdote in proof of a magnanimity which not even Christianity could
surpass; to which use of the anecdote Origen opposed the awful silence
of our Saviour upon the cross, and Gregory of Nazianzen pointed out
that, though it was a noble thing to endure inevitable evils, it was yet
more noble to undergo them voluntarily with an equal fortitude. But even
if Epaphroditus were not guilty of breaking the leg of Epictetus, it is
clear that the life of the poor youth was surrounded by circumstances of
the most depressing and miserable character; circumstances which would
have forced an ordinary man to the low and animal level of existence
which appears to have contented the great majority of Roman slaves. Some
of the passages in which he speaks about the consideration due to this
unhappy class show a very tender feeling towards them. "It would be
best," he says, "if, both while making your preparations and while
feasting at your banquets, you distribute among the attendants some of
the provisions. But if such a plan, at any particular time, be difficult
to carry out, remember that you who are not fatigued are being waited
upon by those who are fatigued; you who are eating and drinking by those
who are not eating and drinking; you who are conversing by those who are
mute--you who are at your ease by people under painful constraint. And
thus you will neither yourself be kindled into unseemly passion, nor
will you in a fit of fury do harm to any one else." No doubt Epictetus
is here describing conduct which he had often seen, and of which he had
himself experienced the degradation. But he had early acquired a
loftiness of soul and an insight into truth which enabled him to
distinguish the substance from the shadow, to separate the realities of
life from its accidents, and so to turn his very misfortunes into fresh
means of attaining to moral nobility. In proof of this let us see some
of his own opinions as to his state of life.

At the very beginning of his _Discourses_ he draws a distinction
between the things which the gods _have_ and the things which they _have
not_ put in our own power, and he held (being deficient here in that
light which Christianity might have furnished to him) that the blessings
denied to us are denied not because the gods _would_ not, but because
they _could_ not grant them to us. And then he supposes that Jupiter
addresses him:--

"O Epictetus, had it been possible, I would have made both your little
body and your little property free and unentangled; but now, do not be
mistaken, it is not yours at all, but only clay finely kneaded. Since,
however, I could not do this, I gave you a portion of ourselves, namely,
this power of pursuing and avoiding, of desiring and of declining, and
generally the power of _dealing with appearances_: and if you cultivate
this power, and regard it as that which constitutes your real
possession, you will never be hindered or impeded, nor will you groan or
find fault with, or flatter any one. Do these advantages then appear to
you to be trifling? Heaven forbid! Be content therefore with these, and
thank the gods."

And again in one of his _Fragments_ (viii. ix.):--

"Freedom and slavery are but names, respectively, of virtue and of vice:
and both of them depend upon the will. But neither of them have anything
to do with those things in which the will has no share. For no one is a
slave whose will is free."

"Fortune is an evil bond of the body, vice of the soul; for he is a
slave whose body is free but whose soul is bound, and, on the contrary,
he is free whose body is bound but whose soul is free."

Who does not catch in these passages the very tone of St, Paul when he
says, "He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's
freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is
Christ's servant?"

Nor is his independence less clearly express when he speaks of his
deformity. Being but the deformity of a body which he despised, he spoke
of himself as "an ethereal existence staggering under the burden of a
corpse." In his admirable chapter on Contentment, he very forcibly lays
down that topic of consolation which is derived from the sense that "the
universe is not made for our individual satisfaction." "_Must my leg be
lame_?" he supposes some querulous objector to inquire. "Slave!" he
replies, "do you then because of one miserable little leg find fault
with the universe? Will you not concede that accident to the existence
of general laws? Will you not dismiss the thought of it? Will you not
cheerfully assent to it for the sake of him who gave it. And will you be
indignant and displeased at the ordinances of Zeus, which he ordained
and appointed with the Destinies, who were present and wove the web of
your being? Know you not what an atom you are compared with the
whole?--that is, as regards your body, since as regards your reason you
are no whit inferior to, or less than the gods. For the greatness of
reason is not estimated by size or height, but by the doctrines which it
embraces. Will you not then lay up your treasure in those matters
wherein you are equal to the gods?" And, thanks to such principles, a
poor and persecuted slave was able to raise his voice in sincere and
eloquent thanksgiving to that God to whom he owed his "creation,
preservation, and all the blessings of this life."

Speaking of the multitude of our natural gifts, he says, "Are these the
only gifts of Providence towards us? Nay, what power of speech suffices
adequately to praise, or to set them forth? for, had we but true
intelligence, what duty would be more perpetually incumbent on us than
both in public and in private to hymn the Divine, and bless His name and
praise His benefits? Ought we not, when we dig, and when we plough, and
when we eat, to sing this hymn to God? 'Great is God, because He hath
given us these implements whereby we may till the soil; great is God,
because He hath given us hands, and the means of nourishment by food,
and insensible growth, and breathing sleep;' these things in each
particular we ought to hymn, and to chant the greatest and the divinest
hymn, because He hath given us the power to appreciate these blessings,
and continuously to use them. What then? Since the most of you are
blinded, ought there not to be some one to fulfil this province for you,
and on behalf of all to sing his hymn to God? And what else can _I_ do,
who am a lame old man, except sing praises to God? Now, had I been a
nightingale, I should have sung the songs of a nightingale, or had I
been a swan the songs of a swan; but, being a reasonable being, it is my
duty to hymn God. This is my task, and I accomplish it; nor, so far as
may be granted to me, will I ever abandon this post, and you also do I
exhort to this same song."

There is an almost lyric beauty about these expressions of resignation
and faith in God, and it is the utterance of such warm feelings towards
Divine Providence that constitutes the chief originality of Epictetus.
It is interesting to think that the oppressed heathen philosopher found
the same consolation, and enjoyed the same contentment, as the
persecuted Christian Apostle. "Whether ye eat or drink," says St. Paul,
"or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." "Think of God," says
Epictetus, "oftener than you breathe. Let discourse of God be renewed
daily more surely than your food."

Here, again, are his views about his poverty (_Fragment_ xix.):--

"Examine yourself whether you wish to be rich or to be happy; and if you
wish to be rich, know that it neither is a blessing, nor is it
altogether in your own power; but if to be happy, know that it both _is_
a blessing, and is in your own power; since the former is but a
temporary loan of fortune, but the gift of happiness depends upon
the will."

"Just as when you see a viper, or an asp, or a scorpion, in a casket of
ivory or gold, you do not love or congratulate them on the splendour of
their material, but because their nature is pernicious you turn from and
loathe them, so likewise when you see vice enshrined in wealth and the
pomp of circumstance do not be astounded at the glory of its
surroundings, but despise the meanness of its character."

"Wealth is _not_ among the number of good things; extravagance _is_
among the number of evils, sober-mindedness of good things. Now
sober-mindedness invites us to frugality and the acquisition of real
advantages; but wealth to extravagance, and it drags us away from
sober-mindedness. It is a hard matter, therefore, being rich to be
sober-minded, or being sober-minded to be rich."

The last sentence will forcibly remind the reader of our Lord's own
words, "How hardly shall they that have riches (or as the parallel
passage less startlingly expresses it, 'Children, how hard is it for
them that _trust_ in riches to') enter into the kingdom of God."

But this is a favourite subject with the ancient philosopher, and
Epictetus continues:--

"Had you been born in Persia, you would not have been eager to live in
Greece, but to stay where you were, and be happy; and, being born in
poverty, why are you eager to be rich, and not rather to abide in
poverty, and so be happy?"

"As it is better to be in good health, being hard-pressed on a little
truckle-bed, than to roll, and to be ill in some broad couch; so too it
is better in a small competence to enjoy the calm of moderate desires,
than in the midst of superfluities to be discontented."

This, too, is a thought which many have expressed. "Gentle sleep," says
Horace, "despises not the humble cottages of rustics, nor the shaded
banks, nor valleys whose foliage waves with the western wind;" and every
reader will recall the magnificent words of our own great Shakespeare--

     "Why rather, Sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
      Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
      And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
      Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
      Under the canopies of costly state,
      And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?"

To the subject of freedom, and to the power which man possesses to make
himself entirely independent of all surrounding circumstances, Epictetus
incessantly recurs. With the possibility of banishment to an
_ergastulum_ perpetually before his eyes, he defines a prison as being
any situation in which a man is placed against his will; to Socrates for
instance the prison was no prison, for he was there willingly, and no
man _need_ be in prison, against his will if he has learnt, as one of
his primary duties, a cheerful acquiescence in the inevitable. By the
expression of such sentiments Epictetus had anticipated by fifteen
hundred years the immortal truth so sweetly expressed by Lovelace:

     "_Stone walls do not a prison make,
        Nor iron bars a cage_;
      Minds innocent and quiet take
        That for a hermitage."

Situated as he was, we can hardly wonder that thoughts like these
occupied a large share of the mind of Epictetus, or that he had taught
himself to lay hold of them with the firmest possible grasp. When asked,
"Who among men is rich?" he replied, "He who suffices for himself;" an
expression which contains the germ of the truth so forcibly expressed in
the Book of Proverbs, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his
own ways, and a good man _shall be satisfied from himself_". Similarly,
when asked, "Who is free?" he replies, "The man who masters his own
self," with much the same tone of expressions as that of Solomon, "He
that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his
spirit than he that taketh a city." Socrates was one of the great models
whom Epictetus constantly seats before him, and this is one of the
anecdotes which he relates about him with admiration. When Archelaus
sent a message to express the intention of making him rich, Socrates
bade the messenger inform him that at Athens four quarts of meal might
be bought for three halfpence, and the fountains flow with water. "If
then my existing possessions are insufficient for me, at any rate I am
sufficient for them, and so they too are sufficient for me. Do you not
see that Polus acted the part of Oedipus in his royal state with no less
beauty of voice than that of Oedipus in Colonos, a wanderer and beggar?
Shall then a noble man appear inferior to Polus, so as not to act well
every character imposed upon him by Divine Providence; and shall he not
imitate Ulysses, who even in rags was no less conspicuous than in the
curled nap of his purple cloak?"

Generally speaking, the view which Epictetus took of life is always
simple, and always consistent; it is a view which gave him consolation
among life's troubles, and strength to display some of its noblest
virtues, and it may be summed up in the following passages of his famous

"Remember," he says, "that you are an actor of just such a part as is
assigned you by the Poet of the play; of a short part, if the part be
short; of a long part, if it be long. Should He wish you to act the part
of a beggar, take care to act it naturally and nobly; and the same if it
be the part of a lame man, or a ruler, or a private man; for _this_ is
in your power, to act well the part assigned to you; but to _choose_
that part is the function of another."

"Let not these considerations afflict you: 'I shall live despised, and
the merest nobody;' for if dishonour be an evil, you cannot be involved
in evil any more than you can be involved in baseness through any one
else's means. Is it then at all _your_ business to be a leading man, or
to be entertained at a banquet? By no means. How then can it be a
dishonor not to be so? And how will you be a mere nobody, since it is
your duty to be somebody only in those circumstances which are in your
own power, in which you may be a person of the greatest importance?"

"Honour, precedence, confidence," he argues in another passage, "whether
they be good things or evil things, are at any rate things for which
their own definite price must be paid. Lettuces are sold for a penny,
and if you want your lettuce you must pay your penny; and similarly, if
you want to be asked out to a person's house, you must pay the price
which he demands for asking people, whether the coin he requires be
praise or attention; but if you do not give these, do not expect the
other. Have you then gained nothing in lieu of your supper? Indeed you
have; you have escaped praising a person whom you did not want to
praise, and you have escaped the necessity of tolerating the upstart
impertinence of his menials."

Some parts of this last thought have been so beautifully expressed by
the American poet Lowell that I will conclude this chapter in his words:

     "Earth hath her price for what earth gives us;
        The beggar is tax'd for a corner to die in;
      The priest hath his fee who comes and shrieves us;
        We bargain for the graves we lie in:
      At the devil's mart are all things sold,
      Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold,
      For a cap and bells our lives we pay.
        Bubbles we earn with our whole soul's tasking,
      '_Tis only God that is given away,
        'Tis only heaven may be had for the asking_."



Whether any of these great thoughts would have suggested themselves
_spontaneously_ to Epictetus--whether there was an inborn wisdom and
nobleness in the mind of this slave which would have enabled him to
elaborate such views from his own consciousness, we cannot tell; they do
not, however, express _his_ sentiments only, but belong in fact to the
moral teaching of the great Stoic school, in the doctrines of which he
had received instruction.

It may sound strange to the reader that one situated as Epictetus was
should yet have had a regular tutor to train him in Stoic doctrines.
That such should have been the case appears at first sight inconsistent
with the cruelty with which he was treated, but it is a fact which is
capable of easy explanation. In times of universal luxury and
display--in times when a sort of surface-refinement is found among all
the wealthy--some sort of respect is always paid to intellectual
eminence, and intellectual amusements are cultivated as well as those of
a coarser character. Hence a rich Roman liked to have people of literary
culture among his slaves; he liked to have people at hand who would get
him any information which he might desire about books, who could act as
his amanuenses, who could even correct and supply information for his
original compositions. Such learned slaves formed part of every large
establishment, and among them were usually to be found some who bore, if
they did not particularly merit, the title of "philosophers." These
men--many of whom are described as having been mere impostors,
ostentatious pedants, or ignorant hypocrites--acted somewhat like
domestic chaplains in the houses of their patrons. They gratified an
amateur taste for wisdom, and helped to while away in comparative
innocence the hours which their masters might otherwise have spent in
lassitude or sleep. It was no more to the credit of Epaphroditus that he
wished to have a philosophic slave, than it is to the credit of an
illiterate millionaire in modern times that he likes to have works of
high art in his drawing-room, and books of reference in his
well-furnished library.

Accordingly, since Epictetus must have been singularly useless for all
physical purposes, and since his thoughtfulness and intelligence could
not fail to command attention, his master determined to make him useful
in the only way possible, and sent him to Caius Musonius Rufus to be
trained in the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy.

Musonius was the son of a Roman knight. His learning and eloquence, no
less than his keen appreciation of Stoic truths, had so deeply kindled
the suspicions of Nero, that he banished him to the rocky little island
of Gyaros, on the charge of his having been concerned in Piso's
conspiracy. He returned to Rome after the suicide of Nero, and lived in
great distinction and respect, so that he was allowed to remain in the
city when the Emperor Vespasian banished all the other philosophers of
any eminence.

The works of Musonius have not come down to us, but a few notices of
him, which are scattered in the _Discourses_ of his greater pupil, show
us what kind of man he was. The following anecdotes will show that he
was a philosopher of the strictest school.

Speaking of the value of logic as a means of training the reason,
Epictetus anticipates the objection that, after all, a mere error in
reasoning is no very serious fault. He points out that it _is_ a fault,
and that is sufficient. "I too," he says, "once made this very remark to
Rufus when he rebuked me for not discovering the suppressed premiss in
some syllogism. 'What!' said I, 'have I then set the Capitol on fire,
that you rebuke me thus?' 'Slave!' he answered, 'what has the Capitol to
do with it? Is there no _other_ fault then short of setting the Capitol
on fire? Yes! to use one's own mere fancies rashly, at random, anyhow;
not to follow an argument, or a demonstration, or a sophism; not, in
short, to see what makes for oneself or not, in questioning and
answering--is none of these things a fault?'"

Sometimes he used to test the Stoical endurance of his pupil by pointing
out the indignities and tortures which his master might at any moment
inflict upon him; and when Epictetus answered that, after all, such
treatment was what man _had_ borne, and therefore _could_ bear, he would
reply approvingly that every man's destiny was in his own hands; that he
need lack nothing from any one else; that, since he could derive from
himself magnanimity and nobility of soul, he might despise the notion of
receiving lands or money or office. "But," he continued, "when any one
is cowardly or mean, one ought obviously in writing letters about such a
person to speak of him as a corpse, and to say, 'Favour us with the
corpse and blood of So-and-so,' For? in fact, such a man _is_ a mere
corpse, and nothing more; for if he were anything more, he would have
perceived that no man ever suffers any real misfortunes by another's
means." I do not know whether Mr. Ruskin is a student of Epictetus, but
he, among others, has forcibly expressed the same truth. "My friends, do
you remember that old Scythian custom, when the head of a house died?
How he was dressed in his finest dress, and set in his chariot, and
carried about to his friends' houses; and each of them placed him at his
table's head, and all feasted in his presence? Suppose it were offered
to you, in plain words, as it _is_ offered to you in dire facts, that
you should gain this Scythian honour gradually, while you yet thought
yourself alive.... Would you take the offer verbally made by the
death-angel? Would the meanest among us take it, think you? Yet
practically and verily we grasp at it, every one of us, in a measure;
many of us grasp at it in the fulness of horror."

The way in which Musonius treated would-be pupils much resembled the
plan adopted by Socrates. "It is not easy," says Epictetus, "to train
effeminate youths, any more than it is easy to take up whey with a hook.
But those of fine nature, even if you discourage them, desire
instruction all the more. For which reason Rufus often discouraged
pupils, using this as a criterion of fine and of common natures; for he
used to say, that just as a stone, even if you fling it into the air,
will fall down to the earth by its own gravitating force, so also a
noble nature, in proportion as it is repulsed, in that proportion tends
more in its own natural direction." As Emerson says,--

     "Yet on the nimble air benign
      Speed nimbler messages,
      That waft the breath of grace divine
      To hearts in sloth and ease.
      So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
        So near is God to man,
      When Duty whispers low, 'THOU MUST,'
        The youth replies, 'I CAN.'"

One more trait of the character of Musonius will show how deeply
Epictetus respected him, and how much good he derived from him. In his
_Discourse on Ostentation_, Epictetus says that Rufus was in the habit
of remarking to his pupils, "If you have leisure to praise me, I can
have done you no good." "He used indeed so to address us that each one
of us, sitting there, thought that some one had been privately telling
tales against _him_ in particular, so completely did Rufus seize hold of
his characteristics, so vividly did he portray our individual faults."

Such was the man under whose teaching Epictetus grew to maturity, and it
was evidently a teaching which was wise and noble, even if it were
somewhat chilling and austere. It formed an epoch in the slave's life;
it remoulded his entire character; it was to him the source of blessings
so inestimable in their value that it is doubtful whether they were
counter-balanced by all the miseries of poverty, slavery, and contempt.
He would probably have admitted that it was _better_ for him to have
been sold into cruel slavery, than it would have been to grow up in
freedom, obscurity, and ignorance in his native Hierapolis. So that
Epictetus might have found, and did find, in his own person, an
additional argument in favour of Divine Providence: an additional proof
that God is kind and merciful to all men; an additional intensity of
conviction that, if our lots on earth are not equal, they are at least
dominated by a principle of justice and of wisdom, and each man, on the
whole, may gain that which is best for him, and that which most
honestly and most heartily he desires. Epictetus reminds us again and
again that we may have many, if not all, such advantages as the world
has to offer, _if we are willing to pay the price by which they are
obtained_. But if that price be a mean or a wicked one, and if we should
scorn ourselves were we ever tempted to pay it, then we must not even
cast one longing look of regret towards things which can only be got by
that which we deliberately refuse to give. Every good and just man may
gain, if not happiness, then something higher than happiness. Let no one
regard this as a mere phrase, for it is capable of a most distinct and
definite meaning. There are certain things which all men desire, and
which all men would _gladly_, if they could _lawfully_ and _innocently_
obtain. These things are health, wealth, ease, comfort, influence,
honour, freedom from opposition and from pain; and yet, if you were to
place all these blessings on the one side, and on the other side to
place poverty, and disease, and anguish, and trouble, and
contempt,--yet, if on _this_ side also you were to place truth and
justice, and a sense that, however densely the clouds may gather about
our life, the light of God will be visible beyond them, all the noblest
men who ever lived would choose, as without hesitation they always have
chosen, the _latter_ destiny. It is not that they like failure, but they
prefer failure to falsity; it is not that they love persecution, but
they prefer persecution to meanness; it is not that they relish
opposition, but they welcome opposition rather than guilty acquiescence;
it is not that they do not shrink from agony, but they would not escape
agony by crime. The selfishness of Dives in his purple is to them less
enviable than the innocence of Lazarus in rags; they would be chained
with John in prison rather than loll with Herod at the feast; they
would fight with beasts with Paul in the arena rather than be steeped in
the foul luxury of Nero on the throne. It is not happiness, but it is
something higher than happiness; it is stillness, it is assurance, it is
satisfaction, it is peace; the world can neither understand it, nor give
it, nor take it away,--it is something indescribable--it is the gift
of God.

"The fallacy" of being surprised at wickedness in prosperity, and
righteousness in misery, "can only lie," says Mr. Froude, in words which
would have delighted Epictetus, and which would express the inmost
spirit of his philosophy, "in the supposed _right_ to happiness....
Happiness is not what we are to look for. Our place is to be true to the
best we know, to seek that, and do that; and if by 'virtue is its own
reward' be meant that the good man cares only to continue good, desiring
nothing more, then it is a true and a noble saying.... Let us do right,
and then whether happiness come, or unhappiness, it is no very mighty
matter. If it come, life will be sweet; if it do not come, life will be
bitter--bitter, not sweet, and yet to be borne.... The well-being of our
souls depends only on what we _are_; and nobleness of character is
nothing else but _steady love of good, and steady scorn of evil_....
Only to those who have the heart to say, 'We can do without selfish
enjoyment: it is not what we ask or desire,' is there no secret. Man
will have what he desires, and will find what is really best for him,
exactly as he honestly seeks for it. _Happiness may fly away, pleasure
pall or cease to be obtainable, wealth decay, friends fail or prove
unkind; but the power to serve God never fails, and the love of Him is
never rejected_."



Of the life of Epictetus, as distinct from his opinions, there is
unfortunately little more to be told. The life of

     "That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
      Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
      Cleared Rome of what most shamed him,"

is not an eventful life, and the conditions which surrounded it are very
circumscribed. Great men, it has been observed, have often the shortest
biographies; their real life is in their books.

At some period of his life, but how or when we do not know, Epictetus
was manumitted by his master, and was henceforward regarded by the world
as free. Probably the change made little or no difference in his life.
If it saved him from a certain amount of brutality, if it gave him more
uninterrupted leisure, it probably did not in the slightest degree
modify the hardships of his existence, and may have caused him some
little anxiety as to the means of procuring the necessaries of life. He,
of all men, would have attached the least importance to the external
conditions under which he lived; he always regarded them as falling
under the category of things which lay beyond the sphere of his own
influence, and therefore as things with which he had nothing to do. Even
in his most oppressed days, he considered himself, by the grace of
heaven, to be more free--free in a far truer and higher sense--than
thousands of those who owed allegiance to no master's will. Whether he
had saved any small sum of money, or whether his needs were supplied by
the many who loved and honoured him, we do not know. He was a man who
was content with the barest necessaries of life, and we may be sure that
he would have refused to be indebted to any one for more than these.

It is probable that he never married. This may have been due to that
shade of indifference to the female character of which we detect traces
here and there in his writings. In one passage he complains that women
seemed to think of nothing but admiration and getting married; and, in
another, he observes, almost with a sneer, that the Roman ladies were
fond of Plato's _Republic_ because he allowed some very liberal marriage
regulations. We can only infer from these passages that he had been very
unfortunate in the specimens of women with whom he had been thrown. The
Roman ladies of his time were certainly not models of character; he was
not likely to fall in with very exalted females among the slaves of
Epaphroditus or the ladies of his family, and he had probably never
known the love of a sister or a mother's care. He did not, however, go
the length of condemning marriage altogether; on the contrary, he blames
the philosophers who did so. But it is equally obvious that he approves
of celibacy as a "counsel of perfection," and indeed his views on the
subject have so close and remarkable a resemblance to those of St. Paul
that our readers will be interested in seeing them side by side.

In 1 Cor. vii. St. Paul, after speaking of the nobleness of virginity,
proceeds, nevertheless, to sanction matrimony as in itself a hallowed
and honourable estate. It was not given to all, he says, to abide even
as he was, and therefore marriage should be adopted as a sacred and
indissoluble bond. Still, without being sure that he has any divine
sanction for what he is about to say, he considers celibacy good "for
the present distress," and warns those that marry that they "shall have
trouble in the flesh." For marriage involves a direct multiplication of
the cares of the flesh: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that
belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married
careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his
wife.... And this I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a
snare upon you, _but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend
upon the Lord without distraction_."

It is clear, then, that St. Paul regarded virginity as a "counsel of
perfection," and Epictetus uses respecting it almost identically the
same language. Marriage was perfectly permissible in his view, but it
was much better for a Cynic (i.e. for all who carried out most fully
their philosophical obligations) to remain single: "Since the condition
of things is such as it now is, as though we were on the eve of battle,
_ought not the Cynio to be entirely without distraction_" [the Greek
word being the very same as that used by St. Paul] "_for the service of
God_? ought he not to be able to move about among mankind free from the
entanglement of private relationships or domestic duties, which if he
neglect he will no longer preserve the character of a wise and good
man, and which if he observe he will lose the function of a messenger,
and sentinel, and herald of the gods?" Epictetus proceeds to point out
that if he is married he can no longer look after the spiritual
interests of all with whom he is thrown in contact, and no longer
maintain the rigid independence of all luxuries which marked the genuine
philosopher. He _must_, for instance, have a bath for his child,
provisions for his wife's ailments, and clothes for his little ones, and
money to buy them satchels and pens, and cribs and cups; and hence a
general increase of furniture, and all sorts of undignified
distractions, which Epictetus enumerates with an almost amusing
manifestation of disgust. It is true (he admits) that Crates, a
celebrated cynic, was married, but it was to a lady as self-denying as
himself, and to one who had given up wealth and friends to share
hardship and poverty with him. And, if Epictetus does not venture to say
in so many words that Crates in this matter made a mistake, he takes
pains to point out that the circumstances were far too exceptional to be
accepted as a precedent for the imitation of others.

"But," inquires the interlocutor, "how then is the world to get on?" The
question seems quite to disturb the bachelor equanimity of Epictetus; it
makes him use language of the strongest and most energetic contempt: and
it is only when he trenches on this subject that he ever seems to lose
the nobility and grace, the "sweetness and light," which are the general
characteristic of his utterances. In spite of his complete self-mastery
he was evidently a man of strong feelings, and with a natural tendency
to express them strongly. "Heaven bless us," he exclaims in reply, "are
_they_ greater benefactors of mankind who bring into the world two or
three evilly-squalling brats,[63] or those who, to the best of their
power, keep a beneficent eye on the lives, and habits, and tendencies of
all mankind? Were the Thebans who had large families more useful to
their country than the childless Epaminondas; or was Homer less useful
to mankind than Priam with his fifty good-for-nothing sons?... Why, sir,
the true cynic is a father to all men; all men are his sons and all
women his daughters; he has a bond of union, a lien of affection with
them all." (_Dissert_. iii. 22.)

[Footnote 63: [Greek: kakorrugcha paidia]. Another reading is [Greek:
kokorugcha], which M. Martha renders, "_Marmots à vilain petit museau_!"
It is evident that Epictetus did not like children, which makes his
subsequently mentioned compassion to the poor neglected child still more
creditable to him.]

The whole character of Epictetus is sufficient to prove that he would
only do what he considered _most_ desirable and most exalted; and
passages like these, the extreme asperity of which I have necessarily,
softened down, are, I think, decisive in favour of the tradition which
pronounces him to have been unmarried.

We are told that he lived in a cottage of the simplest and even meanest
description: it neither needed nor possessed a fastening of any kind,
for within it there was no furniture except a lamp and the poor straw
pallet on which he slept. About his lamp there was current in antiquity
a famous story, to which he himself alludes. As a piece of unwonted
luxury he had purchased a little iron lamp, which burned in front of the
images of his household deities. It was the only possession which he
had, and a thief stole it. "He will be finely disappointed when he comes
again," quietly observed Epictetus. "for he will only find an
earthenware lamp next time." At his death the little earthenware lamp
was bought by some genuine hero-worshipper for 3,000 drachmas. "The
purchaser hoped," says the satirical Lucian, "that if he read philosophy
at night by that lamp, he would at once acquire in dreams the wisdom of
the admirable old man who once possessed it."

But, in spite of his deep poverty, it must not be supposed that there
was anything eccentric or ostentatious in the life of Epictetus. On the
contrary, his writings abound in directions as to the proper bearing of
a philosopher in life. He warns his students that they may have ridicule
to endure. Not only did the little boys in the streets, the _gamins_ of
Rome, appear to consider a philosopher "fair game," and think it fine
fun to mimic his gestures and pull his beard, but he had to undergo the
sneers of much more dignified people. "If," says Epictetus, "you want to
know how the Romans regard philosophers, listen. Maelius, who had the
highest philosophic reputation among them, once when I was present,
happened to get into a great rage with his people, and as though he had
received an intolerable injury, exclaimed, 'I _cannot_ endure it; you
are killing me; why, you'll make me _like him_! pointing to me,"
evidently as if Epictetus were the merest insect in existence. And,
again he says in the _Manual_. "If you wish to be a philosopher, prepare
yourself to be thoroughly laughed at since many will certainly sneer and
jeer at you, and will say, 'He has come back to us as a philosopher all
of a sudden,' and 'Where in the world did he get this superciliousness?'
Now do not you be supercilious, but cling to the things which appear
best to you in such a manner as though you were conscious of having been
appointed by God to this position." Again in the little discourse _On
the Desire of Admiration_, he warns the philosopher "_not to walk as if
he had swallowed a poker_" or to care for the applause of those
multitudes whom he holds to be immersed in error. For all display, and
pretence, and hypocrisy, and Pharisaism, and boasting, and mere
fruitless book-learning he seems to have felt a genuine and profound
contempt. Recommendations to simplicity of conduct, courtesy of manner,
and moderation of language were among his practical precepts. It is
refreshing, too, to know that with the strongest and manliest good
sense, he entirely repudiated that dog-like brutality of behaviour, and
repulsive eccentricity of self-neglect, which characterised not a few of
the Cynic leaders. He expressly argues that the Cynic should be a man of
ready tact, and attractive presence; and there is something of almost
indignant energy in his words when he urges upon a pupil the plain duty
of scrupulous cleanliness. In this respect our friends the Hermits would
not quite have satisfied him, although he might possibly have pardoned
them on the plea that they abode in desert solitudes, since he bids
those who neglect the due care of their bodies to live "either in the
wilderness or alone."

Late in life Epictetus increased his establishment by taking in an old
woman as a servant. The cause of his doing so shows an almost Christian
tenderness of character. According to the hideous custom of infanticide
which prevailed in the pagan world, a man with whom Epictetus was
acquainted exposed his infant son to perish. Epictetus in pity took the
child home to save its life, and the services of a female were necessary
to supply its wants. Such kindness and self-denial were all the more
admirable because pity, like all other deep emotions, was regarded by
the Stoics in the light rather of a vice than of a virtue. In this
respect, however, both Seneca and Epictetus, and to a still greater
extent Marcus Aurelius, were gloriously false to the rigidity of the
school to which they professed to belong. We see with delight that one
of the _Discourses_ of Epictetus was _On the Tenderness and Forbearance
due to Sinners_; and he abounds in exhortations to forbearance in
judging others. In one of his _Fragments_ he tells the following
anecdote:--A person who had seen a poor ship-wrecked and almost dying
pirate took pity on him, carried him home, gave him clothes, and
furnished him with all the necessaries of life. Somebody reproached him
for doing good to the wicked--"I have honoured," he replied, "not the
man, but humanity in his person."

But one fact more is known in the life of Epictetus, Domitian, the
younger son of Vespasian, succeeded his far nobler brother the Emperor
Titus; and in the course of his reign a decree was passed which banished
all the philosophers from Italy. Epictetus was not exempted from this
unjust and absurd decree. That he bore it with equanimity may be
inferred from the approval with which he tells an anecdote about
Agrippinus, who while his cause was being tried in the Senate went on
with all his usual avocations, and on being informed on his return from
bathing that he had been condemned, quietly asked, "To death or
banishment?" "To banishment," said the messenger. "Is my property
confiscated?" "No," "Very well, then let us go as far as Aricia" (about
sixteen miles from Rome), "and dine there."

There was a certain class of philosophers whose external mark and whose
sole claim to distinction rested in the length of their beards; and when
the decree of Domitian was passed these gentleman contented themselves
with shaving. Epictetus alludes to this in his second _Discourse_,
"Come, Epictetus, shave off your beard," he imagines some one to say to
him. "If I am a philosopher I will not," he replies. "Then I will take
off your head." "By all means, if that will do you any good."

He went to Nicopolis, a town of Epirus, which had been built by Augustus
in commemoration of his victory at Actium. Whether he ever revisited
Rome is uncertain, but it is probable that he did so, for we know that
he enjoyed the friendship of several eminent philosophers and statesmen,
and was esteemed and honoured by the Emperor Hadrian himself. He is said
to have lived to a good old age, surrounded by affectionate and eager
disciples, and to have died with the same noble simplicity which had
marked his life. The date of his death is as little known as that of his
birth. It only remains to give a sketch of those thoughts which, poor
though he was, and despised, and a slave, yet made him "dear to the



It is nearly certain that Epictetus never committed any of his doctrines
to writing. Like his great exemplar. Socrates, he contented himself with
oral instruction, and the bulk of what has come down to us in his name
consists in the _Discourses_ reproduced for us by his pupil Arrian. It
was the ambition of Arrian "to be to Epictetus what Xenophon had been to
Socrates," that is, to hand down to posterity a noble and faithful
picture of the manner in which his master had lived and taught. With
this view, he wrote four books on Epictetus,--a life, which is now
unhappily lost; a book of conversation or "table talk," which is also
lost; and two books which have come down to us, viz. the _Discourses_
and the _Manual_. It is from these two invaluable books, and from a good
many isolated fragments, that we are enabled to judge what was the
practical morality of Stoicism, as expounded by the holy and
upright slave.

The _Manual_ is a kind of abstract of Epictetus's ethical principles,
which, with many additional illustrations and with more expansion, are
also explained in the _Discourses_. Both books were so popular that by
their means Arrian first came into conspicuous notice, and ultimately
attained the highest eminence and rank. The _Manual_ was to antiquity
what the _Imitatio_ of Thomas à Kempis was to later times, and what
Woodhead's _Whole Duty of Man_ or Wilberforce's _Practical View of
Christianity_ have been to large sections of modern Englishmen. It was a
clear, succinct, and practical statement of common daily duties, and the
principles upon which they rest. Expressed in a manner entirely simple
and unornate, its popularity was wholly due to the moral elevation of
the thoughts which it expressed. Epictetus did not aim at style; his one
aim was to excite his hearers to virtue, and Arrian tells us that in
this endeavour he created a deep impression by his manner and voice. It
is interesting to know that the _Manual_ was widely accepted among
Christians no less than among Pagans, and that, so late as the fifth
century, paraphrases were written of it for Christian use. No systematic
treatise of morals so simply beautiful was ever composed, and to this
day the best Christian may study it, not with interest only, but with
real advantage. It is like the voice of the Sybil, which, uttering
things simple, and unperfumed, and unadorned, by God's grace reacheth
through innumerable years. We proceed to give a short sketch of
its contents.

Epictetus began by laying down the broad comprehensive statement that
there are some things which are in our power, and depend upon ourselves;
other things which are beyond our power, and wholly independent of us.
The things which are in our power are our opinions, our aims, our
desires, our aversions--in a word, _our actions_. The things beyond our
power are bodily accidents, possessions, fame, rank, and whatever lies
_beyond_ the sphere of our actions. To the former of these classes of
things our whole attention must be confined. In that region we may be
noble, unperturbed, and free; in the other we shall be dependent,
frustrated, querulous, miserable. Both classes cannot be successfully
attended to; they are antagonistic, antipathetic; we cannot serve God
and Mammon.

Now, if we take a right view of all these things which in no way depend
on ourselves we shall regard them as mere semblances--as shadows which
are to be distinguished from the true substance. We shall not look upon
them as fit subjects for aversion or desire. Sin and cruelty, and
falsehood we may hate, because we can avoid them if we will; but we must
look upon sickness, and poverty, and death as things which are _not_ fit
subjects for our avoidance, because they lie wholly beyond our control.

This, then,--endurance of the inevitable, avoidance of the evil--is the
keynote of the Epictetean philosophy. It has been summed up in the three
words, [Greek: Anechou kai apechou], "_sustine et abstine_," "Bear and
forbear,"--bear whatever God assigns to you, abstain from that which
He forbids.

The earlier part of the _Manual_ is devoted to practical advice which
may enable men to endure nobly. For instance, "If there be anything,"
says Epictetus, "which you highly value or tenderly love, estimate at
the same time its true nature. Is it some possession? remember that it
may be destroyed. Is it wife or child? remember that they may die."
"Death," says an epitaph in Chester Cathedral--

     "Death, the great monitor, comes oft to prove,
      'Tis dust we dote on, when 'tis man we love."

"Desire nothing too much. If you are going to the public baths and are
annoyed or hindered by the rudeness, the pushing, the abuse, the
thievish propensities of others, do not lose your temper: remind
yourself that it is more important that you should keep your will in
harmony with nature than that you should bathe. And so with all
troubles; men suffer far less from the things themselves than from the
opinions they have of them."

"If you cannot frame your circumstances in accordance with your wishes,
frame your will into harmony with your circumstances.[64] When you lose
the best gifts of life, consider them as not lost but only resigned to
Him who gave them. You have a remedy in your own heart against all
trials--continence as a bulwark against passion, patience against
opposition, fortitude against pain. Begin with trifles: if you are
robbed, remind yourself that your peace of mind is of more value and
importance than the thing which has been stolen from you. Follow the
guidance of nature; that is the great thing; regret nothing, desire
nothing, which can disturb that end. Behave as at a banquet--take with
gratitude and in moderation what is set before you, and seek for nothing
more; a higher and diviner step will be to be ready and able to forego
even that which is given you, or which you might easily obtain.
Sympathise with others, at least externally, when they are in sorrow and
misfortune; but remember in your own heart that to the brave and wise
and true there is really no such thing as misfortune; it is but an ugly
semblance; the croak of the raven can portend no harm to such a man, he
is elevated above its power."

[Footnote 64: "When what thou willest befalls not, thou then must will
what befalleth."]

"We do not choose our own parts in life, and have nothing to do with
those parts; our simple duty is confined to playing them well. The slave
may be as free as the consul; and freedom is the chief of blessings; it
dwarfs all others; beside it all others are insignificant, with it all
others become needless, without it no others are possible. No one can
insult you if you will not regard his words or deeds as insults.[65]
Keep your eye steadily fixed on the great reality of death, and all
other things will shrink to their true proportions. As in a voyage, when
a ship has come to anchor, if you have gone out to find water, you may
amuse yourself with picking up a little shell or bulb, but you must keep
your attention steadily fixed upon the ship, in case the captain should
call, and then you must leave all such things lest you should be flung
on board, bound like sheep. So in life; if, instead of a little shell or
bulb, some wifeling or childling be granted you, well and good; but, if
the captain call, run to the ship and leave such possessions behind you,
not looking back. But if you be an old man, take care not to go a long
distance from the ship at all, lest you should be called and come too
late." The metaphor is a significant one, and perhaps the following
lines of Sir Walter Scott, prefixed anonymously to one of the chapters
of the Waverley Novels, may help to throw light upon it:

     "Death finds us 'midst our playthings; snatches us,
      As a cross nurse might do a wayward child,
      From all our toys and baubles--the rough call
      Unlooses all our favourite ties on earth:
      And well if they are such as may be answered
      In yonder world, where all is judged of truly."

[Footnote 65: Compare Cowper's _Conversation_:--
     "Am I to set my life upon a throw
      Because a bear is rude and surly?--No.--
      A modest, sensible, and well-bred man
      Will not insult me, and _no other can_."]

"Preserve your just relations to other men; their misconduct does not
affect your duties. Has your father done wrong, or your brother been
unjust? Still he _is_ your father, he _is_ your brother; and you must
consider your relation to him, not whether he be worthy of it or no.

"Your duty towards the gods is to form just and true opinions respecting
them. Believe that they do all things well, and then you need never
murmur or complain."

"As rules of practice," says Epictetus, "prescribe to yourself an ideal,
and then act up to it. Be mostly silent; or, if you converse, do not let
it be about vulgar and insignificant topics, such as dogs, horses,
racing, or prize-fighting. Avoid foolish and immoderate laughter, vulgar
entertainments, impurity, display, spectacles, recitations, and all
egotistical remarks. Set before you the examples of the great and good.
Do not be dazzled by mere appearances. Do what is right quite
irrespective of what people will say or think. Remember that your body
is a very small matter and needs but very little; just as all that the
foot needs is a shoe, and not a dazzling ornament of gold, purple, or
jewelled embroidery. To spend all one's time on the body, or on bodily
exercises, shows a weak intellect. Do not be fond of criticising others,
and do not resent their criticisms of you. Everything," he says, and
this is one of his most characteristic precepts, "has two handles! one
by which it may be borne, the other by which it cannot. If your brother
be unjust, do not take up the matter by that handle--the handle of his
injustice--for that handle is the one by which it cannot be taken up;
but rather by the handle that he is your brother and brought up with
you; and then you will be taking it up as it can be borne."

All these precepts have a general application, but Epictetus adds
others on the right bearing of a philosopher; that is, of one whose
professed ideal is higher than the multitude. He bids him above all
things not to be censorious, and not to be ostentatious. "Feed on your
own principles; do not throw them up to show how much you have eaten. Be
self-denying, but do not boast of it. Be independent and moderate, and
regard not the opinion or censure of others, but keep a watch upon
yourself as your own most dangerous enemy. Do not plume yourself on an
_intellectual_ knowledge of philosophy, which is in itself quite
valueless, but on a consistent nobleness of action. Never relax your
efforts, but aim at perfection. Let everything which seems best be to
you a law not to be transgressed; and whenever anything painful, or
pleasurable, or glorious, or inglorious, is set before you, remember
that now is the struggle, now is the hour of the Olympian contest, and
it may not be put off, and that by a single defeat or yielding your
advance in virtue may be either secured or lost. It was thus that
Socrates attained perfection, by giving his heart to reason, and to
reason only. And thou, even if as yet thou art not a Socrates, yet
shouldst live as though it were thy wish to be one." These are noble
words, but who that reads them will not be reminded of those sacred and
far more deeply-reaching words, "_Be ye perfect, even as your Father
which is in heaven is perfect" Behold, now is the accepted time; behold,
now is the day of salvation_.

In this brief sketch we have included all the most important thoughts in
the _Manual_. It ends in these words. "On all occasions we may keep in
mind these three sentiments:--"

'Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, Destiny, whithersoever ye have appointed me
to go, for I will follow, and that without delay. Should I be
unwilling, I shall follow as a coward, but I must follow all the same.'

'Whosoever hath nobly yielded to necessity, I hold him wise, and he
knoweth the things of God.' (Euripides.)

And this third one also, 'O Crito, be it so, if so be the will of
heaven. Anytus and Melitus can indeed slay me, but harm me they cannot.'

To this last conception of life; quoted from the end of Plato's
_Apology_, Epictetus recurs elsewhere: "What resources have we," he
asks, "in circumstances of great peril? What other than the remembrance
of what is or what is not in our own power; what is possible to us and
what is not? I must die. Be it so; but need I die groaning? I must be
bound; but must I be bound bewailing? I must be driven into exile, well,
who prevent me then from going with laughter, and cheerfulness, and
calm of mind?

"'Betray secrets.'

"'Indeed I will not, for _that_ rests in my own hands.'

"'Then I will put you in chains.'

"'My good sir, what are you talking about? Put _me_ in chains? No, no!
you may put my leg in chains, but not even Zeus himself can master
my will.'

"'I will throw you into prison.'

"'My poor little body; yes, no doubt.'

"'I will cut off your head.'

"'Well did I ever tell you that my head was the only one which could not
be cut off?'

"Such are the things of which philosophers should think, and write them
daily, and exercise themselves therein."

There are many other passages in which Epictetus shows that the
free-will of man is his noblest privilege, and that we should not "sell
it for a trifle;" or, as Scripture still more sternly expresses it,
should not "sell ourselves for nought." He relates, for instance, the
complete failure of the Emperor Vespasian to induce Helvidius Priscus
not to go to the Senate. "While I am a Senator," said Helvidius, "I
_must_ go." "Well, then, at least be silent there." "Ask me no
questions, and I will be silent." "But I _must_ ask your opinion." "And
_I_ must say what is right." "But I will put you to death." "Did I ever
tell you I was immortal? Do _your_ part, and _I_ will do _mine_. It is
yours to kill me, mine to die untrembling; yours to banish me, mine to
go into banishment without grief."

We see from these remarkable extracts that the wisest of the heathen
had, by God's grace, attained to the sense that life was subject to a
divine guidance. Yet how dim was their vision of this truth, how
insecure their hold upon it, in comparison with that which the meanest
Christian may attain! They never definitely grasped the doctrine of
immortality. They never quite got rid of a haunting dread that perhaps,
after all, they might be nothing better than insignificant and unheeded
atoms, swept hither and thither in the mighty eddies of an unseen,
impersonal, mysterious agency, and destined hereafter "to be sealed amid
the iron hills," or

     "To be imprisoned in the viewless winds.
      And blown with reckless violence about
      The pendent world."

Their belief in a personal deity was confused with their belief in
nature, which, in the language of a modern sceptic, "acts with fearful
uniformity: stern as fate, absolute as tyranny, merciless as death; too
vast to praise, too inexorable to propitiate, it has no ear for prayer,
no heart for sympathy, no arm to save." How different the soothing and
tender certainty of the Christian's hope, for whom Christ has brought
life and immortality to light! For "chance" is not only "the daughter of
forethought," as the old Greek lyric poet calls her, but the daughter
also of love. How different the prayer of David, even in the hours of
his worst agony and shame, "_Let Thy loving Spirit lead me forth into
the land of righteousness_." Guidance, and guidance by the hand of love,
was--as even in that dark season he recognised--the very law of his
life; and his soul, purged by affliction, had but a single wish--the
wish to be led, not into prosperity, not into a recovery of his lost
glory, not even into the restoration of his lost innocence; but
only,--through paths however hard--only into the land of righteousness.
And because he knew that God would lead him thitherward, he had no wish,
no care for anything beyond. We will end this chapter by translating a
few of the isolated fragments of Epictetus which have been preserved for
us by other writers. The wisdom and beauty of these fragments will
interest the reader, for Epictetus was one of the few "in the very dust
of whose thoughts was gold."

       *       *       *       *       *

"A life entangled with accident is like a wintry torrent, for it is
turbulent, and foul with mud, and impassable, and tyrannous, and loud,
and brief."

"A soul that dwells with virtue is like a perennial spring; for it is
pure, and limpid, and refreshful, and inviting, and serviceable, and
rich, and innocent, and uninjurious."

       *       *       *       *       *

"If you wish to be good? first believe that you are bad."

Compare Matt. ix. 12, "They that be whole need not a physician, but
they that are sick;" John ix. 41, "Now ye say, We see, therefore your
sin remaineth;" and 1 John i. 8, "If we say that we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is base for one who sweetens that which he drinks with the gifts of
bees, to embitter by vice his reason, which is the gift of God."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Nothing is meaner than the love of pleasure, the love of gain, and
insolence: nothing nobler than high-mindedness, and gentleness, and
philanthropy, and doing good."

       *       *       *       *       *

"The vine bears three clusters: the first of pleasure; the second of
drunkenness; the third of insult."

"He is a drunkard who drinks more than three cups; even if he be not
drunken, he has exceeded moderation."

Our own George Herbert has laid down the same limit:--

     "Be not a beast in courtesy, but stay,
      _Stay at the third cup, or forego the place_,
      Wine above all things doth God's stamp deface."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Like the beacon-lights in harbours, which, kindling a great blaze by
means of a few fagots, afford sufficient aid to vessels that wander over
the sea, so, also, a man of bright character in a storm-tossed city,
himself content with little, effects great blessings for his

The thought is not unlike that of Shakespeare:

     "How far yon little candle throws its beams,
      So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

But the metaphor which Epictetus more commonly adopts is one no less
beautiful. "What good," asked some one, "did Helvidius Priscus do in
resisting Vespasian, being but a single person?" "What good," answers
Epictetus, "does the purple do on the garment? Why, _it is splendid in
itself, and splendid also in the example which it affords_."

       *       *       *       *       *

"As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations that he may rise,
but shines at once, and is greeted by all; so neither wait thou for
applause, and shouts, and eulogies, that thou mayst do well;--but be a
spontaneous benefactor, and thou shalt be beloved like the sun."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thales, when asked what was the commonest of all possessions, answered,
'Hope; for even those who have nothing else have hope.'"

"Lead, lead me on, my hopes," says Mr. Macdonald; "I know that ye are
true and not vain. Vanish from my eyes day after day, but arise in new
forms. I will follow your holy deception; follow till ye have brought me
to the feet of my Father in heaven, where I shall find you all, with
folded wings, spangling the sapphire dusk whereon stands His throne
which is our home.

"What ought not to be done do not even think of doing."


     "_Guard well your thoughts for thoughts are heard in heaven_.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Epictetus, when asked how a man could grieve his enemy, replied, "By
preparing himself to act in the noblest way."

Compare Rom. xii. 20, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst,
give him drink: _for in so doing thou shall heap coals of fire on
his head_"

       *       *       *       *       *

"If you always remember that in all you do in soul or body God stands by
as a witness, in all your prayers and your actions you will not err; and
you shall have God dwelling with you."

Compare Rev. iii. 30, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man
hear my voice, and open the door, _I will come in to him and will sup
with him, and he with me."_

In the discourse written to prove that God keeps watch upon human
actions, Epictetus touches again on the same topic, saying that God has
placed beside each one of us his own guardian spirit--a spirit that
sleeps not and cannot be beguiled--and has handed us each over to that
spirit to protect us. "And to what better or more careful guardian could
He have entrusted us? So that when you have closed your doors and made
darkness within, _remember never to say that you are alone_. For you are
not alone. God, too, is present there, and your guardian spirit; and
what need have _they_ of light to see what you are doing."

There is in this passage an almost startling coincidence of thought with
those eloquent words in the Book of Ecclesiasticus: "A man that breaketh
wedlock, saying thus in his heart, Who seeth me? _I am compassed about
with darkness, the walls cover me, and nobody seeth me_: what need I to
fear? the Most Highest will not remember my sins: _such a man only
feareth the eyes of man_, and knoweth not that the eyes of the Lord are
ten thousand times brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men,
and considering the most secret parts. He knew all things ere ever they
were created: so also after they were perfected He looked upon all. This
man shall be punished in the streets of the city, and where he expecteth
not he shall be taken." (Ecclus. xxiii. 11-21.)

"When we were children, our parents entrusted us to a tutor who kept a
continual watch that we might not suffer harm; but, when we grow to
manhood, God hands us over to an inborn conscience to guard us. We must,
therefore, by no means despise this guardianship, since in that case we
shall both be displeasing to God and enemies to our own conscience."

Beautiful and remarkable as these fragments are we have no space for
more, and must conclude by comparing the last with the celebrated lines
of George Herbert:--

     "Lord! with what care hast Thou begirt us round;
       _Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters
      Deliver us to laws. They send us bound
        To rules of reason_. Holy messengers;
      Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin;
        Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes;
      Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in!
        Bibles laid open; millions of surprises;
      Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness;
        The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
      Without one shame; _within our consciences_;
        Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears!
      Yet all these fences and their whole array,
        One cunning bosom sin blows quite away."



The _Discourses_ of Epictetus, as originally published by Arrian,
contained eight books, of which only four have come down to us. They are
in many respects the most valuable expression of his views. There is
something slightly repellent in the stern concision, the "imperious
brevity," of the _Manual_. In the _Manual_, says M. Martha,[66] "the
reason of the Stoic proclaims its laws with an impassibility which is
little human; it imposes silence on all the passions, even the most
respectable; it glories in waging against them an internecine war, and
seems even to wish to repress the most legitimate impulses of generous
sensibility. In reading these rigorous maxims one might be tempted to
believe that this legislator of morality is a man without a heart, and,
if we were not touched by the original sincerity of the language, one
would only see in this lapidary style the conventional precepts of a
chimerical system or the aspirations of an impossible perfection." The
_Discourses_ are more illustrative, more argumentative, more diffuse,
more human. In reading them one feels oneself face to face with a human
being, not with the marble statue of the ideal wise man. The style,
indeed, is simple, but its "athletic nudity" is well suited to this
militant morality; its picturesque and incisive character, its vigorous
metaphors, its vulgar expressions, its absence of all conventional
elegance, display a certain "plebeian originality" which gives them an
almost autobiographic charm. With trenchant logic and intrepid
conviction "he wrestles with the passions, questions them, makes them
answer, and confounds them in a few words which are often sublime. This
Socrates without grace does not amuse us by making his adversary fall
into the long entanglement of a captious dialogue, but he rudely seizes
and often finishes him with two blows. It is like the eloquence of
Phocion, which Demosthenes compares to an axe which is lifted
and falls."

[Footnote 66: Moralistes sous l'Empire, p. 200.]

Epictetus, like Seneca, is a preacher; a preacher with less wealth of
genius, less eloquence of expression, less width of culture, but with
far more bravery, clearness, consistency, and grasp of his subject. His
doctrine and his life were singularly homogeneous, and his views admit
of brief expression, for they are not weakened by any fluctuations, or
chequered with any lights and shades. The _Discourses_ differ from the
_Manual_ only in their manner, their frequent anecdotes, their pointed
illustrations, and their vivid interlocutory form. The remark of Pascal,
that Epictetus knew the grandeur of the human heart, but did not know
its weakness, applies to the _Manual_ but can hardly be maintained when
we judge him by some of the answers which he gave to those who came to
seek for his consolation or advice.

The _Discourses_ are not systematic in their character, and, even if
they were, the loss of the last four books would prevent us from working
out their system with any completeness. Our sketch of the _Manual_ will
already have put the reader in possession of the main principles and
ideas of Epictetus; with the mental and physical philosophy of the
schools he did not in any way concern himself; it was his aim to be a
moral preacher, to ennoble the lives of men and touch their hearts. He
neither plagiarised nor invented, but he gave to Stoicism a practical
reality. All that remains for us to do is to choose from the
_Discourses_ some of his most characteristic views, and the modes by
which he brought them home to his hearers.

It was one of the most essential peculiarities of Stoicism to aim at
absolute independence, or _self_-independence. Now, as the weaknesses
and servilities of men arise most frequently from their desire for
superfluities, the true man must absolutely get rid of any such desire.
He must increase his wealth by moderating his wishes; he must despise
_all_ the luxuries for which men long, and he must greatly diminish the
number of supposed necessaries. We have already seen some of the
arguments which point in this direction, and we may add another from the
third book of _Discourses_.

A certain magnificent orator, who was going to Rome on a lawsuit, had
called on Epictetus. The philosopher threw cold water on his visit,
because he did not believe in his sincerity. "You will get no more from
me," he said, "than you would get from any cobbler or greengrocer, for
you have only come because it happened to be convenient, and you will
only criticise my style, not really wishing to learn _principles_"
"Well, but," answered the orator, "if I attend to that sort of thing, I
shall be a mere pauper like you, with no plate, or equipage, or land."
"I don't _want_ such things," replied Epictetus; "and, besides, you are
poorer than I am, after all." "Why, how so?" "You have no constancy, no
unanimity with nature, no freedom from perturbations. Patron or no
patron, what care I? You _do_ care. I am richer than you. _I_ don't care
what Caesar thinks of me. _I_ flatter no one. This is what I have
instead of your silver and gold plate. You have _silver_ vessels, but
_earthenware_ reasons, principles, appetites. My mind to me a kingdom
is, and it furnishes me abundant and happy occupation in lieu of your
restless idleness. All your possessions seem small to you, mine seem
great to me. Your desire is insatiate, mine is satisfied." The
comparison with which he ends the discussion is very remarkable. I once
had the privilege of hearing Sir William Hooker explain to the late
Queen Adelaide the contents of the Kew Museum. Among them was a
cocoa-nut with a hole in it, and Sir William explained to the Queen that
in certain parts of India, when the natives want to catch the monkeys
they make holes in cocoa-nuts, and fill them with sugar. The monkeys
thrust in their hands and fill them with sugar; the aperture is too
small to draw the paws out again when thus increased in size; the
monkeys have not the sense to loose their hold of the sugar, and so they
are caught. This little anecdote will enable the reader to relish the
illustration of Epictetus. "When little boys thrust their hands into
narrow-mouthed jars full of figs and almonds, when they have filled
their hands they cannot draw them out again, and so begin to howl. Let
go a few of the figs and almonds, and you'll get your hand out. And so
_you_, let go your desires. Don't desire many things, and you'll get
what you _do_ desire." "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he
shall not be disappointed!"

Another of the constant precepts of Epictetus is that we should aim
high; we are not to be common threads in the woof of life, but like the
laticlave on the robe of a senator, the broad purple stripe which gave
lustre and beauty to the whole. But how are we to know that we are
qualified for this high function? How does the bull know, when the lion
approaches, that it is his place to expose himself for all the herd? If
we have high powers we shall soon be conscious of them, and if we have
them not we may gradually acquire them. Nothing great is produced at
once,--the vine must blossom, and bear fruit, and ripen, before we have
the purple clusters of the grape,--"first the blade, then the ear, after
that the full corn in the ear."

But whence are we to derive this high sense of duty and possible
eminence? Why, if Caesar had adopted you, would you not show your proud
sense of ennoblement in haughty looks; how is it that you are not proud
of being sons of God? You have, indeed, a body, by virtue of which many
men sink into close kinship with pernicious wolves, and savage lions,
and crafty foxes, destroying the rational within them, and so becoming
greedy cattle or mischievous vermin; but above and beyond this, "If,"
says Epictetus, "a man have once been worthily interpenetrated with the
belief that we all have been in some special manner born of God, and
that God is the Father of gods and men, I think that he will never have
any ignoble, any humble thoughts about himself." Our own great Milton
has hardly expressed this high truth more nobly when he says, that "He
that holds himself in reverence and due esteem, both for the dignity of
God's image upon him, and for the price of his redemption, which he
thinks is visibly marked upon his forehead, accounts himself both a fit
person to do the noblest and godliest deeds, and much better worth than
to deject and defile, with such a debasement and pollution as sin is,
himself so highly ransomed, and ennobled to a new friendship and filial
relation with God."

"And how are we to know that we have made progress? We may know it if
our own wills are bent to live in conformity with nature; if we be
noble, free, faithful, humble; if desiring nothing, and shunning nothing
which lies beyond our power, we sit loose to all earthly interests; if
our lives are under the distinct governance of immutable and noble laws.

"But shall we not meet with troubles in life? Yes, undoubtedly; and are
there none at Olympia? Are you not burnt with heat, and pressed for
room, and wetted with showers when it rains? Is there not more than
enough clamour, and shouting, and other troubles? Yet I suppose you
tolerate and endure all these when you balance them against the
magnificence of the spectacle? And, come now, have you not received
powers wherewith to bear whatever occurs? Have you not received
magnanimity, courage, fortitude? And why, if I am magnanimous, should I
care for anything that can possibly happen? what shall alarm or trouble
me, or seem painful? Shall I not use the faculty for the ends for which
it was granted me, or shall I grieve and groan at all the accidents of
life? On the contrary, these troubles and difficulties are strong
antagonists pitted against us, and we may conquer them, if we will, in
the Olympic game of life.

"But if life and its burdens become absolutely intolerable, may we not
go back to God, from whom we came? may we not show thieves and robbers,
and tyrants who claim power over us by means of our bodies and
possessions, that they have _no power_? In a word, may we not commit
suicide?" We know how Shakespeare treats this question:--

     "For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
      Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
      The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
      The insolence of office, and the spurns
      Which patient merit of the unworthy takes,
      When he himself might his quietus make
      With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,
      To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
      _But that the dread of something after death,
      The undiscovered country from whose bourne
      No traveller returns, puzzles the will:
      And makes us rather bear those ills we have
      Than fly to others that we know not of_?"

But Epictetus had no materials for such an answer. I do not remember a
single passage in which he refers to immortality or the life to come,
and it is therefore probable either that he did not believe in it at
all, or that he put it aside as one of those things which are out of our
own power. Yet his answer is not that glorification of suicide which we
find throughout the tragedies of Seneca, and which was one of the
commonplaces of Stoicism. "My friends," he says, "wait God's good time
till He gives you the signal, and dismisses you from this service; then
dismiss yourself to go to Him. But for the present restrain yourselves,
inhabiting the spot which He has at present assigned you. For, after
all, this time of your sojourn here is short, and easy for those who are
thus disposed; for what tyrant, or thief, or judgment-halls, are objects
of dread to those who thus absolutely disesteem the body and its
belongings? Stay, then, and do not depart without due cause."

It will be seen that Epictetus permits suicide without extolling it,
for in another place (ii. 1) he says: "What is pain? A mere ugly mask;
turn it, and see that it is so. This little flesh of ours is acted on
roughly, and then again smoothly. If it is not for your interest to bear
it, the door is open; if it is for your interest--endure. It is right
that under all circumstances the door should be open, since so men end
all trouble."

This power of _endurance_ is completely the keynote of the Stoical view
of life, and the method of attaining to it, by practising contempt for
all external accidents, is constantly inculcated. I have already told
the anecdote about Agrippinus by which Epictetus admiringly shows that
no extreme of necessary misfortune could wring from the true Stoic a
single expression of indignation or of sorrow.

The inevitable, then, in the view of the Stoics, comes from God, and it
is our duty not to murmur against it. But this being the guiding
conception as regards ourselves, how are we to treat others? Here, too,
our duties spring directly from our relation to God. It is that relation
which makes us reverence ourselves, it is that which should make us
honour others. "Slave! will you not bear with your own brother, who, has
God for his father no less than you? But they are wicked,
perhaps--thieves and murderers. Be it so, then they deserve all the more
pity. You don't exterminate the blind or deaf because of their
misfortunes, but you pity them: and how much more to be pitied are
wicked men? Don't execrate them. Are you yourself so _very_ wise?"

Nor are the precepts of Epictetus all abstract principles; he often
pauses to give definite rules of conduct and practice. Nothing, for
instance, can exceed the wisdom with which he speaks of habits (ii. 18),
and the best means of acquiring good habits and conquering evil ones.
He points out that we are the creatures of habit; that every single act
is a definite grain in the sand-multitude of influences which make up
our daily life; that each time we are angry or evil-inclined we are
adding fuel to a fire, and virulence to the seeds of a disease. A fever
may be cured, but it leaves the health weaker; and so also is it with
the diseases of the soul. They leave their mark behind them.

Take the instance of anger. "Do you wish not to be passionate? do not
then cherish the habit within you, and do not add any stimulant thereto.
Be calm at first, and then number the days in which you have not been in
a rage. I used to be angry every day, now it is only every other day,
then every third, then every fourth day. But should you have passed even
thirty days without a relapse, then offer a sacrifice to God. For the
habit is first loosened, then utterly eradicated. 'I did not yield to
vexation today, nor the next day, nor so on for two or three months, but
I restrained myself under various provocations.' Be sure, if you can say
_that_, that it will soon be all right with you."

But _how_ is one to do all this? that is the great question, and
Epictetus is quite ready to give you the best answer he can. We have,
for instance, already quoted one passage in which (unlike the majority
of Pagan moralists) he shows that he has thoroughly mastered the ethical
importance of controlling even the _thought_ of wickedness. Another
anecdote about Agrippinus will further illustrate the same doctrine. It
was the wicked practice of Nero to make noble Romans appear on the stage
or in gladiatorial shows, in order that he might thus seem to have their
sanction for his own degrading displays. On one occasion Florus, who
was doubting whether or not he should obey the mandate, consulted
Agrippinus on the subject. "_Go by all means_," replied Agrippinus.
"But why don't _you_ go, then?" asked Florus. "_Because"_, said
Agrippinus, "_I do not deliberate about it_." He implied by this answer
that to hesitate is to yield, to deliberate is to be lost; we must act
always on _principles_, we must never pause to calculate _consequences_.
"But if I don't go," objected Florus, "I shall have my head cut off."
"Well, then, go, but _I_ won't." "Why won't you go?" "Because I do not
care to be of a piece with the common thread of life; I like to be the
purple sewn upon it."

And if we want a due _motive_ for such lofty choice Epictetus will
supply it. "Wish," he says, "to win the suffrages of your own inward
approval, wish to appear beautiful to God. Desire to be pure with your
own pure self, and with God. And when any evil fancy assails you, Plato
says, 'Go to the rites of expiation, go as a suppliant to the temples of
the gods, the averters of evil.' But it will be enough should you even
rise and depart to the society of the noble and the good, to live
according to their examples, whether you have any such friend among the
living or among the dead. Go to Socrates, and gaze on his utter mastery
over temptation and passion; consider how glorious was the conscious
victory over himself! What an Olympic triumph! How near does it place
him to Hercules himself.' So that, by heaven, one might justly salute
him, 'Hail, marvellous conqueror, who hast conquered, not these
miserable boxers and athletes, nor these gladiators who resemble them.'
And should you thus be accustomed to train yourself, you will see what
shoulders you will get, what nerves, what sinews, instead of mere
babblements, and nothing more. This is the true athlete, the man who
trains himself to deal with such semblances as these. Great is the
struggle, divine the deed; it is for kingdom, for freedom, for
tranquillity, for peace. Think on God; call upon Him as thine aid and
champion, as sailors call on the Great Twin Brethren in the storm. And
indeed what storm is greater than that which rises from powerful
semblances that dash reason out of its course? What indeed but semblance
is a storm itself? Since, come now, remove the fear of death, and bring
as many thunders and lightnings as thou wilt, and thou shalt know how
great is the tranquillity and calm in that reason which is the ruling
faculty of the soul. But should you once be worsted, and say that you
will conquer _hereafter_, and then the same again and again, know that
thus your condition will be vile and weak, so that at the last you will
not even know that you are doing wrong, but you will even begin to
provide excuses for your sin; and then you will confirm the truth of
that saying of Hesiod,--

     "'The man that procrastinates struggles ever with ruin.'"

Even so! So early did a heathen moralist learn the solemn fact that
"only this once" ends in "there is no harm in it." Well does Mr.
Coventry Patmore sing:--

     "How easy to keep free from sin;
        How hard that freedom to recall;
      For awful truth it is that men
        _Forget_ the heaven from which they fall."

In another place Epictetus warns us, however, not to be too easily
discouraged in our attempts after good;--and, above all, never to
_despair_. "In the schools of the wrestling master, when a boy falls he
is bidden to get up again, and to go on wrestling day by day till he has
acquired strength; and we must do the same, and not be like those poor
wretches who after one failure suffer themselves to be swept along as by
a torrent. You need but _will_" he says, "and it is done; but if you
relax your efforts, you will be ruined; for ruin and recovery are both
from within.--And what will you gain by all this? You will gain modesty
for inpudence, purity for vileness, moderation for drunkenness. If you
think there are any better ends than these, then by all means go on in
sin, for you are beyond the power of any god to save."

But Epictetus is particularly in earnest about warning us that to
_profess_ these principles and _talk_ about them is one thing--to act up
to them quite another. He draws a humorous picture of an inconsistent
and unreal philosopher, who--after eloquently proving that nothing is
good but what pertains to virtue, and nothing evil but what pertains to
vice, and that all other things are indifferent--goes to sea. A storm
comes on, and the masts creak, and the philosopher screams; and an
impertinent person stands by and asks in surprise, "Is it then _vice_ to
suffer shipwreck? because, if not, it can be no evil;" a question which
makes our philosopher so angry that he is inclined to fling a log at his
interlocutor's head. But Epictetus sternly tells him that the
philosopher never was one at all, except in name; that as he sat in the
schools puffed up by homage and adulation, his innate cowardice and
conceit were but hidden under borrowed plumes; and that in him the name
of Stoic was usurped.

"Why," he asks in another passage, "why do you call yourself a Stoic?
Why do you deceive the multitude? Why do you act the Jew when you are a
Greek? Don't you see on what terms each person is called a Jew? or a
Syrian? or an Egyptian? And when we see some mere _trimmer_ we are in
the habit of saying, 'This is no Jew; he is only acting the part of
one,' but when a man takes up the entire condition of a proselyte,
thoroughly imbued with Jewish doctrines, then he both _is_ in reality
and is _called_ a Jew. So we philosophers too, dipped in a false dye,
_are Jews in name, but in reality are something else_.... We call
ourselves philosophers when we cannot even play the part of men, as
though a man should try to heave the stone of Ajax who cannot lift ten
pounds." The passage is interesting not only on its own account, but
because of its curious similarity both with the language and with the
sentiment of St. Paul--"He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is
that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is
one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and
not in the latter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

The best way to become a philosopher in deed is not by a mere study of
books and knowledge of doctrines, but by a steady diligence of actions
and adherence to original principles, to which must be added consistency
and self control. "These principles," says Epictetus, "produce
friendship in a house, unanimity in a city, peace in nations; they make
a man grateful to God, bold under all circumstances, as though dealing
with things alien and valueless. Now we are capable of writing these
things, and reading them, and praising them when they are read, but we
are far enough off following them. Hence comes it that the reproach of
the Lacedaemonians, that they are 'lions at home, foxes at Ephesus,'
will also apply to us; in the school we are lions, out of it foxes."

These passages include, I think, all the most original, important, and
characteristic conceptions which are to be found in the _Discourses_.
They are most prominently illustrated in the long and important chapter
on the Cynic philosophy. A genuine Cynic--one who was so, not in
brutality of manners or ostentation of rabid eccentricity, but a Cynic
in life and in his inmost principles--was evidently in the eyes of
Epictetus one of the loftiest of human beings. He drew a sketch of his
ideal conception to one of his scholars who inquired of him upon
the subject.

He begins by saying that a true Cynic is so lofty a being that he who
undertakes the profession without due qualifications kindles against him
the anger of heaven. He is like a scurrilous Thersites, claiming the
imperial office of an Agamemnon. "If you think," he tells the young
student, "that you can be a Cynic merely by wearing an old cloak, and
sleeping on a hard bed, and using a wallet and staff, and begging, and
rebuking every one whom you see effeminately dressed or wearing purple,
you don't know what you are about--get you gone; but if you know what a
Cynic really is, and think yourself capable of being one, then consider
how great a thing you are undertaking.

"First as to yourself. You must be absolutely resigned to the will of
God. You must conquer every passion, abrogate every desire. Your life
must be transparently open to the view of God and man. Other men conceal
their actions with houses, and doors, and darkness, and guards; your
house, your door, your darkness, must be a sense of holy shame. You must
conceal nothing; you must have nothing to conceal. You must be known as
the spy and messenger of God among mankind.

"You must teach men that happiness is not there, where in their
blindness and misery they seek it. It is not in strength, for Myro and
Ofellius were not happy: not in wealth, for Croesus was not happy: not
in power, for the Consuls are not happy: not in all these together, for
Nero, and Sardanapalus, and Agamemnon sighed, and wept, and tore their
hair, and were the slaves of circumstances and the dupes of semblances.
It lies in yourselves: in true freedom, in the absence or conquest of
every ignoble fear; in perfect self-government; in a power of
contentment and peace, and the 'even flow of life' amid poverty, exile,
disease, and the very valley of the shadow of death. Can you face this
Olympic contest? Are your thews and sinews strong enough? Can you face
the fact that those who are defeated are also disgraced and whipped?

"Only by God's aid can you attain to this. Only by His aid can you be
beaten like an ass, and yet love those who beat you, preserving an
unshaken unanimity in the midst of circumstances which to other men
would cause trouble, and grief, and disappointment, and despair.

"The Cynic must learn to do without friends, for where can he find a
friend worthy of him, or a king worthy of sharing his moral sceptre? The
friend of the truly noble must be as truly noble as himself, and such a
friend the genuine Cynic cannot hope to find. Nor must he marry;
marriage is right and honourable in other men, but its entanglements,
its expenses, its distractions, would render impossible a life devoted
to the service of heaven.

"Nor will he mingle in the affairs of any commonwealth: his commonwealth
is not Athens or Corinth, but mankind.

"In person he should be strong, and robust, and hale, and in spite of
his indigence always clean and attractive. Tact and intelligence, and a
power of swift repartee, are necessary to him. His conscience must be
clear as the sun. He must sleep purely, and wake still more purely. To
abuse and insult he must be as insensible as a stone, and he must place
all fears and desires beneath his feet. To be a Cynic is to be this:
before you attempt it deliberate well, and see whether by the help of
God you are capable of achieving it."

I have given a sketch of the doctrines of this lofty chapter, but fully
to enjoy its morality and eloquence the reader should study it entire,
and observe its generous impatience, its noble ardour, its vivid
interrogations, "in which," says M. Martha, "one feels as it were a
frenzy of virtue and of piety, and in which the plenitude of a great
heart tumultuously precipitates a torrent of holy thoughts."

Epictetus was not a Christian. He has only once alluded to the
Christians in his works, and there it is under the opprobrious title of
"Galileans," who practised a kind of insensibility in painful
circumstances and an indifference to worldly interests which Epictetus
unjustly sets down to "mere habit." Unhappily it was not granted to
these heathen philosophers in any true sense to know what Christianity
was. They ignorantly thought that it was an attempt to imitate the
results of philosophy, without having passed through the necessary
discipline. They viewed it with suspicion, they treated it with
injustice. And yet in Christianity, and in Christianity alone, they
would have found an ideal which would have surpassed their loftiest
conceptions. Nor was it only an impossible _ideal_; it was an ideal
rendered attainable by the impressive sanction of the highest authority,
and one which supported men to bear the difficulties of life with
fortitude, with peacefulness, and even with an inward joy; it ennobled
their faculties without overstraining them; it enabled them to
disregard the burden of present trials, not by vainly attempting to deny
their bitterness or ignore their weight, but in the high certainty that
they are the brief and necessary prelude to "a far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory."




The life of the noblest of Pagan Emperors may well follow that of the
noblest of Pagan slaves. Their glory shines the purer and brighter from
the midst of a corrupt and deplorable society. Epictetus showed that a
Phrygian slave could live a life of the loftiest exaltation; Aurelius
proved that a Roman Emperor could live a life of the deepest humility.
The one--a foreigner, feeble, deformed, ignorant, born in squalor, bred
in degradation, the despised chattel of a despicable freedman,
surrounded by every depressing, ignoble, and pitiable circumstance of
life--showed how one who seemed born to be a wretch could win noble
happiness and immortal memory; the other--a Roman, a patrician, strong,
of heavenly beauty, of noble ancestors, almost born to the purple, the
favourite of Emperors, the greatest conquerer, the greatest philosopher,
the greatest ruler of his time-proved for ever that it is possible to be
virtuous, and tender, and holy, and contented in the midst of sadness,
even on an irresponsible and imperial throne. Strange that, of the two,
the Emperor is even sweeter, more simple, more admirable, more humbly
and touchingly resigned, than the slave. In him, Stoicism loses all its
haughty self-assertion, all its impracticable paradox, for a manly
melancholy which at once troubles and charms the heart. "It seems," says
M. Martha, "that in him the philosophy of heathendom grows less proud,
draws nearer and nearer to a Christianity which it ignored or which it
despised, and is ready to fling itself into the arms of the 'Unknown
God.' In the sad _Meditations_ of Aurelius we find a pure serenity,
sweetness, and docility to the commands of God, which before him were
unknown, and which Christian grace has alone surpassed. If he has not
yet attained to charity in all that fulness of meaning which
Christianity has given to the word he has already gained its unction,
and one cannot read his book, unique in the history of Pagan philosophy,
without thinking of the sadness of Pascal and the gentleness of Fénélon.
We must pause before this soul, so lofty and so pure, to contemplate
ancient virtue in its softest brilliancy, to see the moral delicacy to
which profane doctrines have attained--how they laid down their pride,
and how penetrating a grace they have found in their new simplicity. To
make the example yet more striking, Providence, which, according to the
Stoics, does nothing by chance, determined that the example of these
simple virtues should bloom in the midst of all human grandeur--that
charity should be taught by the successor of blood stained Caesars, and
humbleness of heart by an Emperor."

Aurelius has always exercised a powerful fascination over the minds of
eminent men "If you set aside, for a moment, the contemplation of the
Christian verities," says the eloquent and thoughtful Montesquieu,
"search throughout all nature, and you will not find a grander object
than the Antonines.... One feels a secret pleasure in speaking of this
Emperor; one cannot read his life without a softening feeling of
emotion. He produces such an effect upon our minds that we think better
of ourselves, because he inspires us with a better opinion of mankind."
"It is more delightful," says the great historian Niebuhr, "to speak of
Marcus Aurelius than of any man in history; for if there is any sublime
human virtue it is his. He was certainly the noblest character of his
time, and I know no other man who combined such unaffected kindness,
mildness, and humility, with such conscientiousness and severity towards
himself. We possess innumerable busts of him, for every Roman of his
time was anxious to possess his portrait, and if there is anywhere an
expression of virtue it is in the heavenly features of Marcus Aurelius."

Marcus Aurelius was born on April 26, A.D. 121. His more correct
designation would be Marcus Antoninus, but since he bore several
different names at different periods of his life, and since at that age
nothing was more common than a change of designation, it is hardly worth
while to alter the name by which he is most popularly recognised. His
father, Annius Verus, who died in his Praetorship, drew his blood from a
line of illustrious men who claimed descent from Numa, the second King
of Rome. His mother, Domitia Calvilla, was also a lady of consular and
kingly race. The character of both seems to have been worthy of their
high dignity. Of his father he can have known little, since Annius died
when Aurelius was a mere infant; but in his _Meditations_ he has left us
a grateful memorial of both his parents. He says that from his
grandfather he learned (or, might have learned) good morals and the
government of his temper; from the reputation and remembrance of his
father, modesty and manliness; from his mother, piety, and beneficence,
and _abstinence not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts_;
and, further, simplicity of life far removed from the habits of
the rich.

The childhood and boyhood of Aurelius fell during the reign of Hadrian.
The times were better than those which we have contemplated in the
reigns of the Caesars. After the suicide of Nero and the brief reigns of
Galba and Otho, the Roman world had breathed more freely for a time
under the rough good humour of Vespasian and the philosophic virtue of
Titus. The reign of Domitian, indeed, who succeeded his brother Titus,
was scarcely less terrible and infamous than that of Caius or of Nero;
but that prince, shortly before his murder, had dreamt that a golden
neck had grown out of his own, and interpreted the dream to indicate
that a better race of princes should follow him. The dream was
fulfilled. Whatever may have been their other faults, Nerva, Trajan,
Hadrian, were wise and kind-hearted rulers; Antoninus Pius and Marcus
Aurelius were among the very gentlest and noblest sovereigns whom the
world has ever seen.

Hadrian, though an able, indefatigable, and, on the whole, beneficial
Emperor, was a man whose character was stained with serious faults. It
is, however, greatly to his honour that he recognized in Aurelius, at
the early age of six years, the germs of those extraordinary virtues
which afterwards blessed the empire and elevated the sentiments of
mankind. "Hadrian's bad and sinful habits left him," says Niebuhr, "when
he gazed on the sweetness of that innocent child. Playing on the boy's
paternal name of _Verus_, he called him _Verissimus_, 'the most true.'"
It is interesting to find that this trait of character was so early
developed in one who thought that all men "should speak as they think,
with an accent of heroic verity."

Toward the end of his long reign, worn out with disease and weariness,
Hadrian, being childless, had adopted as his son L. Ceionius Commodus, a
man who had few recommendations but his personal beauty. Upon his death,
which took place a year afterwards, Hadrian, assembling the senators
round his sick bed, adopted and presented to them as their future
Emperor Arrius Antoninus, better known by the surname of Pius, which he
won by his gratitude to the memory of his predecessor. Had Aurelius been
older--he was then but seventeen--it is known that Hadrian would have
chosen _him_, and not Antoninus, for his heir. The latter, indeed, who
was then fifty-two years old, was only selected on the express condition
that he should in turn adopt both Marcus Aurelius and the son of the
deceased Ceionius. Thus, at the age of seventeen, Aurelius, who, even
from his infancy, had been loaded with conspicuous distinctions, saw
himself the acknowledged heir to the empire of the world.

We are happily able, mainly from his own writings, to give some sketch
of the influences and the education which had formed him for this
exalted station.

He was brought up in the house of his grandfather, a man who had been
three times consul. He makes it a matter of congratulation, and
thankfulness to the gods, that he had not been sent to any public
school, where he would have run the risk of being tainted by that
frightful corruption into which, for many years, the Roman youth had
fallen. He expresses a sense of obligation to his great-grandfather for
having supplied him with good teachers at home, and for the conviction
that on such things a man should spend liberally. There was nothing
jealous, barren, or illiberal, in the training he received. He was fond
of boxing, wrestling, running; he was an admirable player at ball, and
he was fond of the perilous excitement of hunting the wild boar. Thus,
his healthy sports, his serious studies, his moral instruction, his
public dignities and duties, all contributed to form his character in a
beautiful and manly mould. There are, however, three respects in which
his education seems especially worthy of notice;--I mean the
_diligence_, the _gratitude_, and the _hardiness_ in which he was
encouraged by others, and which he practised with all the ardour of
generous conviction.

1. In the best sense of the word, Aurelius was _diligent_. He alludes
more than once in his _Meditations_ to the inestimable value of time,
and to his ardent desire to gain more leisure for intellectual pursuits.
He flung himself with his usual undeviating stedfastness of purpose into
every branch of study, and though he deliberately abandoned rhetoric, he
toiled hard at philosophy, at the discipline of arms, at the
administration of business, and at the difficult study of Roman
jurisprudence. One of the acquisitions for which he expresses gratitude
to his tutor Rusticus, is that of reading carefully, and not being
satisfied with the superficial understanding of a book. In fact, so
strenuous was his labour, and so great his abstemiousness, that his
health suffered by the combination of the two.

2. His opening remarks show that he remembered all his teachers--even
the most insignificant--with sincere _gratitude_. He regarded each one
of them as a man from whom something could be learnt, and from whom he
actually _did_ learn that something. Hence the honourable respect--a
respect as honourable to himself as to them--which he paid to Fronto, to
Rusticus, to Julius Proculus, and others whom his noble and
conscientious gratitude raised to the highest dignities of the State. He
even thanks the gods that "he made haste to place those who brought him
up in the station of honour which they seemed to desire, without putting
them off with mere _hopes_ of his doing it some time after, because they
were then still young." He was far the superior of these men, not only
socially but even morally and intellectually; yet from the height of his
exalted rank and character he delighted to associate with them on the
most friendly terms, and to treat them, even till his death, with
affection and honour, to place their likenesses among his household
gods, and visit their sepulchres with wreaths and victims.

3. His _hardiness_ and self-denial were perhaps still more remarkable. I
wish that those boys of our day, who think it undignified to travel
second-class, who dress in the extreme of fashion, wear roses in their
buttonholes, and spend upon ices and strawberries what would maintain a
poor man for a year, would learn how _infinitely more noble_ was the
abstinence of this young Roman, who though born in the midst of
splendour and luxury, learnt from the first to loathe the petty vice of
gluttony, and to despise the unmanliness of self-indulgence. Very early
in life he joined the glorious fellowship of those who esteem it not
only a duty but a pleasure

     "To scorn delights, and live laborious days,"

and had learnt "endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work
with his own hands." In his eleventh year he became acquainted with
Diognetus, who first introduced him to the Stoic philosophy, and in his
twelfth year he assumed the Stoic dress. This philosophy taught him "to
prefer a plank bed and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to
the Grecian discipline." It is said that "the skin" was a concession to
the entreaties of his mother, and that the young philosopher himself
would have chosen to sleep on the bare boards or on the ground. Yet he
acted thus without self-assertion and without ostentation. His friends
found him always cheerful; and his calm features,--in which a dignity
and thoughtfulness of spirit contrasted with the bloom and beauty of a
pure and honourable boyhood,--were never overshadowed with ill-temper or
with gloom.

The guardians of Marcus Aurelius had gathered around him all the most
distinguished literary teachers of the age. Never had a prince a greater
number of eminent instructors; never were any teachers made happy by a
more grateful, a more humble, a more blameless, a more truly royal and
glorious pupil. Long years after his education had ceased, during his
campaign among the Quadi, he wrote a sketch of what he owed to them.
This sketch forms the first book of his _Meditations_, and is
characterised throughout by the most unaffected simplicity and modesty.

The _Meditations_ of Marcus Aurelius were in fact his private diary,
they are a noble soliloquy with his own heart, an honest examination of
his own conscience; there is not the slightest trace of their having
been intended for any eye but his own. In them he was acting on the
principle of St. Augustine: "Go up into the tribunal of thy conscience,
and set thyself before thyself." He was ever bearing about--

     "A silent court of justice in himself,
      Himself the judge and jury, and himself
      The prisoner at the bar."

And writing amid all the cares and distractions of a war which he
detested, he averted his eyes from the manifold wearinesses which daily
vexed his soul, and calmly sat down to meditate on all the great
qualities which he had observed, and all the good lessons that he might
have learnt from those who had instructed his boyhood, and surrounded
his manly years.

And what had he learnt?--learnt heartily to admire, and (_we_ may say)
learnt to practise also? A sketch of his first book will show us. What
he had gained from his immediate parents we have seen already, and we
will make a brief abstract of his other obligations.

From "his governor"--to which of his teachers this name applies we are
not sure--he had learnt to avoid factions at the races, to work hard,
and to avoid listening to slander; from Diognetus, to despise frivolous
superstitions, and to practise self-denial; from Apollonius, undeviating
steadiness of purpose, endurance of misfortune, and the reception of
favours without being humbled by them; from Sextus of Chaeronea (a
grandson of the celebrated Plutarch), tolerance of the ignorant, gravity
without affectation, and benevolence of heart; from Alexander, delicacy
in correcting others; from Severus, "a disposition to do good, and to
give to others readily, and to cherish good hope, and, to believe that I
am beloved of my friends;" from Maximus, "sweetness and dignity, and to
do what was set before me without complaining;" from Alexander the
Platonic, "_not frequently to say to any one, nor to write in a letter,
that I have no leisure_; nor continually to excuse the neglect of
ordinary duties by alleging urgent occupations."

To one or two others his obligations were still more characteristic and
important. From Rusticus, for instance, an excellent and able man, whose
advice for years he was accustomed to respect, he had learnt to despise
sophistry and display, to write with simplicity, to be easily pacified,
to be accurate, and--an inestimable benefit this, and one which tinged
the colour of his whole life--to become acquainted with the _Discourses_
of Epictetus. And from his adoptive father, the great Antoninus Pius, he
had derived advantages still more considerable. In him he saw the
example of a sovereign and statesman firm, self-controlled, modest,
faithful, and even tempered; a man who despised flattery and hated
meanness; who honoured the wise and distinguished the meritorious; who
was indifferent to contemptable trifles, and indefatigable in earnest
business; one, in short, "who had a perfect and invincible soul," who,
like Socrates, "was able both to abstain from and to enjoy those things
which many are too weak to abstain from and cannot enjoy without
excess." [67] Piety, serenity, sweetness, disregard of empty fame,
calmness, simplicity, patience, are virtues which he attributes to him
in another full-length portrait (vi. 30) which he concludes with the
words, "Imitate all this, that thou mayest have as good a conscience
when thy last hour comes as he had."

[Footnote 67: My quotations from Marcus Aurelius will be made (by
permission) from the forcible and admirably accurate translation of Mr.
Long. In thanking Mr. Long, I may be allowed to add that the English
reader will find in his version the best means of becoming acquainted
with the purest-and noblest book of antiquity.]

He concludes these reminiscenses of thankfulness with a summary of what
he owed to the gods. And for what does he thanks the gods? for being
wealthy, and noble, and an emperor? Nay, for no vulgar or dubious
blessings such as these, but for the guidance which trained him in
philosophy, and for the grace which kept him from sin. And here it is
that his genuine modesty comes out. As the excellent divine used to say
when he saw a criminal led past for execution, "There, but for the grace
of God, goes John Bradford," so, after thanking the gods for the
goodness of all his family and relatives, Aurelius says, "Further, I owe
it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence against any of
them, _though I had a disposition which, if opportunity had offered_,
might have led me to do something of this kind; but through their favour
there never was such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the
trial. Further, that I was subjected to a ruler and father who took away
all pride from me, and taught me that it was possible to live in a
palace without guards, or embroidered dresses, or torches, and statues,
and such-like show, but to live very near to the fashion of a private
person, without being either mean in thought or remiss in action; that
after having fallen into amatory passions I was cured; that though it
was my mother's fate to die young, she spent the last years of her life
with me; that whenever I wished to help any man, I was never told that I
had not the means of doing it;--that I had abundance of good masters for
my children: for all these thing require the help of the gods
and fortune."

The whole of the Emperor's _Meditations_ deserve the profound study of
this age. The self-denial which they display is a rebuke to our
ever-growing luxury; their generosity contrasts favourably with the
increasing bitterness of our cynicism; their contented acquiescence in
God's will rebukes our incessant restlessness; above all, their constant
elevation shames that multitude of little vices, and little meannesses,
which lie like a scurf over the conventionality of modern life. But this
earlier chapter has also a special value for the young. It offers a
picture which it would indeed be better for them and for us if they
could be induced to study. If even under

     "That fierce light that beats upon the throne,"

the life of Marcus Aurelius shows no moral stain, it is still more
remarkable that the free and beautiful boyhood of this Roman prince had
early learnt to recognise only the excellences of his teachers, their
patience and firmness, their benevolence and sweetness, their integrity
and virtue. Amid the frightful universality of moral corruption he
preserved a stainless conscience and a most pure soul; he thanked God in
language which breathes the most crystalline delicacy of sentiment and
language, that he had preserved uninjured the flower of his early life,
and that under the calm influences of his home in the country, and the
studies of philosophy, he had learnt to value chastity as the sacred
girdle of youth, to be retained and honoured to his latest years.
"Surely," says Mr. Carlyle, "a day is coming when it will be known again
what virtue is in purity and continence of life; how divine is the blush
of young human cheeks; how high, beneficent, sternly inexorable is the
duty laid on every creature in regard to these particulars. Well, if
such a day never come, then I perceive much else will never come.
Magnanimity and depth of insight will never come; heroic purity of
heart and of eye; noble pious valour to amend us and the age of bronze
and lacquers, how can they ever come? The scandalous bronze-lacquer age
of hungry animalisms, spiritual impotencies, and mendacities will have
to run its course till the pit swallow it."



On the death of Hadrian in A. D. 138, Antoninus Pius succeeded to the
throne, and, in accordance with the late Emperor's conditions, adopted
Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Commodus. Marcus had been betrothed at the
age of fifteen to the sister of Lucius Commodus, but the new Emperor
broke off the engagement, and betrothed him instead to his daughter
Faustina. The marriage, however, was not celebrated till seven years
afterwards, A.D. 146.

The long reign of Antoninus Pius is one of those happy periods that have
no history. An almost unbroken peace reigned at home and abroad. Taxes
were lightened, calamities relieved, informers discouraged; confiscation
were rare, plots and executions were almost unknown. Throughout the
whole extent of his vast domain the people loved and valued their
Emperor, and the Emperor's one aim was to further, the happiness of his
people. He, too, like Aurelius, had learnt that what was good for the
bee was good for the hive. He strove to live as the civil administrator,
of an unaggressive and united republic; he disliked war, did not value
the military title of Imperator, and never deigned to accept a triumph.

With this wise and eminent prince, who was as amiable in his private
relations as he was admirable in the discharge of his public duties,
Marcus Aurelius spent the next twenty-three years of his life. So close
and intimate was their union, so completely did they regard each other
as father and son, that during all that period Aurelius never slept more
than twice away from the house of Antoninus. There was not a shade of
jealousy between them; each was the friend and adviser of the other,
and, so far from regarding his destined heir with suspicion, the Emperor
gave him the designation "Caesar," and heaped upon him all the honours
of the Roman Commonwealth. It was in vain that the whisper of malignant
tongues attempted to shake this mutual confidence. Antoninus once saw
the mother of Aurelius in earnest prayer before the statue of Apollo.
"What do you think she is praying for so intently?" asked a wretched
mischief-maker of the name of Valerius Omulus: "it is that you may die,
and her son reign." This wicked suggestion might have driven a prince of
meaner character into violence and disgust, but Antoninus passed it over
with the silence of contempt.

It was the main delight of Antoninus to enjoy the quiet of his country
villa. Unlike Hadrian, who traversed immense regions of his vast
dominion, Antoninus lived entirely either at Rome, or in his beautiful
villa at Lorium, a little seacoast village about twelve miles from the
capital. In this villa he had been born, and here he died, surrounded by
the reminiscences of his childhood. In this his real home it was his
special pleasure to lay aside the pomp and burden of his imperial rank.
"He did not," says Marcus, "take the bath at unseasonable hours; he was
not fond of building houses, nor curious about what he eat, nor about
the texture and colour of his clothes, nor about the beauty of his
slaves." Even the dress he wore was the work of the provincial artist
in his little native place. So far from checking the philosophic tastes
of his adopted son he fostered them, and sent for Apollonius of Chalcis
to be his teacher in the doctrines of Stoicism. In one of his notes to
Fronto, Marcus draws the picture of their simple country occupations and
amusements. Hunting, fishing, boxing, wrestling, occupied the leisure of
the two princes, and they shared the rustic festivities of the vintage.
"I have dined," he writes, "on a little bread.... We perspired a great
deal, shouted a great deal, and left some gleanings of the vintage
hanging on the trellis work.... When I got home I studied a little, but
not to much advantage I had a long talk with my mother, who was lying on
her couch." Who knows how much Aurelius and how much the world may have
gained from such conversation as this with a mother from whom he had
learnt to hate even the thought of evil? Nor will any one despise the
simplicity of heart which made him mingle with the peasants as an
amateur vintager, unless he is so tasteless and so morose as to think
with scorn of Scipio and Laelius as they gathered shells on the
seashore, or of Henry IV. as he played at horses with his little boys on
all-fours. The capability of unbending thus, the genuine cheerfulness
which enters at due times into simple amusements, has been found not
rarely in the highest and purest minds.

For many years no incident of importance broke the even tenor of
Aurelius's life. He lived peaceful, happy, prosperous, and beloved,
watching without envy the increasing years of his adopted father. But in
the year 161, when Marcus was now forty years old, Antoninus Pius, who
had reached the age of seventy-five, caught a fever at Lorium. Feeling
that his end was near, he summoned his friends and the chief men of
Rome to his bedside, and there (without saying a word about his other
adopted son, who is generally known by the name of Lucius Verus)
solemnly recommended Marcus to them as his successor; and then, giving
to the captain of the guard the watchword of "Equanimity," as though his
earthly task was over he ordered to be transferred to the bedroom of
Marcus the little golden statue of Fortune, which was kept in the
private chamber of the Emperors as an omen of public prosperity.

The very first public act of the new Emperor was one of splendid
generosity, namely, the admission of his adoptive brother Lucius Verus
into the fullest participation of imperial honours, the Tribunitian and
proconsular powers, and the titles Caesar and Augustus. The admission of
Lucius Verus to a share of the empire was due to the innate modesty of
Marcus. As he was a devoted student, and cared less for manly exercises,
in which Verus excelled, he thought that his adoptive brother would be a
better and more useful general than himself, and that he could best
serve the State by retaining the civil administration, and entrusting to
his brother the management of war. Verus, however, as soon as he got
away from the immediate influence and ennobling society of Marcus, broke
loose from all decency, and showed himself to be a weak and worthless
personage, as unfit for war as he was for all the nobler duties of
peace, and capable of nothing but enormous gluttony and disgraceful
self-indulence. Two things only can be said in his favour; the one,
that, though depraved, he was wholly free from cruelty; and the other,
that he had the good sense to submit himself entirely to his brother,
and to treat him with the gratitude and deference which were his due.

Marcus had a large family by Faustina, and in the first year of his
reign his wife bore twins, of whom the one who survived became the
wicked and detested Emperor Commodus. As though the birth of such a
child were in itself an omen of ruin, a storm of calamity began at once
to burst over the long tranquil State. An inundation of the Tiber flung
down houses and streets over a great part of Rome, swept away multitudes
of cattle, spoiled the harvests, devastated the fields, and caused a
distress which ended in wide-spread famine. Men's minds were terrified
by earthquakes, by the burning of cities, and by plagues or noxious
insects. To these miseries, which the Emperors did their best to
alleviate, was added the horrors of wars and rumours of wars. The
Partians, under their king Vologeses, defeated and all but destroyed a
Roman army, and devastated with impunity the Roman province of Syria.
The wild tribes of the Catti burst over Germany with fire and sword; and
the news from Britain was full of insurrection and tumult. Such were the
elements of trouble and discord which overshadowed the reign of Marcus
Aurelius from its very beginning down to its weary close.

As the Partian war was the most important of the three, Verus was sent
to quell it, and but for the ability of his generals--the greatest of
whom was Avidius Cassius--would have ruined irretrievably the fortunes
of the Empire. These generals, however, vindicated the majesty of the
Roman name, and Verus returned in triumph, bringing back with him from
the East the seeds of a terrible pestilence which devastated the whole
Empire and by which, on the outbreak of fresh wars, Verus himself was
carried off at Aquileia.

Worthless as he was, Marcus, who in his lifetime had so often pardoned
and concealed his faults, paid him the highest honours of sepulcre, and
interred his ashes in the mausoleum of Hadrian. There were not wanting
some who charged him with the guilt of fratricide, asserting that the
death of Verus had been hastened by his means!

I have only one reason for alluding to atrocious and contemptible
calumnies like these, and that is because--since no doubt such whispers
reached his ears--they help to account for that deep unutterable
melancholy which breathes through the little golden book of the
Emperor's _Meditations_. We find, for instance, among them this isolated

"A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character, bestial,
childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent,

We know not of whom he was thinking--perhaps of Nero, perhaps of
Caligula, but undoubtedly also of men whom he had seen and known, and
whose very existence darkened his soul. The same sad spirit breathes
also through the following passages:--

"Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name,
or not even a name; but name is sound and echo. And the things which are
much valued in life are empty, and rotten, and trifling, and _little
dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and
then straightway weeping. But fidelity, and modesty, and justice, and
truth are fled_

     "'Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth.'"

(v. 33.)

"It would be a man's happiest lot to depart from mankind without having
had a taste of lying, and hypocrisy, and luxury, and pride. However to
_breathe out one's life when a man has had enough of those things_ is
the next best voyage, as the saying is." (ix. 2.)

"_Enough of this wretched life, and murmuring, and apish trifles._ Why
art thou thus disturbed? What is there new in this? What unsettles
thee?... Towards the gods, then, now become at last more simple and
better." (ix. 37.) The thought is like that which dominates through the
Penitential Psalms of David,--that we may take refuge from men, their
malignity and their meanness, and find rest for our souls in God. From
men David has _no_ hope; mockery, treachery, injustice, are all that he
expects from them,--the bitterness of his enemies, the far-off
indifference of his friends. Nor does this greatly trouble him, so long
as he does not wholly lose the light of _God's_ countenance. "I had no
place to flee unto, and no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O
Lord, and said, _Thou_ art my hope, and my portion in the land of the
living." "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy
Spirit from me."

But whatever may have been his impulse at times to give up in despair
all attempt to improve the "little breed" of men around him, Marcus had
schooled his gentle spirit to live continually in far other feelings.
Were men contemptible? It was all the more reason why he should himself
be noble. Were men petty, and malignant, and passionate and unjust? In
that proportion were they all the more marked out for pity and
tenderness, and in that proportion was he bound to the utmost of his
ability to show himself great, and forgiving, and calm, and true. Thus
Marcus turns his very bitterest experience to gold, and from the
vilenesses of others, which depressed his lonely life, so far from
suffering himself to be embittered as well as saddened, he only draws
fresh lessons of humanity and love.

He says, for instance, "Begin the morning by saying to thyself, _I shall
meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious,
unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance
of what is good and evil_. But I who have seen the nature of the good
that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of
him that does wrong that is akin to me,... and that it partakes of the
same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them,
for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my
kinsman, nor hate him. _For we are made for co-operation,_ like feet,
like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To
act against one another then is contrary to nature; and _it_ is acting
against one another to be vexed and turn away." (ii. 1.) Another of his
rules, and an eminently wise one, was to fix his thoughts as much as
possible on the virtues of others, rather than on their vices. "When
thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the _virtues_ of those who
live with thee--the activity of one, the modesty of another, the
liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth." What a
rebuke to the contemptuous cynicism which we are daily tempted to
display! "An infinite being comes before us," says Robertson, "with a
whole eternity wrapt up in his mind and soul, and we _proceed to
classify him, put a label upon him, as we would upon a jar, saying, This
is rice, that is jelly, and this pomatum_; and then we think we have
saved ourselves the necessity of taking off the cover, How differently
our Lord treated the people who came to Him!... consequently, at His
touch each one gave out his peculiar spark of light."

Here, again, is a singularly pithy, comprehensive, and beautiful piece
of advice:--

"Men exist for the sake of one another. _Teach them or bear with them_"
(viii. 59.)

And again: "The best way of revenging thyself is not to become like the
wrong doer."

And again, "If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps
he has not done wrong." (ix. 38.)

Most remarkable, however, are the nine rules which he drew up for
himself, as subjects for reflection when any one had offended
him, viz.--

1. That men were made for each other: even the inferior for the sake of
the superior, and these for the sake of one another.

2. The invincible influences that act upon men, and mould their opinions
and their acts.

3. That sin is mainly error and ignorance,--an involuntary slavery.

4. That we are ourselves feeble, and by no means immaculate; and that
often our very abstinence from faults is due more to cowardice and a
care for our reputation than to any freedom from the disposition to
commit them.

5. That our judgments are apt to be very rash and premature. "And in
short a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct
judgment on another man's acts."

6. When thou art much vexed or grieved, consider that man's life is only
a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.

7. That no wrongful act of another can bring shame on us, and that it
is not men's acts which disturb us, but our own opinions of them.

8. That our own anger hurts us more than the acts themselves.

9. That _benevolence is invincible, if it be not an affected smile,_ nor
acting a part. "For what will the most violent man do to thee if thou
continuest benevolent to him? gently and calmly correcting him,
admonishing him when he is trying to do thee harm, saying, '_Not so, my
child: we are constituted by nature for something else: I shall
certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my child_' And
show him with gentle tact and by general principles that this is so, and
that even bees do not do as he does, nor any gregarious animal. And this
you must do simply, unreproachfully, affectionately; without rancour,
and if possible when you and he are alone." (xi. 18.)

"_Not so, my child_; thou art injuring thyself, my child." Can all
antiquity show anything tenderer than this, or anything more close to
the spirit of Christian teaching than these nine rules? They were worthy
of the men who, unlike the Stoics in general, considered gentleness to
be a virtue, and a proof at once of philosophy and of true manhood. They
are written with that effusion of sadness and benevolence to which it is
difficult to find a parallel. They show how completely Marcus had
triumphed over all petty malignity, and how earnestly he strove to
fulfil his own precept of always keeping the thoughts so sweet and
clear, that "if any one should suddenly ask, 'What hast thou now in thy
thoughts?' with perfect openness thou mightest immediately answer, 'This
or That,'" In short, to give them their highest praise, they would have
delighted the great Christian Apostle who wrote,--

"Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the
weak, be patient towards all men. See that none render evil for evil
unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves,
and to all men." (1 Thess. iv. 14. 15.)

"Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2. Thess.
iv. 15.)

"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a
quarrel against any." (Col. iii. 13.)

Nay, are they not even in full accordance with the mind and spirit of
Him who said,--

"If thy brother trespass against thee, _go and tell him his fault
between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy

In the life of Marcus Aurelius, as in so many lives, we are able to
trace the great law of compensation. His exalted station, during the
later years of his life, threw him among many who were false and
Pharisaical and base; but his youth had been spent under happier
conditions, and this saved him from falling into the sadness of those
whom neither man nor woman please. In his earlier years it had been his
lot to see the fairer side of humanity, and the recollection of those
pure and happy days was like a healing tree thrown into the bitter and
turbid waters of his reign.



Marcus was now the undisputed lord of the Roman world. He was seated on
the dizziest and most splendid eminence which it was possible for human
grandeur to obtain.

But this imperial elevation kindled no glow of pride or
self-satisfaction in his meek and chastened nature. He regarded himself
as being in fact the servant of all. It was his duty, like that of the
bull in the herd, or the ram among the flocks, to confront every peril
in his own person, to be foremost in all the hardships of war and the
most deeply immersed in all the toils of peace. The registry of the
citizens, the suppression of litigation, the elevation of public morals,
the restraining of consanguineous marriages, the care of minors, the
retrenchment of public expenses, the limitation of gladitorial games and
shows, the care of roads, the restoration of senatorial privileges, the
appointment of none but worthy magistrates--even the regulation of
street traffic--these and numberless other duties so completely absorbed
his attention that, in spite of indifferent health, they often kept him
at severe labour from early morning till long after midnight. His
position indeed often necessitated his presence at games and shows, but
on these occasions he occupied himself either in reading, or being read
to, or in writing notes. He was one of those who held that nothing
should be done hastily, and that few crimes were worse than the waste of
time. It is to such views and such habits that we owe the compositions
of his works. His _Meditations_ were written amid the painful
self-denial and distracting anxieties of his wars with the Quadi and the
Marcomanni, and he was the author of other works which unhappily have
perished. Perhaps of all the lost treasures of antiquity there are few
which we should feel a greater wish to recover than the lost
autobiography of this wisest of Emperors and holiest of Pagan men.

As for the external trappings of his rank,--those gorgeous adjuncts and
pompous circumstances which excite the wonder and envy of mankind,--no
man could have shown himself more indifferent to them. He recognized
indeed the necessity of maintaining the dignity of his high position.
"Every moment," he says, "think steadily as a Roman and a man _to do
what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity_, and affection,
and freedom, and justice" (ii. 5); and again, "Let the Deity which is in
thee be the guardian of a living being, _manly and of ripe age, and
engaged in matters political, and a Roman, and a ruler_, who has taken
his post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him from life"
(iii. 5). But he did _not_ think it necessary to accept the fulsome
honours and degrading adulations which were so dear to many of his
predecessors. He refused the pompous blasphemy of temples and altars,
saying that for every true ruler the world was a temple, and all good
men were priests. He declined as much as possible all golden statues and
triumphal designations. All inevitable luxuries and splendour, such as
his public duties rendered indispensable, he regarded as a mere hollow
show. Marcus Aurelius felt as deeply as our own Shakespeare seems to
have felt the unsubstantiality, the fleeting evanescence of all earthly
things: he would have delighted in the sentiment that,

     "_We are such stuff
      As dreams are made on, and our little life
      Is rounded by a sleep_."

"When we have meat before us," he says, "and such eatables, we receive
the impression that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the
dead body of a bird, or of a pig; _and, again, that this Falerian is
only a little grape-juice, and this purple robe some sheep's wool dyed
with the blood of a shellfish_: such then are these impressions, and
they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what
kind of things they are. Just in the same way.... where there are things
which appear most worthy of our approbation, _we ought to lay them bare,
and look at their worthlessness_, and strip them of all the words by
which they are exalted." (vi. 13.)

"What is worth being valued? To be received with clapping of hands? No.
Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise which
comes from the many is a clapping of tongues." (vi. 16.)

"Asia, Europe, are corners of the universe; all the sea is a drop in the
universe; Athos a little clod of the universe; all the present time is a
point in eternity. All things are _little, changeable, perishable"_
(vi. 36.)

And to Marcus too, no less than to Shakespeare, it seemed that--

     "All the world's a stage,
      And all the men and women merely players;"

for he writes these remarkable words:--

"_The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds,
exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread in
fishponds, labourings of ants, and burden-carrying runnings about of
frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings_--this is what life
resembles. It is thy duty then in the midst of such things to show good
humour, and not a proud air; to understand however that _every man is
worth just so much as the things are worth about which he
busies himself_."

In fact, the Court was to Marcus a burden; he tells us himself that
Philosophy was his mother, Empire only his stepmother; it was only his
repose in the one that rendered even tolerable to him the burdens of the
other. Emperor as he was, he thanked the gods for having enabled him to
enter into the souls of a Thrasea, an Helvidius, a Cato, a Brutus. Above
all, he seems to have had a horror of ever becoming like some of his
predecessors; he writes:--

"Take care that thou art not made into a Caesar;[68] take care thou art
not dyed with this dye. Keep thyself then simple, good, pure, serious,
free from affectation, a friend of justice, a worshipper of the gods,
kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts. Reverence the gods and
help men. Short is life. There _is only one fruit of this terrene life;
a pious disposition and social acts_." (iv. 19,)

[Footnote 68: Marcus here invents what M. Martha justly calls "an
admirable barbarism" to express his disgust towards such men--[Greek:
ora mae apukaidaoosaes]--"take care not to be _Caesarised_."]

It is the same conclusion as that which sorrow forced from another
weary and less admirable king: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole
matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole
duty of man."

But it is time for us to continue the meagre record of the life of
Marcus, so far as the bare and gossiping compilations of Dion
Cassius,[69] and Capitolinus, and the scattered allusions of other
writers can enable us to do so.

[Footnote 69: As epitomised by Xiphilinus.]

It must have been with a heavy heart that he set out once more for
Germany to face the dangerous rising of the Quadi and Marcomanni. To
obtain soldiers sufficient to fill up the vacancies in his army which
had been decimated by the plague, he was forced to enrol slaves; and to
obtain money he had to sell the ornaments of the palace, and even some
of the Empress's jewels. Immediately before he started his heart was
wrung by the death of his little boy, the twin-brother of Commodus,
whose beautiful features are still preserved for us on coins. Early in
the war, as he was trying the depth of a ford, he was assailed by the
enemy with a sudden storm of missiles, and was only saved from imminent
death by being sheltered beneath the shields of his soldiers. One battle
was fought on the ice of the wintry Danube. But by far the most
celebrated event of the war took place in a great victory over the Quadi
which he won in A.D. 174, and which was attributed by the Christians to
what is known as the "Miracle of the Thundering Legion."

Divested of all extraneous additions, the fact which occurred,--as
established by the evidence of medals, and by one of the bass-relievi on
the "Column of Antonine,"--appears to have been as follows. Marcus
Aurelius and his army had been entangled in a mountain defile, into
which they had too hastily pursued a sham retreat of the barbarian
archers. In this defile, unable either to fight or to fly, pent in by
the enemy, burned up with the scorching heat and tormented by thirst,
they lost all hope, burst into wailing and groans, and yielded to a
despair from which not even the strenuous efforts of Marcus could arouse
them. At the most critical moment of their danger and misery the clouds
began to gather, and heavy shows of rain descended, which the soldiers
caught in their shields and helmets to quench their own thirst and that
of their horses. While they were thus engaged the enemy attacked them;
but the rain was mingled with hail, and fell with blinding fury in the
faces of the barbarians. The storm was also accompanied with thunder and
lightning, which seems to have damaged the enemy, and filled them with
terror, while no casualty occured in the Roman ranks. The Romans
accordingly regarded this as a Divine interposition, and achieved a most
decisive victory, which proved to be the practical conclusion of a
hazardous and important war.

The Christians regarded the event not as _providential but as
miraculous_, and attributed it to the prayers of their brethren in a
legion which, from this circumstance, received the name of the
"Thundering Legion." It is however now known that one of the legions,
distinguished by a flash of lightning which was represented on their
shields, had been known by this name since the time of Augustus; and the
Pagans themselves attributed the assistance which they had received
sometimes to a prayer of the pious Emperor and sometimes to the
incantations of an Egyptian sorcerer named Arnuphis.

One of the Fathers, the passionate and eloquent Tertullian, attributes
to this deliverance an interposition of the Emperor in favour of the
Christians, and appeals to a letter of his to the Senate in which he
acknowledged how effectual had been the aid he had received from
Christian prayers, and forbade any one hereafter to molest the followers
of the new religion, lest they should use against him the weapon of
supplication which had been so powerful in his favour. This letter is
preserved at the end of the _Apology_ of Justin Martyr, and it adds
that, not only are no Christians to be injured or persecuted, but that
any one who informed against them is to be burned alive! We see at once
that this letter is one of those impudent and transparent forgeries in
which the literature of the first five centuries unhappily abounds. What
was the real relation of Marcus to the Christians we shall consider

To the gentle heart of Marcus, all war, even when accompanied with
victories, was eminently distasteful; and in such painful and ungenial
occupations no small part of his life was passed. What he thought of war
and of its successes is graphically set forth in the following remark:--

"A spider is proud when it has caught a fly, and another when he has
caught a poor hare, and another when he has taken a little fish in a
net, and another when he has taken wild boars or bears, _and another
when he has taken Sarmatians._ Are not these robbers, when thou
examinest their principles?" He here condemns his own involuntary
actions; but it was his unhappy destiny not to have trodden out the
embers of this war before he was burdened with another far more painful
and formidable.

This was the revolt of Avidius Cassius, a general of the old blunt Roman
type, whom, in spite of some ominous warnings, Marcus both loved and
trusted. The ingratitude displayed by such a man caused Marcus the
deepest anguish; but he was saved from all dangerous consequences by the
wide-spread affection which he had inspired by his virtuous reign.

The very soldiers of the rebellious general fell away from him; and,
after he had been a nominal Emperor for only three months and six days,
he was assassinated by some of his own officers. His head was sent to
Marcus, who received it with sorrow, and did not hold out to the
murderers the slightest encouragement. The joy of success was swallowed
up in regret that his enemy had not lived to allow him the luxury of a
genuine forgiveness. He begged the Senate to pardon all the family of
Cassius, and to suffer this single life to be the only one forfeited in
consequence of civil war. The Fathers received these proofs of clemency
with the rapture which they deserved, and the Senate-house resounded
with acclamations and blessings.

Never had a formidable conspiracy been more quietly and effectually
crushed. Marcus travelled through the provinces which had favoured the
cause of Avidius Cassius, and treated them all with the most complete
and indulgent forbearance. When he arrived in Syria, the correspondence
of Cassius was brought to him, and, with a glorious magnanimity of which
history affords but few examples, he consigned it all to the
flames unread.

During this journey of pacification, he lost his wife Faustina, who died
suddenly in one of the valleys of Mount Taurus. History, or the
collection of anecdotes which at this period often passes as history,
has assigned to Faustina a character of the darkest infamy, and it has
even been made a charge against Aurelius that he overlooked or condoned
her offences. As far as Faustina is concerned, we have not much to say,
although there is strong reason to believe that many of the stories told
of her are scandalously exaggerated, if not absolutely false. Certain it
is, that most of the imputations upon her memory rest on the malignant
anecdotes recorded by Dion, who dearly loved every piece of scandal
which degraded human nature. The _specific_ charge brought against her
of having tempted Cassius from his allegiance is wholly unsupported,
even if it be not absolutely incompatible with what we find in her own
existent letters; and, finally, Marcus himself not only loved her
tenderly, as the kind mother of his eleven children, but in his
_Meditations_ actually thanks the gods for having granted him "such a
wife, so obedient so affectionate, and so simple." No doubt Faustina was
unworthy of her husband; but surely it is the glory and not the shame of
a noble nature to be averse from jealousy and suspicion, and to trust to
others more deeply than they deserve.

So blameless was the conduct of Marcus Aurelius that neither the
malignity of contemporaries nor the sprit of posthumous scandal has
succeeded in discovering any flaw in the extreme integrity of his life
and principles. But meanness will not be baulked of its victims. The
hatred of all excellence which made Caligula try to put down the memory
of great men rages, though less openly, in the minds of many. They
delight to degrade human life into that dull and barren plain "in which
every molehill is a mountain, and every thistle a forest-tree." Great
men are as small in their eyes as they are said to be in the eyes of
their valets; and there are multitudes who, if they find

     "Some stain or blemish in a name of note,
      Not grieving that their greatest are so small,
      Innate themselves with some insane delight,
      And judge all nature from her feet of clay,
      Without the will to lift their eyes, and see
      Her godlike head crown'd with spiritual fire,
      And touching other worlds."

This I suppose is the reason why, failing to drag down Marcus Aurelius
from his moral elevation, some have attempted to assail his reputation
because of the supposed vileness of Faustina and the actual depravity of
Commodus. Of Faustina I have spoken already. Respecting Commodus, I
think it sufficient to ask with Solomon: "Who knoweth whether his son
shall be a wise man or a fool?" Commodus was but nineteen when his
father died; for the first three years of his reign he ruled respectably
and acceptably. Marcus Aurelius had left no effort untried to have him
trained aright by the first teachers and the wisest men whom the age
produced; and Herodian distinctly tells us that he had lived virtuously
up to the time of his father's death. Setting aside natural affection
altogether, and even assuming (as I should conjecture from one or two
passages of his _Meditations_) that Marcus had misgivings about his son,
would it have been easy, would it have been even possible, to set aside
on general grounds a son who had attained to years of maturity? However
this may be, if there are any who think it worth while to censure Marcus
because, after all, Commodus turned out to be but "a warped slip of
wilderness," their censure is hardly sufficiently discriminating to
deserve the trouble of refutation.

"But Marcus Aurelius cruelly persecuted the Christians." Let us briefly
consider this charge. That persecutions took place in his reign is an
undeniable fact, and is sufficiently evidenced by the Apologies of
Justin Martyr, of Melito Bishop of Sardis, of Athenagoras, and of
Apollinarius, as well as by the Letter of the Church of Smyrna
describing the martyrdom of Polycarp, and that of the Churches of Lyons
and Vienne to their brethren in Asia Minor. It is fair, however, to
mention that there is some documentary evidence on the other side;
Lactantius clearly asserts that under the reigns of those excellent
princes who succeeded Domitian the Church suffered no violence from her
enemies, and "spread her hands towards the East and the West:"
Tertullian, writing but twenty years after the death of Marcus,
distinctly says (and Eusebius quotes the assertion), that there were
letters of the Emperor, in which he not only attributed his delivery
among the Quadi to the prayers of Christian soldiers in the "Thundering
Legion," but ordered any who informed against the Christians to be most
severely punished; and at the end of the works of Justin Martyr is found
a letter of similar purport, which is asserted to have been addressed by
Marcus to the Senate of Rome. We may set aside these peremptory
testimonies, we may believe that Tertullian and Eusebius were mistaken,
and that the documents to which they referred were spurious; but this
should make us also less certain about the prominent participation of
the Emperor in these persecutions. My own belief is (and it is a belief
which could be supported by many critical arguments), that his share in
causing them was almost infinitesimal. If those who love his memory
reject the evidence of Fathers in his favour, they may be at least
permitted to withhold assent from some of the assertions in virtue of
which he is condemned.

Marcus in his _Meditations_ alludes to the Christians once only, and
then it is to make a passing complaint of the indifference to death,
which appeared to him, as it appeared to Epictetus, to arise, not from
any noble principles, but from mere obstinacy and perversity. That he
shared the profound dislike with which Christians were regarded is very
probable. That he was a cold-blooded and virulent persecutor is utterly
unlike his whole character, essentially at variance with his habitual
clemency, alien to the spirit which made him interfere in every possible
instance to mitigate the severity of legal punishments, and may in short
be regarded as an assertion which is altogether false. Who will believe
that a man who during his reign built and dedicated but one single
temple, and that a Temple to Beneficence; that a man who so far from
showing any jealousy respecting foreign religions allowed honour to be
paid to them all; that a man whose writings breathe on every page the
inmost spirit of philanthropy and tenderness, went out of his way to
join in a persecution of the most innocent, the most courageous, and the
most inoffensive of his subjects?

The true state of the case seems to have been this. The deep calamities
in which, during the whole reign of Marcus the Empire was involved,
caused wide-spread distress, and roused into peculiar fury the feelings
of the provincials against men whose atheism (for such they considered
it to be) had kindled the anger of the gods. This fury often broke out
into paroxisms of popular excitement, which none but the firmest-minded
governers were able to moderate or to repress. Marcus, when appealed to,
simply let the existing law take its usual course. That law was as old
as the time of Trajan. The young Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, had
written to ask Trajan how he was to deal with the Christians, whose
blamelessness of life he fully admitted, but whose doctrines, he said,
had emptied the temples of the gods, and exasperated their worshippers.
Trajan in reply had ordered that the Christians should not be _sought_
for, but that, if they were brought before the governor, and proved to
be contumacious in refusing to adjure their religion, they were then to
be put to death. Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had continued the same
policy, and Marcus Aurilius saw no reason to alter it. But this law,
which in quiet times might become a mere dead letter, might at more
troubled periods be converted into a dangerous engine of persecution, as
it was in the case of the venerable Polycarp, and in the unfortunate
Churches of Lyons and Vienne. The Pagans believed that the reason why
their gods were smiling in secret,--

     "Looking over wasted lands,
      Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery

     "Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying

was the unbelief and impiety of these hated Galileans, causes of offence
which could only be expiated by the death of the guilty. "Their
enemies," says Tertullian, "call aloud for the blood of the innocent,
alleging this vain pretext for their hatred, that they believe the
Christians to be the cause of every public misfortune. If the Tiber has
overflowed its banks, or the Nile has not overflowed, if heaven has
refused its rain, if famine or the plague has spread its ravages, the
cry is immediate, 'The Christians to the lions.'" In the first three
centuries the cry of "No Christianity" became at times as brutal, as
violent, and as unreasoning as the cry of "No Popery" has often been in
modern days. It was infinitely less disgraceful to Marcus to lend his
ear to the one than it has been to some eminent modern statesmen to be
carried away by the insensate fury of the other.

To what extent is Marcus Aurelius to be condemned for the martyrdoms
which took place in his reign? Not, I think, heavily or
indiscriminately, or with vehement sweeping censure. Common justice
surely demands that we should not confuse the present with the past, or
pass judgment on the conduct of the Emperor as though he were living in
the nineteenth century, or as though he had been acting in full
cognisance of the Gospels and the stones of the Saints. Wise and good
men before him had, in their haughty ignorance, spoken of Christianity
with execration and contempt. The philosophers who surrounded his throne
treated it with jealousy and aversion. The body of the nation firmly
believed the current rumours which charged its votaries with horrible
midnight assemblies, rendered infamous by Thyestian banquets and the
atrocities of nameless superstitions. These foul calumnies--these
hideous charges of cannibalism and incest,--were supported by the
reiterated perjury of slaves under torture, which in that age, as well
as long afterwards, was preposterously regarded as a sure criterion
of truth.

Christianity in that day was confounded with a multitude of debased and
foreign superstitions; and the Emperor in his judicial capacity, if he
ever encountered Christians at all, was far more likely to encounter
those who were unworthy of the name, than to become acquainted with the
meek, unworldly, retiring virtues of the calmest, the holiest, and the
best. When we have given their due weight to considerations such as
these we shall be ready to pardon Marcus Aurelius for having, in this
matter, acted ignorantly, and to admit that in persecuting Christianity
he may most honestly have thought that he was doing God service. The
very sincerity of his belief, the conscientiousness of his rule, the
intensity of his philanthrophy, the grandeur of his own philosophical
tenets, all conspired to make him a worse enemy of the Church than a
brutal Commodus or a disgusting Heliogabalus. And yet that there was not
in him the least _propensity_ to persecute; that these persecutions were
for the most part spontaneous and accidental; that they were in no
measure due to his direct instigation, or in special accordance with his
desire, is clear from the fact that the martyrdoms took place in Gaul
and Asia Minor, _not in Rome_. There must have been hundreds of
Christians in Rome, and under the very eye of the Emperor; nay, there
were even multitudes of Christians in his own army; yet we never hear of
his having molested any of them. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in addressing
the Emperor, expresses a doubt as to whether he was really aware of the
manner in which his Christian subjects were treated. Justin Martyr, in
his _Apology_, addresses him in terms of perfect confidence and deep
respect. In short he was in this matter "blameless, but unfortunate." It
is painful to think that the venerable Polycarp, and the thoughtful
Justin may have forfeited their lives for their principles, not only in
the reign of so good a man, but even by virtue of his authority; but we
must be very uncharitable or very unimaginative if we cannot readily
believe that, though they had received the crown of martyrdom from his
hands, the redeemed spirits of those great martyrs would have been the
first to welcome this holiest of the heathen into the presence of a
Saviour whose Church he persecuted, but to whose indwelling Spirit his
virtues were due? whom ignorantly and unconsciously he worshipped, and
whom had he ever heard of Him and known Him, he would have loved in his
heart and glorified by the consistency of his noble and stainless life.

The persecution of the Churches in Lyons and Vienne happened in A.D.
177. Shortly after this period fresh wars recalled the Emperor to the
North. It is said that, in despair of ever seeing him again, the chief
men of Rome entreated him to address them his farewell admonitions, and
that for three days he discoursed to them on philosophical questions.
When he arrived at the seat of war, victory again crowned his arms. But
Marcus was now getting old, and he was worn out with the toils, trials,
and travels of his long and weary life. He sunk under mental anxieties
and bodily fatigues, and after a brief illness died in Pannonia, either
at Vienna or Sirmium, on March 17, A.D. 180, in the fifty-ninth year of
his age and the twentieth of his reign.

Death to him was no calamity. He was sadly aware that "there is no man
so fortunate that there shall not be by him when he is dying some who
are pleased with what is going to happen. Suppose that he was a good and
wise man, will there not be at last some one to say of him, 'Let us at
last breathe freely, being relieved from this schoolmaster. It is true
that he was harsh to none of us, but I perceive that he tacitly condemns
us.'... Thou wilt consider this when thou art dying, and wilt depart
more contentedly by reflecting thus: 'I am going away _from a life in
which even my associates, on behalf of whom I have striven, and cared,
and prayed so much, themselves wish me to depart_, hoping perchance to
get some little advantage by it.' Why then should a man cling to a
longer stay here? _Do not, however, for this reason go away less kindly
disposed to them, but preserving thy own character, and continuing
friendly, and benevolent, and kind_" And dreading death far less than he
dreaded any departure from the laws of virtue, he exclaims, "Come
quickly, O Death, for fear that at last I should forget myself." This
utterance has been well compared to the language which Bossuet put into
the mouth of a Christian soul:--"O Death; thou dost not trouble my
designs, thou accomplishest them. Haste, then, O favourable Death!...
_Nunc Dimittis_."

A nobler, a gentler, a purer, a sweeter soul,--a soul less elated by
prosperity, or more constant in adversity--a soul more fitted by virtue,
and chastity, and self-denial to enter into the eternal peace, never
passed into the presence of its Heavenly Father. We are not surprised
that all, whose means permitted it, possessed themselves of his statues,
and that they were to be seen for years afterwards among the household
gods of heathen families, who felt themselves more hopeful and more
happy from the glorious sense of possibility which was inspired by the
memory of one who, in the midst of difficulties, and breathing an
atmosphere heavy with corruption, yet showed himself so wise, so great,
so good a man.

     O framed for nobler times and calmer hearts!
     O studious thinker, eloquent for truth!
     Philosopher, despising wealth and death,
     But patient, childlike, full of life and love!



Emperor as he was, Marcus Aurelius found himself in a hollow and
troublous world; but he did not give himself up to idle regret or
querulous lamentations. If these sorrows and perturbations came from the
gods, he kissed the hand that smote him; "he delivered up his broken
sword to Fate the conqueror with a humble and a manly heart." In any
case he had _duties_ to do, and he set himself to perform them with a
quiet heroism--zealously, conscientiously, even cheerfully.

The principles of the Emperor are not reducible to the hard and definite
lines of a philosophic system. But the great laws which guided his
actions and moulded his views of life were few and simple, and in his
book of _Meditations_, which is merely his private diary written to
relieve his mind amid all the trials of war and government, he recurs to
them again and again. "Plays, war, astonishment, torpor, slavery," he
says to himself, "will wipe out those holy principles of thine;" and
this is why he committed those principles to writing. Some of these I
have already adduced, and others I proceed to quote, availing myself, as
before, of the beautiful and scholar-like translation of Mr.
George Long.

All pain, and misfortune, and ugliness seemed to the Emperor to be most
wisely regarded under a threefold aspect, namely, if considered in
reference to the gods, as being due to laws beyond their control; if
considered with reference to the nature of things, as being subservient
and necessary; and if considered with reference to ourselves, as being
dependent on the amount of indifference and fortitude with which we
endure them.

The following passages will elucidate these points of view:--

"The intelligence of the Universe is social. Accordingly it has made the
inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the
superior to one another." (v. 30.)

"Things do not touch the soul, for they are eternal, and remain
immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is
within.... _The Universe is Transformation; life is opinion_" (iv. 3.)

"To the jaundiced honey tastes bitter, and to those bitten by mad dogs
water causes fear; and to little children the ball is a fine thing. Why
then am I angry? Dost thou think that a false opinion has less power
than the bile in the jaundiced, or the poison in him who is bitten by a
mad dog?" (vi. 52.)

"How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every impression which is
troublesome and unsuitable, and immediately to be at tranquillity."
(v. 2.)

The passages in which Marcus speaks of evil as a _relative_ thing,--as
being good in the making,--the unripe and bitter bud of that which shall
be hereafter a beautiful flower,--although not expressed with perfect
clearness, yet indicate his belief that our view of evil things rises in
great measure from our inability to perceive the great whole of which
they are but subservient parts.

"All things," he says, "come from that universal ruling power, either
directly or by way of consequence. _And accordingly the lion's gaping
jaws, and that which is poisonous, and every hurtful thing, as a thorn,
as mud, are after-products of the grand and beautiful_. Do not therefore
imagine that they are of another kind from that which thou dost
venerate, but form a just opinion of the source of all."

In another curious passage he says that all things which are natural and
congruent with the causes which produce them have a certain beauty and
attractiveness of their own; for instance, the splittings and
corrugations on the surface of bread when it has been baked. "And again,
figs when they are quite ripe gape open; and in the ripe olives the very
circumstances of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty
to the fruit. And _the ears of corn bending down, and the lion's
eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars_, and
many other things--though they are far from being beautiful, if a man
should examine them severally--still, because they are consequent upon
the things which are formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they
please the mind; so that if a man should have a feeling and deeper
insight about the things found in the universe there is hardly _one of
those which follow by way of consequence_ which will not seem to him to
be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure." (iv. 2.)

This congruity to nature--the following of nature, and obedience to all
her laws--is the key-formula to the doctrines of the Roman Stoics.

"Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and
terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself. Neither
worse, then, nor better is a thing made by being praised.... _Is such a
thing as an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not praised? or
gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little knife, a flower, a shrub_?"
(iv. 20.)

"Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe.
Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due time for thee.
Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature! from thee
are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return. _The
poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of
God_?" (iv. 23.)

"Willingly give thyself up to fate, allowing her to spin thy thread into
whatever thing she pleases." (iv. 34.)

And here, in a very small matter--getting out of bed in a morning--is
one practical application of the formula:--

"In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let these thoughts be
present--'I am rising to the work of a human being. _Why, then, am I
dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist, and for
which I was brought into the world_? Or have I been made for this, to
lie in the bedclothes and keep myself warm?' 'But this is more
pleasant.' _Dost thou exist, then, to take thy pleasure, and not for
action or exertion_? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little
birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, working together to put in order
their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the
work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is
according to thy nature?" (v. 1.) ["Go to the ant, thou sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise!"]

The same principle, that Nature has assigned to us our proper
place--that a task has been given us to perform, and that our only care
should be to perform it aright, for the blessing of the great Whole of
which we are but insignificant parts--dominates through the admirable
precepts which the Emperor lays down for the regulation of our conduct
towards others. Some men, he says, do benefits to others only because
they expect a return; some men even, if they do not demand any return,
are not _forgetful_ that they have rendered a benefit; but others do not
even know what they have done, but _are like a vine which has produced
grapes, and seeks for nothing more after it has produced its proper
fruit_. So we ought to do good to others as simple and as naturally as a
horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after
season, without thinking of the grapes which it has borne. And in
another passage, "What more dost thou want when thou hast done a service
to another? Art thou not content to have done an act conformable to thy
nature, and must thou seek to be paid for it, just as if the eye
demanded a reward for seeing, or the feet for walking?"

"Judge every word and deed which is according to nature to be fit for
thee, and be not diverted by the blame which follows...but if a thing is
good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee." (v. 3.)

Sometimes, indeed, Marcus Aurelius wavers. The evils of life overpower
him. "Such as bathing appears to thee," he says, "_oil, sweat, dirt,
filthy water, all things disgusting--so is every part of life and
everything_" (viii. 24); and again:--"Of human life the time is a point,
and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the
composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a
whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgment."
But more often he retains his perfect tranquillity, and says, "Either
thou livest here, and hast already accustomed thyself to it, or thou
art going away, and this was thine own will; or thou art dying, and hast
discharged thy duty. _But besides these things there is nothing. Be of
good cheer, then_." (x. 22.) "Take me, and cast me where thou wilt, for
then I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can
feel and act conformably to its proper constitution." (viii. 45.)

There is something delightful in the fact that even in the Stoic
philosophy there was some comfort to keep men from despair. To a holy
and scrupulous conscience like that of Marcus, there would have been an
inestimable preciousness in the Christian doctrine of the "forgiveness
of the sins." Of that divine mercy--of that sin-uncreating power--the
ancient world knew nothing; but in Marcus we find some dim and faint
adumbration of the doctrine, expressed in a manner which might at least
breathe calm into the spirit of the philosopher, though it could never
reach the hearts of the suffering multitude. For "suppose," he says,
"that thou hast detached thyself from the natural unity,--for thou wast
made by nature a part, but now hast cut thyself off--_yet here is the
beautiful provision that it is in thy power again to unite thyself_. God
has allowed this to no other part--after it has been separated and cut
asunder, to come together again. _But consider the goodness with which
He has privileged man; for He has put it in his power, when he has been
separated, to return and to be reunited, and to resume his place_" And
elsewhere he says, "If you cannot maintain a true and magnanimous
character, go courageously into some corner where you _can_ maintain
them; or if even there you fail, depart at once from life, not with
passion, but with modest and simple freedom--which will be to have done
at least _one_ laudable act." Sad that even to Marcus Aurelius death
should have seemed the only refuge from the despair of ultimate failure
in the struggle to be wise and good!

Marcus valued temperance and self-denial as being the best means of
keeping his heart strong and pure; but we are glad to learn he did _not_
value the rigours of asceticism. Life brought with it enough, and more
than enough, of antagonism to brace his nerves; enough, and more than
enough, of the rough wind of adversity in his face to make it
unnecessary to add more by his own actions. "It is not fit," he says,
"that I should give myself pain, for I have never intentionally given
pain even to another." (viii. 42.)

It was a commonplace of ancient philosophy that the life of the wise man
should be a contemplation of, and a preparation for, death. It certainly
was so with Marcus Aurelius. The thoughts of the nothingness of man, and
of that great sea of oblivion which shall hereafter swallow up all that
he is and does, are ever present to his mind; they are thoughts to which
he recurs more constantly than any other, and from which he always draws
the same moral lesson.

"Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very
moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly.... Death certainly,
and life, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things
happen equally to good men and bad, being things which make us neither
better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil." (ii. 11.)

Elsewhere he says that Hippocrates cured diseases and died; and the
Chaldaeans foretold the future and died; and Alexander, and Pompey, and
Caesar killed thousands, and then died; and lice destroyed Democritus,
and other lice killed Socrates; and Augustus, and his wife, and
daughter, and all his descendants, and all his ancestors, are dead; and
Vespasian and all his Court, and all who in his day feasted, and
married, and were sick and chaffered, and fought, and flattered, and
plotted, and grumbled, and wished other people to die, and pined to
become kings or consuls, are dead; and all the idle people who are doing
the same things now are doomed to die; and all human things are smoke,
and nothing at all; and it is not for us, but for the gods, to settle
whether we play the play out, or only a part of it. "_There are many
grains of frankincense on the same altar; one falls before, another
falls after; but it makes no difference._" And the moral of all these
thoughts is, "Death hangs over thee while thou livest: while it is in
thy power be good." (iv. 17.) "Thou hast embarked, thou hast made the
voyage, thou hast come to shore; get out. If, indeed, to another life
there is no want of gods, not even there. But if to a state without
sensation, thou wilt cease to be held by pains and pleasures." (iii. 3.)

Nor was Marcus at all comforted under present annoyances by the thought
of posthumous fame. "How ephemeral and worthless human things are," he
says, "and what was yesterday a little mucus, to-morrow will be a mummy
or ashes." "Many who are now praising thee, will very soon blame thee,
and neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor
anything else." What has become of all great and famous men, and all
they desired, and all they loved? They are "smoke, and ash, and a tale,
or not even a tale." After all their rages and envyings, men are
stretched out quiet and dead at last. Soon thou wilt have forgotten all,
and soon all will have forgotten thee. But here, again, after such
thoughts, the same moral is always introduced again:--"Pass then through
the little space of time conformably to nature, and end the journey in
content, _just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature
who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew_" "One thing
only troubles me, lest I should do something which the constitution of
man does not allow, or in the way which it does not allow, or what it
does not allow now."

To quote the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius is to me a fascinating task. But
I have already let him speak so largely for himself that by this time
the reader will have some conception of his leading motives. It only
remains to adduce a few more of the weighty and golden sentences in
which he lays down his rule of life.

"To say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream,
and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour; and life is a
warfare, and a stranger's sojourn, and after fame is oblivion. What,
then, is that which is able to enrich a man? One thing, and only
one--philosophy. But this consists in keeping the guardian spirit within
a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures,
_doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely, and with
hypocrisy_... _accepting all that happens and all that is
allotted_ ... _and finally waiting for death with a cheerful
mind_" (ii. 17.)

"If thou findest in human life anything better than justice, truth,
temperance, fortitude, and, in a word, than thine own soul's
satisfaction in the things which it enables thee to do according to
right reason, and In the condition that is assigned to thee without thy
own choice; if, I say, thou seest anything better than this, turn to it
with all thy soul, and enjoy that which thou hast found to be the best.
But ... if thou findest everything else smaller and of less value than
this, give place to nothing else.... Simply and freely choose the
better, and hold to it." (iii. 6.)

"Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul
appetites, to the intelligence principles." To be impressed by the
senses is peculiar to animals; to be pulled by the strings of desire
belongs to effeminate men, and to men like Phalaris or Nero; to be
guided only by intelligence belongs to atheists and traitors, and "men
who do their impure deeds when they have shut the doors.... There
remains that which is peculiar to the good man, _to be pleased and
content with what happens, and with the thread which is spun for him;
and not to defile the divinity which is planted in his breast_, nor
disturb it by a crowd of images; but to preserve it tranquil, following
it obediently as a god, neither saying anything contrary to truth, nor
doing anything contrary to justice. (iii. 16.)

"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores,
and mountains, and thou too art wont to desire such things very much.
But this is altogether a mark of the commonest sort of men, for it is in
thy power whenever thou shalt chose to retire into thyself. For _nowhere
either with more quiet or with more freedom does a man retire than into
his own soul_, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by
looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity,--which is
nothing else than the good ordering of the mind." (iv. 3.)

"Unhappy am I, because this has happened to me? Not so, but happy am I
_though_ this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain;
neither crushed by the present, nor fearing the future." (iv. 19.)

It is just possible that in some of these passages some readers may
detect a trace of painful self-consciousness, and _imagine_ that they
detect a little grain of self-complacence. Something of
self-consciousness is perhaps inevitable in the diary and examination
of his own conscience by one who sat on such a lonely height; but
self-complacency there is none. Nay, there is sometimes even a cruel
sternness in the way in which the Emperor speaks of his own self. He
certainly dealt not with himself in the manner of a dissembler with God.
"When," he says (x. 8), "thou hast assumed the names of a man who is
good, modest, rational, magnanimous, cling to those names; and if thou
shouldst lose them, quickly return to them.... _For to continue to_ _be
such as thou hast hitherto been_, and to be torn in pieces, and defiled
in such a life, is the character of a very stupid man, and one over-fond
of his life, and _like those half-devoured fighters with wild beasts,
who, though covered with wounds and gore, still entreat to be kept till
the following day, though they will be exposed in the same state to the
same claws and bites_. Therefore fix thyself in the possession of these
few names: and if thou art able to abide in them, abide as if thou were
removed to the Islands of the Blest." Alas! to Aurelius, in this life,
the Islands of the Blest were very far away. Heathen philosophy was
exalted and eloquent, but all its votaries were sad; to "the peace of
God, which passeth all understanding," it was not given them to attain.
We see Marcus "wise, self-governed, tender, thankful, blameless," says
Mr. Arnold, "yet with all this agitated, stretching out his arms for
something beyond--_tendentemque manue ripae ulterioris amore_"

I will quote in conclusion but three short precepts:--

"Be cheerful, and seek not external help, nor the tranquillity which
others give. _A man must stand erect, not be kept erect by
others_." (iv. 5.)

"_Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but
it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it_" (iv. 49.)

This comparison has been used many a time since the days of Marcus
Aurelius. The reader will at once recall Goldsmith's famous lines:--

     "As some tall cliff that rears its awful form,
      Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
      Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
      Eternal sunshine settles on its head."

"Short is the little that remains to thee of life. _Live as on a
mountain_. For it makes no difference whether a man lives there or here,
if he lives everywhere in the world as in a civil community. Let men
see, let them know a real man who lives as he was meant to live. If they
cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is better than to live as
men do." (x. 15.)

Such were some of the thoughts which Marcus Aurelius wrote in his diary
after days of battle with the Quadi, and the Marcomanni, and the
Sarmatae. Isolated from others no less by moral grandeur than by the
supremacy of his sovereign rank, he sought the society of his own noble
soul. I sometimes imagine that I see him seated on the borders of some
gloomy Pannonian forest or Hungarian marsh; through the darkness the
watchfires of the enemy gleam in the distance; but both among them, and
in the camp around him, every sound is hushed, except the tread of the
sentinel outside the imperial tent; and in that tent long after midnight
sits the patient Emperor by the light of his solitary lamp, and ever and
anon, amid his lonely musings, he pauses to write down the pure and holy
thoughts which shall better enable him, even in a Roman palace, even on
barbarian battlefields, daily to tolerate the meanness and the
malignity of the men around him; daily to amend his own shortcomings,
and, as the sun of earthly life begins to set, daily to draw nearer and
nearer to the Eternal Light. And when I thus think of him, I know not
whether the whole of heathen antiquity, out of its gallery of stately
and royal figures, can furnish a nobler, or purer, or more lovable
picture than that of this crowned philosopher and laurelled hero, who
was yet one of the humblest and one of the most enlightened of all
ancient "Seekers after God."


A sceptical writer has observed, with something like a sneer, that the
noblest utterances of Gospel morality may be paralleled from the
writings of heathen philosophers. The sneer is pointless, and Christian
moralists have spontaneously drawn attention to the fact. In this
volume, so far from trying to conceal that it is so, I have taken
pleasure in placing side by side the words of Apostles and of
Philosophers. The divine origin of Christianity does not rest on its
morality alone. By the aid of the light which was within them, by
deciphering the law written on their own consciences, however much its
letters may have been obliterated or dimmed, Plato, and Cicero, and
Seneca, and Epictetus, and Aurelius were enabled to grasp and to
enunciate a multitude of great and memorable truths; yet they themselves
would have been the first to admit the wavering uncertainty of their
hopes and speculations, and the absolute necessity of a further
illumination. So strong did that necessity appear to some of the wisest
among them, that Socrates ventures in express words to prophesy the
future advent of some heaven-sent Guide.[70] Those who imagine that
_without_ a written revelation it would have been possible to learn all
that is necessary for man's well-being, are speaking in direct
contradiction of the greatest heathen teachers, in contradiction even of
those very teachers to whose writing they point as the proof of their
assertion. Augustine was expressing a very deep conviction when he said
that in Plato and in Cicero he met with many utterances which were
beautiful and wise, but among them all he never found, "Come unto me,
all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."
Glorious as was the wisdom of ancient thought, its knowledge respecting
the indwelling of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body, and the
forgiveness of sins, was but fragmentary and vague. Bishop Butler has
justly remarked that "The great doctrines of a future state, the dangers
of a course of wickedness, and the efficacy of repentance are not only
_confirmed_ in the Gospel, but are taught, especially the last is, with
a degree of light to which that of nature is darkness."

[Footnote 70: Xen. Mem. 1, iv. 14; Plato, Alcib. ii.]

The morality of Paganism was, on its own confession, _insufficient_. It
was tentative, where Christianity is authoritative: it was dim and
partial, where Christianity is bright and complete; it was inadequate to
rouse the sluggish carelessness of mankind, where Christianity came in
with an imperial and awakening power; it gives only a _rule_, where
Christianity supplies a _principle_. And even where its teachings were
absolutely coincident with those of Scripture, it failed to ratify them
with a sufficient sanction; it failed to announce them with the same
powerful and contagious ardour; it failed to furnish an absolutely
faultless and vivid example of their practice; it failed to inspire them
with an irresistible motive; it failed to support them with a powerful
comfort under the difficulties which were sure to be encountered in the
aim after a consistent and holy life.

The attempts of the Christian Fathers to show that the truths of ancient
philosophy were borrowed from Scripture are due in some cases to
ignorance and in some to a want of perfect honesty in controversial
dealing. That Gideon (Jerubbaal) is identical with the priest
Hierombalos who supplied information to Sanchoniathon, the Berytian;
that Thales pieced together a philosophy from fragments of Jewish truth
learned in Phoenicia; that Pythagoras and Democritus availed themselves
of Hebraic traditions, collected during their travels; that Plato is a
mere "Atticising Moses;" that Aristotle picked up his ethical system
from a Jew whom he met in Asia; that Seneca corresponded with St. Paul:
are assertions every bit as unhistorical and false as that Homer was
thinking of Genesis when he described the shield of Achilles, or (as
Clemens of Alexandria gravely informs us) that Miltiades won the battle
of Marathon by copying the strategy of the battle of Beth-Horon! To say
that Pagan morality "kindled its faded taper at the Gospel light,
whether furtively or unconsciously taken," and that it "dissembled the
obligation, and made a boast of the splendour as though it were
originally her own, or were sufficient in her hands for the moral
illumination of the world;" is to make an assertion wholly
untenable.[71] Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, are among the truest and
loftiest of Pagan moralists, yet Seneca ignored the Christians,
Epictetus despised, and Aurelius persecuted them. All three, so far as
they knew anything about the Christians at all, had unhappily been
taught to look upon them as the most detestable sect of what they had
long regarded as the most degraded and the most detestable of religions.

[Footnote 71: See for various statements in this passage, Josephus, _c.
Apion_. ii. Section 36; Cic. _De Fin_. v. 25; Clem. Alex. _Strom_, 1,
xxii. 150, xxv. v. 14; Euseb.; _Prof. Evang_. x. 4, ix. 5, &c.; Lactant.
_Inst. Div_. iv. 2, &c.]

There is something very touching in this fact; but, if there be
something very touching, there is also something very encouraging. God
was their God as well as ours--their Creator, their Preserver, who left
not Himself without witness among them; who, as they blindly felt after
Him, suffered their groping hands to grasp the hem of His robe; who sent
them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with
joy and gladness. And His Spirit was with them, dwelling in them, though
unseen and unknown, purifying and sanctifying the temple of their
hearts, sending gleams of illuminating light through the gross darkness
which encompassed them, comforting their uncertainties, making
intercession for them with groaning which cannot be uttered. And more
than all, _our_ Saviour was _their_ Saviour, too; He, whom they regarded
as a crucified malefactor was their true invisible King; through His
righteousness their poor merits were accepted; their inward sicknesses
were healed; He whose worship they denounced as an "execrable
superstition" stood supplicating for them at the right hand of the
Majesty on high, helping them (though they knew Him not) to crush all
that was evil within them, and pleading for them when they persecuted
even the most beloved of His saints, "Father, forgive them; for they
know not what they do."

Yes, they too were all His offspring. Even if they had not been, should
we grudge that some of the children's meat should be given unto dogs?
Shall we deny to these "unconscious prophecies of heathendom" their
oracular significance? Shall we be jealous of the ethical loftiness of
a Plato or an Aurelius? Shall we be loth to admit that some power of the
Spirit of Christ, even mid the dark wanderings of Seneca's life, kept
him still conscious of a nobler and a better way, or that some sweetness
of a divine hope inspired the depressions of Epictetus in his slavery?
Shall our eye be evil because God in His goodness granted the heathen
also to know such truths as enabled them "to overcome the allurements of
the visible and the terrors of the invisible world?" Yes, if we have of
the Christian Church so mean a conception that we look upon it as a mere
human society, "set up in the world to defend a certain religion against
a certain other religion." But if on the other hand we believe "that it
was _a society established by God as a witness for the true condition of
all human beings_, we shall rejoice to acknowledge its members to be
what they believed themselves to be,--confessors and martyrs for a truth
which they could not fully embrace or comprehend, but which, through
their lives and deaths, through the right and wrong acts, the true and
false words, of those who understand them least, was to manifest and
prove itself. Those who hold this conviction dare not conceal, or
misrepresent, or undervalue, any one of those weighty and memorable
sentences which are to be found in the _Meditation_ of Marcus Aurelius.
_If they did, they would be underrating a portion of that very truth
which the preachers of the Gospel were appointed to set forth_; they
would be adopting the error of the philosophical Emperor without his
excuse for it. Nor dare they pretend that the Christian teaching had
unconsciously imparted to him a portion of its own light while he seemed
to exclude it. They will believe that it was God's good pleasure that a
certain truth should be seized and apprehended by this age, and they
will see indications of what that truth was in the efforts of Plutarch
to understand the 'Daemon' which guided Socrates, in the courageous
language of Ignatius, in the bewildering dreams of the Gnostics, in the
eagerness of Justin Martyr to prove Christianity a philosophy ... in the
apprehension of Christian principles by Marcus Aurelius, and in his
hatred of the Christians. From every side they will derive evidence,
_that a doctrine and society which were meant for mankind cannot depend
upon, the partial views and apprehensions of men, must go on justifying,
reconciling, confuting, those views and apprehensions by the
demonstration of facts_" [72]

[Footnote 72: Maurice, _Philos. of the First Six Centuries_, p. 37. We
venture specially to recommend this weighty and beautiful passage to the
reader's serious attention.]

But perhaps some reader will say, What advantage, then, can we gain by
studying in Pagan writers truths which are expressed more nobly, more
clearly, and infinitely more effectually in our own sacred books? Before
answering the question, let me mention the traditional anecdote[73] of
the Caliph Omar. When he conquered Alexandria, he was shown its
magnificent library, in which were collected untold treasures of
literature, gathered together by the zeal, the labour, and the
liberality of a dynasty of kings. "What is the good of all those books?"
he said. "They are either in accordance with the Koran, or contrary to
it. If the former they are superfluous; if the latter they are
pernicious. In either case let them be burnt." Burnt they were, as
legend tells; but all the world has condemned the Caliph's reasoning as
a piece of stupid Philistinism and barbarous bigotry. Perhaps the
question as to the _use_ of reading Pagan ethics is equally
unphilosophical; at any rate, we can spare but very few words to its
consideration. The answer obviously is, that God has spoken to men,
[Greek: polymeros kai polytropos], "at sundry times and in divers
manners," [74] with a richly variegated wisdom.[75] Sometimes He has
taught truth by the voice of Hebrew prophets, sometimes by the voice of
Pagan philosophers. And _all_ His voices demand our listening ear. If it
was given to the Jew to speak with diviner insight and intenser power,
it is given to the Gentile also to speak at times with a large and lofty
utterance, and we may learn truth from men of alien lips and another
tongue. They, too, had the dream, the vision, the dark saying upon the
harp, the "daughter of a voice," the mystic flashes upon the graven
gems. And such truths come to us with a singular force and freshness;
with a strange beauty as the doctrines of a less brightly illuminated
manhood; with a new power of conviction from their originality of form,
which, because it is less familiar to us, is well calculated to arrest
our attention after it has been paralysed by familiar repetitions. We
cannot afford to lose these heathen testimonies to Christian truth; or
to hush the glorious utterances of Muse and Sibyl which have justly
outlived "the drums and tramplings of a hundred triumphs." We may make
them infinitely profitable to us. If St. Paul quotes Aratus, and
Menander, and Epimenides,[76] and perhaps more than one lyrical melody
besides, with earnest appreciation,--if the inspired Apostle could both
learn himself and teach others out of the utterances of a Cretan
philosopher and an Attic comedian, we may be sure that many of Seneca's
apophthegams would have filled him with pleasure, and that he would have
been able to read Epictetus and Aurelius with the same noble admiration
which made him see with thankful emotion that memorable altar TO THE

[Footnote 73: Now known to be unhistorical.]

[Footnote 74: Heb. i. 1.]

[Footnote 75: [Greek: polypoikilos dophia].]

[Footnote 76: See Acts xvii. 28; 1 Cor.; Tit. i. 12.]

Let us then make a brief and final sketch of the three great Stoics
whose lives we have been contemplating, with a view to summing up their
specialties, their deficiencies, and the peculiar relations to, or
divergences from, Christian truth, which their writings present to us.

"Seneca saepe noster," "Seneca, often our own," is the expression of
Tertullian, and he uses it as an excuse for frequent references to his
works. Yet if, of the three, he be most like Christianity in particular
passages, he diverges most widely from it in his general spirit.

He diverges from Christianity in many of his modes of regarding life,
and in many of his most important beliefs. What, for instance, is his
main conception of the Deity? Seneca is generally a Pantheist. No doubt
he speaks of God's love and goodness, but with him God is no personal
living Father, but the soul of the universe--the fiery, primaeval,
eternal principle which transfuses an inert, and no less eternal,
matter, and of which our souls are, as it were, but divine particles or
passing sparks. "God," he says, "is Nature, is Fate, is Fortune, is the
Universe, is the all-pervading Mind. He cannot change the substance of
the universe, He is himself under the power of Destiny, which is
uncontrollable and immutable. It is not God who rolls the thunder, it is
Fate. He does not rejoice in His works, but is identical with them." In
fact, Seneca would have heartily adopted the words of Pope:

     "All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
      Whose body nature is, and God the soul."

Though there may be a vague sense in which those words may be admitted
and explained by Christians, yet, in the mind of Seneca, they led to
conclusions directly opposed to those of Christianity. With him, for
instance, the wise man is the _equal_ of God; not His adorer, not His
servant, not His suppliant, but His associate, His relation. He differs
from God in time alone. Hence all prayer is needless he says, and the
forms of external worship are superfluous and puerile. It is foolish to
beg for that which you can impart to yourself. "What need is there of
_vows_? Make _yourself_ happy." Nay, in the intolerable arrogance which
marked the worst aberration of Stoicism, the wise man is under certain
aspects placed even higher than God--higher than God Himself--because
God is beyond the reach of misfortunes, but the wise man is superior to
their anguish; and because God is good of necessity, but the wise man
from choice. This wretched and inflated paradox occurs in Seneca's
treatise _On Providence_, and in the same treatise he glorifies suicide,
and expresses a doubt as to the immortality of the soul.

Again, the two principles on which Seneca relied as the basis of all his
moral system are: first, the principle that we ought to follow Nature;
and, secondly, the supposed perfectibility of the ideal man.

1. Now, of course, if we explain this precept of "following Nature" as
Juvenal has explained it, and say that the voice of Nature is always
coincident with the voice of philosophy--if we prove that our real
nature is none other than the dictate of our highest and most nobly
trained reason, and if we can establish the fact that every deed of
cruelty, of shame, of lust, or of selfishness, is essentially
_contrary_ to our nature--then we may say with Bishop Butler, that the
precept to "follow Nature" is "a manner of speaking not loose and
undeterminate, but clear and distinct, strictly just and true." But how
complete must be the system, how long the preliminary training, which
alone can enable us to find any practical value, any appreciable aid to
a virtuous life, in a dogma such as this! And, in the hands of Seneca,
it becomes a very empty formula. He entirely lacked the keen insight and
dialectic subtlety of such a writer as Bishop Butler; and, in his
explanation of this Stoical shibboleth, any real meaning which it may
possess is evaporated into a gorgeous mist of confused declamation and
splendid commonplace.

2. Nor is he much more fortunate with his ideal man. This pompous
abstraction presents us with a conception at once ambitious and sterile.
The Stoic wise man is a sort of moral Phoenix, impossible and repulsive.
He is intrepid in dangers, free from all passion, happy in adversity,
calm in the storm; he alone knows how to live, because he alone knows
how to die; he is the master of the world, because he is master of
himself, and the equal of God; he looks down upon everything with
sublime imperturbability, despising the sadnesses of humanity and
smiling with irritating loftiness at all our hopes and all our fears.
But, in another sketch of this faultless and unpleasant monster, Seneca
presents us, not the proud athlete who challenges the universe and is
invulnerable to all the stings and arrows of passion or of fate, but a
hero in the serenity of absolute triumph, more tender, indeed, but still
without desires, without passions, without needs, who can fell no pity,
because pity is a weakness which disturbs his sapient calm! Well might
the eloquent Bossuet exclaim, as he read of these chimerical
perfections, "It is to take a tone too lofty for feeble and mortal men.
But, O maxims truly pompous! O affected insensibility! O false and
imaginary wisdom! which fancies itself strong because it is hard, and
generous because it is puffed up! How are these principles opposed to
the modest simplicity of the Saviour of souls, who, in our Gospel
contemplating His faithful ones in affliction, confesses that they will
be saddened by it! _Ye shall weep and lament_." Shall Christians be
jealous of such wisdom as Stoicism did really attain, when they compare
this dry and bloodless ideal with Him who wept over Jerusalem and
mourned by the grave of Lazarus, who had a mother and a friend, who
disdained none, who pitied all, who humbled Himself to death, even the
death of the cross, whose divine excellence we cannot indeed attain
because He is God, but whose example we can imitate because He was
very man?[77]

[Footnote 77: See Martha, _Les Moralistes_, p. 50; Aubertin, _Sénèque et
St. Paul_ p. 250.]

The one grand aim of the life and philosophy of Seneca was _Ease_. It is
the topic which constantly recurs in his books _On a Happy Life, On
Tranquility of Mind, On Anger_, and _On the Ease_ and _On the Firmness
of the Sage_. It is the pitiless apathy, the stern repression, of every
form of emotion, which was constantly glorified as the aim of
philosophy. It made Stilpo exclaim, when he had lost wife, property, and
children, that he had lost nothing, because he carried in his own person
everything which he possessed. It led Seneca into all that is most
unnatural, all that is most fantastic, and all that is least sincere in
his writings; it was the bitter source of disgrace and failure in his
life. It comes out worst of all in his book _On Anger_. Aristotle had
said that "Anger was a good servant but a bad master;" Plato had
recognized the immense value and importance of the irascible element in
the moral constitution. Even Christian writers, in spite of Bishop
Butler, have often lost sight of this truth, and have forgotten that to
a noble nature "the hate of hate" and the "scorn of scorn" are as
indispensable as "the love of love." But Seneca almost gets angry
himself at the very notion of the wise man being angry and indignant
even against moral evil. No, he must not get angry, because it would
disturb his sublime calm; and, if he allowed himself to be angry at
wrong-doing, he would have to be angry all day long. This practical
Epicureanism, this idle acquiescence in the supposed incurability of
evil, poisoned all Seneca's career. "He had tutored himself," says
Professor Maurice, "to endure personal injuries without indulging an
anger; he had tutored himself to look upon all moral evil without anger.
If the doctrine is sound and the discipline desirable, we must be
content to take the whole result of them. If we will not do that, we
must resolve to hate oppression and wrong, _even at the cost of
philosophical composure"_ But repose is not to be our aim:--

     "We have no right to bliss,
      No title from the gods to welfare and repose."

It is one of the truths which seems to me most needed in the modern
religious world, that the type of a Christian's virtue must be very
miserable, and ordinary, and ineffectual, if he does not feel his whole
soul burn within him with an almost implacable moral indignation at the
sight of cruelty and injustice, of Pharisaic faithlessness and
social crimes.

I have thus freely criticised the radical defects of Stoicism, so far
as Seneca is its legitimate exponent; but I cannot consent to leave him
with the language of depreciation, and therefore here I will once more
endorse what an anonymous writer has said of him: "An unconscious
Christianity covers all his sentiments. If the fair fame of the man is
sullied, the aspiration to a higher life cannot be denied to the
philosopher; if the tinkling cymbal of a stilted Stoicism sometimes
sounds through the nobler music, it still leaves the truer melody
vibrating on the ear."

2. If Seneca sought for EASE, the grand aim of Epictetus was FREEDOM, of
Marcus Aurelius was SELF-GOVERNMENT. This difference of aim
characterises their entire philosophy, though all three of them are
filled with precepts which arise from the Stoical contempt of opinion,
of fortune, and of death. "Epictetus, the slave, with imperturbable
calm, voluntarily strikes off the desire for all those blessings of
which fortune had already deprived him. Seneca, who lived in the Court,
fenced himself beforehand against misfortune with the spirit of a man of
the world and the emphasis of a master of eloquence. Marcus Aurelius, at
the zenith of human power--having nothing to dread except his passions,
and finding nothing above him except immutable necessity,--surveys his
own soul and meditates especially on the eternal march of things. The
one is the resigned slave, who neither desires nor fears; the other, the
great lord, who has everything to lose; the third, finally, the emperor,
who is dependent only on himself and upon God."

Of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius we shall have very little to say by way
of summary, for they show no inconsistencies and very few of the
imperfections which characterise Seneca's ideal of the Stoic philosophy.
The "moral peddling," the pedagogic display, the puerile ostentation,
the antithetic brilliancy, which we have had to point out in Seneca, are
wanting in them. The picture of the _inner_ life, indeed, of Seneca, his
efforts after self-discipline, his untiring asceticism, his enthusiasm
for all that he esteems holy and of good report-this picture, marred as
it is by rhetoric and vain self-conceit, yet "stands out in noble
contrast to the swinishness of the Campanian villas, and is, in its
complex entirety, very sad and affecting." And yet we must admit, in the
words of the same writer, that when we go from Seneca to Epictetus and
Marcus Aurelius, "it is going from the florid to the severe, from varied
feeling to the impersonal simplicity of the teacher, often from idle
rhetoric to devout earnestness." As far as it goes, the morality of
these two great Stoics is entirely noble and entirely beautiful. If
there be even in Epictetus some passing and occasional touch of Stoic
arrogance and Stoic apathy; if there be in Marcus Aurelius a depth and
intensity of sadness which shows how comparatively powerless for comfort
was a philosophy which glorified suicide, which knew but little of
immortality, and which lost in vague Pantheism the unspeakable blessing
of realizing a personal relation to a personal God and Father--there is
yet in both of them enough and more than enough to show that in all ages
and in all countries they who have sought for God have found Him, that
they have attained to high principles of thought and to high standards
of action--that they have been enabled, even in the thick darkness,
resolutely to place their feet at least on the lowest rounds of that
ladder of sunbeams which winds up through the darkness to the great
Father of Lights.

And yet the very existence of such men is in itself a significant
comment upon the Scriptural decision that "the world by wisdom knew not
God." For how many like them, out of all the records of antiquity, is it
possible for us to count? Are there five men in the whole circle of
ancient history and ancient literature to whom we could, without a sense
of incongruity, accord the title of "holy?" When we have mentioned
Socrates, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, I hardly know of another.
_Just_ men there were in multitudes--men capable of high actions; men
eminently worthy to be loved; men, I doubt not, who, when the children
of the kingdom shall be rejected, shall be gathered from the east and
the west with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, into the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, _just_ men in multitudes; but how many _righteous_, how many
_holy_? Some, doubtless, whom we do not know, whose names were never
written, even for a few years, on the records of mankind--men and women
in unknown villages and humble homes, "the faithful who were not
famous." We do not doubt that there were such--but were they
_relatively_ numerous? If those who rose above the level of the
multitude--if those whom some form of excellence, and often of virtue,
elevated into the reverence of their fellows--present to us a few
examples of stainless life, can we hope that a tolerable ideal of
sanctity was attained by any large proportion of the ordinary myriads?
Seeing that the dangerous lot of the majority was cast amid the
weltering sea of popular depravity, can we venture to hope that many of
them succeeded in reaching some green island of purity, integrity, and
calm? We can hardly think it; and yet, in the dispensation of the
Kingdom of Heaven we see such a condition daily realized. Not only do we
see many of the eminent, but also countless multitudes of the lowly and
obscure, whose common lives are, as it were, transfigured with a light
from heaven. Unhappy, indeed, is he who has not known such men in
person, and whose hopes and habits have not caught some touch of
radiance reflected from the nobility and virtue of lives like these. The
thought has been well expressed by the author of _Ecce Homo_, and we may
well ask with him, "If this be so, has Christ failed, or can
Christianity die?"

No, it has not failed; it cannot die; for the saving knowledge which it
has imparted is the most inestimable blessing which God has granted to
our race. We have watched philosophy in its loftiest flight, but that
flight rose as far above the range of the Pagan populace as Ida or
Olympus rises above the plain: and even the topmost crests of Ida and
Olympus are immeasurably below the blue vault, the body of heaven in its
clearness, to which it has been granted to some Christians to attain. As
regards the multitude, philosophy had no influence over the heart and
character; "it was sectarian, not universal; the religion of the few,
not of the many. It exercised no creative power over political or social
life; it stood in no such relation to the past as the New Testament to
the Old. Its best thoughts were but views and aspects of the truth;
there was no centre around which they moved, no divine life by which
they were impelled; they seemed to vanish and flit in uncertain
succession of light." But Christianity, on the other hand, glowed with a
steady and unwavering brightness; it not only swayed the hearts of
individuals by stirring them to their utmost depths, but it moulded the
laws of nations, and regenerated the whole condition of society. It
gave to mankind a fresh sanction in the word of Christ, a perfect
example in His life, a powerful motive in His love, an all sufficient
comfort in the life of immortality made sure and certain to us by His
Resurrection and Ascension. But if without this sanction, and example,
and motive, and comfort, the pagans could learn to do His will,--if,
amid the gross darkness through which glitters the degraded civilization
of imperial Rome, an Epictetus and an Aurelius could live blameless
lives in a cell and on a throne, and a Seneca could practise simplicity
and self-denial in the midst of luxury and pride--how much loftier
should be both the zeal and the attainments of us to whom God has spoken
by His Son? What manner of men ought we to be? If Tyre and Sidon and
Sodom shall rise in the judgment to bear witness against Chorazin and
Bethsaida, may not the pure lives of these great Seekers after God add a
certain emphasis of condemnation to the vice, the pettiness, the
mammon-worship of many among us to whom His love, His nature, His
attributes have been revealed with a clearness and fullness of knowledge
for which kings and philosophers have sought indeed and sought
earnestly, but sought in vain?

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