Seneca: friendship and sharing

Buste de Sénèque, marbre (H. 70 cm ; l. 33 cm ; pr. 23 cm) réalisé par un auteur anonyme au XVIIe siècle. – Œuvre N° cat. E144 du Musée du Prado de Madrid. Photographie réalisée lors de l’exposition temporaire l’Europe de Rubens – Musée du Louvre (Lens).

Lucio Anneo Seneca, also known only as Seneca, was a Roman philosopher, playwright and politician, exponent of the eclectic stoicism of the imperial age, active in many fields, including public life. He became tutor and tutor of the future emperor Nero, on behalf of his mother, Giulia Agrippina Augusta. After the so-called “five-year period of good governance” (54-59), in which Nero ruled wisely under the tutelage of Seneca, the ex-pupil and the teacher moved further and further away, leading the philosopher to the political retreat he had always desired. Finally Seneca fell victim to the repression and was forced to commit suicide by the emperor …

LETTERS TO LUCILIO, Book 1 – Chapter 6
Dear Lucilio, I realize that not only am I correcting myself, but I am even transforming myself; I certainly do not guarantee, nor do I hope, that there is nothing more to change in me. And why shouldn’t I still have many feelings to curb, to attenuate, to raise? Seeing defects that until then he had ignored, this is the proof of a soul that has made progress; with certain patients we rejoice when they become aware of their illness. I would therefore like to make you aware of this sudden change of mine; then I would begin to have a firmer trust in our friendship, the true one that not hope, not fear, nor the search for one’s own interest can break, that friendship that lasts until death, and for which one is ready to die . I could mention many of you who have not missed your friend, but true friendship: this cannot happen when an identical desire to desire the good induces men to unite. Why not? Because they know they have everything in common and especially adversity.
You cannot imagine what progress I am aware of making day by day. You tell me: “Tell me about this method that you found so effective.” Of course I want to transfer all my knowledge into you and I am happy to learn something just to teach it. I could not be pleased with any notion, however extraordinary and advantageous, if I only knew about it. If wisdom were granted to me on the condition of keeping it closed in me without passing it on to others, I would refuse: the possession of any good does not give joy, if you cannot share it with others. I will therefore send you my books and so that you do not waste time tracing the useful passages here and there, I will underline them: in this way you will immediately find what I share and appreciate. More than a written speech, however, it will be useful to be able to live and converse together; at the moment it is necessary that you come, first because men believe more in their eyes than in their ears, then because through the precepts the path is long, while it is short and effective through the examples. Cleante could not have fully expressed Zeno’s doctrine if he had only listened to his lessons: he participated in his life, penetrated its secrets, observed if he lived according to his teachings. Plato, Aristotle and the whole mass of philosophers, who then took different paths, learned more from life than from Socrates’ words. Not the school of Epicurus, but living with him made Metrodoro, Ermarco and Polieno great. And I do not make you come only because you benefit from it, but also because you are useful to me; we will help each other a lot.
In the meantime, since I owe you my little daily contribution, I will tell you the thought that I liked today in Ecaton. “You ask what progress have I made?” he writes, “I have
started to be friends with myself. ” He has made great progress: he will never be alone. Know that everyone can have this friend. Take care.

It’s amazing how much a simple letter can teach so much …

In fact, we can draw various life lessons from the text. In the first, the philosopher explains that the first step in improving oneself is to become aware of one’s own problems in order to be able to act on them accordingly. More numerous are the lessons on friendship. Seneca talks about how a true friendship, a deep friendship, at the level of brotherhood, of pure love, can push you to do more. In addition to being indestructible, this friendship makes you better, allows you to learn from each other, teaches us to share. In fact, the philosopher continues saying that sharing is extremely important for him and that if he could not share his knowledge with others he would prefer not to know at all, as being the only one to have something, without being able to share it with anyone, does not give joy …
The most important lesson, in our personal opinion, is the last one. With the statement “I began to be friend with myself”, Seneca completes all his lessons on friendship. He explains that friendship with ourselves must be our priority as we ourselves are the people we will have to live with for the rest of our days. This friendship is also the starting point for having it with others and enjoying it fully and purely. If we are not the first to love each other, it will be more difficult to accept that others do it towards us, automatically making us more distant and less confident of our neighbor … and ourselves. So let’s end with a sentence that can enclose the intrinsic meaning of the article: love yourself so you can love your neighbor.


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