Friday, June 6, 2014

Excerpt from Seneca's "On Anger"

Here are some excerpts from Lucius Annaeus Seneca’s book On Anger.

To put Seneca into historical context, he was a part of  Emperor Gaius staff; and emperor we know better as Caligula, and after an exile, ended up working as an advisor to Caesar Nero. Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself in 65AD.

To give you a bit more interesting context, the person addressed in this book On Anger  is a person named Novatus.  Seneca wrote this book sometime before 51-52 AD, because Novatus’ name changed (by adoption) to Lucius Iunius Gallio Annaeanus; and he was named the proconsul of Achaea, the same Gallio named in Acts 18:12. Gallio's words are recorded in Acts 18:14-15 “If you Jew were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter ourselves. I will not be judge of such things.”

Seneca's book On Anger, was written to educate on the danger of allowing anger reign in the rational mind, according to Stoic teaching.

To Novatus on Anger: Book 2 Book 4 of the Dialogues

 22 (3) Don’t lend your ears too easily to accusers. It’s a flaw in human nature, well known to us and regarded with mistrust, that we’re glad to believe what we don’t want to hear, and we grow angry before we judge. (4) What of the fact that we’re moved not only by accusations but by suspicions, and that we grow angry at innocent people because we’ve put the worse construction on someone else’s look and laugh? One must plead the case of the absent party against one’s own interests and keep anger suspended. Punishment postponed can still be exacted, but punishment exacted cannot be undone.


24 Credulity does the most mischief. Often you shouldn’t even lend an ear, for in some matters it’s better to be deceived than to mistrust. You should entirely eliminate suspicion and guesswork, the most unreliable goads to anger: “that man greeted me with too little warmth. That man separated himself too quickly from my kiss. That man quickly broke off a conversation I’d begun. That man didn’t invite me to dinner. That man had a rather unfriendly look. (2) suspicion will find proof to support it; straightforwardness is wanted, and a kindly judgment. Let’s believe nothing save what stares us in the face and is caught red-handed, and let’s scold our credulity whenever our suspicion has been shown to be empty. For this sort of scolding will make us slow to believe as a matter of habit.


28 “If we want to be fair judges in all matters, let’s first convince ourselves that none of us is without fault. For this is the source of the greatest indignation, the thought ‘I’m without sin’ and ‘I did noting’: no, rather, you admit nothing. We resent it when we’re chastened by a word of rebuke or some restraint, though at that very moment we’re doing wrong by adding arrogance and defiance to our misdeeds. (2) Who’s that man there who claims he’s innocent before all laws? Even thought that might be so, what a pinched innocence it is to be ‘legally good.’ How much more broadly the norm of appropriate actions extends than the rule of law! (3) But we cannot even represent ourselves as satisfying that very narrow definition of innocence: some things we’ve done, others we’ve planned, some we’ve hoped for, other still we’ve supported; in some cases we’re innocent only because we didn’t get our way.”

Seneca: Anger, Mercy, Revenge. Translated by Robert A. Kaster and Martha C. Nussbaum (2010, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press)

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