My brother Dana tells how our LA childhood gave us a direct connection to an ancient Roman worldview
This column in timely. A couple months ago, a friend sent me a volume of Seneca's writings upon learning of my Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. I hadn't read any of the Stoic thinkers since I was an undergraduate majoring in Philosophy and was reminded that this habit of thinking can be a real comfort. It's impossible to avoid suffering in this life. This hasn't changed in the nearly 2,000 years since Seneca wrote these words. No matter how much money we have or who we know, we will all get our apportioned measure of death, pain, and grief. However, we also have the freedom to choose how we react to it and it's at these times that we show our true characters. I know that I will return to Seneca again and again in the coming months to maintain perspective on the trials and tribulations that are waiting for me as I make my final journey into the unknown.
Roman virtues inspired America’s founders too. Honor, honesty, courage, and integrity were qualities presumed in anyone who might stand for an office of public trust. Any person whose reputation impugned his character as possibly lacking these basic virtues would have been unthinkable as a leader. He would not get far enough to need rejection. He would never be considered at all.
Ted and Dana,
I grew up about an hour south of Chicago. Both my mother and father were immigrants from Sicily. My dad owned a bar/restaurant, and a liquor store. He worked very hard and never complained. My mother kept things running on the home front.
I was the first from my family to attend college, and I have a Ph.D. in Soil Science.
Thanks to my dad for being a Stoic, and teaching me the value of hard work.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Ted, you may be a Latin, but as a Sicilian, you’re also a Greek like Archimedes and Empedocles who hailed from your dad’s island. Stoicism also started in Athens at the agora with Zeno. But yes, Seneca is one of the greatest exponents of Stoicism. His insights are timely more than ever, especially in this era of over indulgent consumerism and distrust of officials and information sources. By the way, I enjoyed reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. He was a rarity: a philosopher king that Plato thought to be the ideal ruler.
Harry Truman as a stoic:
-grew up on a small farm in Missouri;
-he said “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen”;
-when he and Beth left the White House in January 1953, he drove them back to Independence, Missouri by himself.
Am reading Jacek Bochenski's Roman trilogy, three books about ancient Rome but obliquely about communist Poland: Divine Julius, Naso the Poet, Tiberius Caesar. Brilliant! Embracing one's love of the classics but using it slyly to comment on man's and government's continuing iniquity.
“Ozempic for the soul.”
Marcus Aurelius too
For 20 years I taught an introductory humanities class at a small Catholic college in northwest Indiana. The academic establishment, which has uncommon difficulty calling a turnip a turnip, called our students “underprepared.” They were poor kids from bad high schools who had been brought up by uneducated parents. Good kids, trying to make something of themselves. Their favorite book? Hands down: Epictetus’s Manual, a classic of ancient Stoicism! Why? It was short, clear, and practical, and it helped them manage their inner lives on a daily basis. I believe few of them had encountered ANY book about their inner life. It makes sense: stoicism is a solider’s philosophy, and for many of these young people, life was a constant battle.
Because of your post, I bought Dana's book. I'm a fan of Seneca and I'm looking forward to reading his book. Cheers!
Nice column, we share a similar geographic familial history with the American Southwest and Sonora Mexico. My father had a hard life, lost his father to an industrial accident so he dropped out of high school to work and help his family. He enlisted in WW 2 was a paratrooper dropping in to France during the D-Day campaign. Came back to the San Fernando Valley and married, worked from the bottom of the building trades
to Superintendant. I could go on but he imbued the Stoic ethos without ever reading the works of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca. Congratulations to you and your brother for your body of work to date! I too am the first to get a college degree in my family. Just a personal observation but I see simularities in the psycology of Stoicism and Daoist thought.
The Greeks had more nuance than the Romans. I am not saying that the Romans contributed nothing to western civilization. As Zafirios Georglis states below, look at the Greek temples compared to the Roman. I am a bit prejudiced since my father was born in Sicily and my mother's parents came from Calabria.
Thank you for this today. Not only was thrilled to discover you are Dana’s brother, and to read your tribute to him, I marvel at how your solid Catholic upbringing helped both of you. And I hope you have a book in you about your family as well.
Very moving and cool. Hats off to your family. Was Seneca a poor man? Did he practice what he preached? I wonder if we could make the Romans even more relevant by pointing to our shared contradictions?
The brushed silver cover of the Sentences from Seneca with the embossed polished silver letters of the title make the book beautiful to see. Pretty amazing to read too. Dana's essay at the beginning gives an overview of what a complex character Seneca was, a fabulously rich and talented Stoic writer who was a favorite of the villainous Emperor Nero . . ..
The rainbow travelers I was among had a saying: "Everyone is a hitchhiker" We had the same attitude towards vans and busses that Seneca had toward ships, apparently.