Pull yourselves together, you wailing wimps!

Charles 4 Comments

Seneca killing himself on the orders of the Emperor Nero


Guest post by Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) , our Stoic correspondent 


Is it solace that you look for? Let me give you a scolding instead! You are like a woman in the way you take your son’s death; what would you do if you had lost an intimate friend?

A son, a little child of unknown promise, is dead; a fragment of time has been lost. We hunt out excuses for grief; we would even utter unfair complaints about Fortune, as if Fortune would never give us just reason for complaining! But I had really thought that you possessed spirit enough to deal with concrete troubles, to say nothing of the shadowy troubles over which men make moan through force of habit. Had you lost a friend (which is the greatest blow of all), you would have had to endeavour, rather, to rejoice because you had possessed him than to mourn because you had lost him.

But many men fail to count up how manifold their gains have been, how great their rejoicings. Grief like yours has this among other evils: it is not only useless, but thankless.

Has it then all been for nothing that you have had such a friend? During so many years, amid such close associations, after such intimate communion of personal interests, has nothing been accomplished? Do you bury friendship along with a friend?

And why lament having lost him, if it be of no avail to have possessed him? Believe me, a great part of those we have loved, though chance has removed their persons, still abides with us. The past is ours, and there is nothing more secure for us than that which has been.

We are ungrateful for past gains, because we hope for the future, as if the future – if so be that any future is ours – will not be quickly blended with the past. People set a narrow limit to their enjoyments if they take pleasure only in the present; both the future and the past serve for our delight – the one with anticipation, and the other with memories, but the one is contingent and may not come to pass, while the other must have been.

What madness it is, therefore, to lose our grip on that which is the surest thing of all? Let us rest content with the pleasures we have quaffed in past days, if only, while we quaffed them, the soul was not pierced like a sieve, only to lose again whatever it had received.

There are countless cases of men who have without tears buried sons in the prime of manhood – men who have returned from the funeral pyre to the Senate chamber, or to any other official duties, and have straightway busied themselves with something else.

And rightly; for in the first place it is idle to grieve if you get no help from grief. In the second place, it is unfair to complain about what has happened to one man when death is in store for all of us.

Again: it is foolish to lament one’s loss when there is such a slight interval between the lost and the loser. Hence we should be more resigned in spirit, because we follow closely those whom we have lost.


  1. Charles

    He’s a card, that Seneca, eh? Just too jocular for me….

    But this still rings true: “a great part of those we have loved, though chance has removed their persons, still abides with us. The past is ours, and there is nothing more secure for us than that which has been.”

    Perhaps the general tenor of this passage is owing to the imperial culture from which it sprung, cf British sang-froid?

  2. Charles

    Seneca’s right of course. What good does grieving do? Too often it becomes self-pity. His argument that our time is short, we all die and thus we should be ‘resigned in spirit’ can’t be gainsaid. Today this approach would be shortened to: ‘Get over it and get on with life.’ And we would be called cold and callous. But if accepted, then we are able to get the best out of life.

  3. Charles

    Good of you to call by, Paul. While I agree that Mr Seneca’s CBT approach has much to recommend it, grief comes in many guises. Missing someone, for example. Is that a species of self-pity?

    Dr Johnson said that “grief is a species of idleness.” I’ve always liked that definition.

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