Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

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Seneca – Quotes on Adversity

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T

HE Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) knew a thing or two about adversity.  He was beset by adversity even when he tried to commit suicide after Nero turned against him. Here are some of his quotes on the topic I’ve collected over the years.  Seneca’s Moral Epistles make for great reading. Especially to recommend are On Anger and On Providence.

Unimpaired prosperity cannot withstand a single blow; but he who has struggled constantly with his ills becomes hardened through suffering, and yields to no misfortune.
~ Seneca, On Providence 2.6

Do you wonder if that God, who most dearly loves the good, who wishes them to become supremely good and virtuous, allots to them a fortune that will make them struggle? For my part, I do not wonder if sometimes the gods are moved by the desire to behold great men wrestle with some calamity.
~ Seneca, On Providence 1.2.7

It is the unexpected that puts the heaviest load upon us. Strangeness adds to the weight of calamities, and every mortal feels the greater pain as a result of that which also brings surprise.  Therefore, nothing ought to be unexpected by us.
~ Seneca, Epistle 91.3-4

Chance chooses some new weapon by which to bring her strength to bear against us, thinking we have forgotten her.
~ Seneca, Epistle 91.5-6

Oftentimes a reverse has but made room for more prosperous fortune. Many structures have fallen only to rise to a greater height. [Multa ceciderunt, ut altius surgerent.]
~ Seneca, Epistle 91.13

Let the mind be disciplined to understand and to endure its own lot, and let it have the knowledge that there is nothing which Fortune does not dare.
~ Seneca, Epistle 91.15

Nevertheless, you should not believe those whose noisy clamour surrounds you; none of these things is an evil, none is beyond your power to bear, or is burdensome. It is only by common opinion that there is anything formidable in them.
~ Seneca, Epistle 91.19

Beware of aggravating your troubles yourself, and of making your position worse by your complaints.  Grief is light when not exaggerated by the idea, and if we encourage ourselves, saying “it is nothing,” or at least, “it is of small moment; let us endure it, it is about to stop,” we render pain light by thinking it so.  Yes; pain becomes light when we are able so to look at it, when we do not draw concentric circles around it, such as my patient ingeniously described; when we do not multiply it by fear.
~ Seneca, Epistle 68

Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy; even if some obstacle arise, it is but like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.
~ Seneca, Epistle 27.3

Allow any man who so desires to insult you and work you wrong; but if only virtue dwells with you, you will suffer nothing.
~ Seneca, Epistle 71

The wise man, indeed, overcomes Fortune by his virtue.
~ Seneca, Epistle 71

But no wall can be erected against Fortune which she cannot take by storm; let us strengthen our inner defences.
~ Seneca, Epistle 74

Call it Nature, Fate, Fortune; all these things are names of the one and the self-same god.
~ Seneca, On Benefits 4.8

So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, — for the reward is not a garland or a palm or a trumpeter who calls for silence at the proclamation of our names, but rather virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time, if Fortune has once been utterly vanquished in any combat.
~ Seneca, Epistle 78

The acquisition of riches has been for many men, not an end, but a change, of troubles.
~ Seneca, Epistle 17

If a man is to know himself, he must be tested.
~ Seneca, On Providence

God hardens, reviews, and disciplines those whom he approves, whom he loves.  Those, however, whom he seems to favour, whom he seems to spare, he is really keeping soft against ills to come.
~ Seneca, On Providence

There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common.  And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself.
~ Seneca, On Quibbling

What was grievous to endure is sweet to  remember.
~ Seneca. Hercules Furens, Act 3, 656.

Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.

There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.

He who is brave is free.

It is more fitting for a man to laugh at life than to lament over it.

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

When the odds are matched, blows fall light;

We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.

Brave men rejoice in adversity.

Constant exposure to dangers will breed contempt for them.

No untroubled day has ever dawned for me.

Nothing is so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness is it to be expecting evil before it comes.

The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.

The pressure of adversity does not affect the mind of the brave man… It is more powerful than external circumstances.

There is nothing in the world so much admired as a man who knows how to bear unhappiness with courage.

We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right.

You learn to know a pilot in a storm.

 

Written by John Uebersax

January 23, 2020 at 1:20 am