XX. And so when you see a man often wearing the robe of office, when you see one whose name is famous in the Forum, do not envy him; those things are bought at the price of life. They will waste all their years, in order that they may have one year reckoned by their name.44 Life has left some in the midst of their first struggles, before they could climb up to the height of their ambition; some, when they have crawled up through a thousand indignities to the crowning dignity, have been possessed by the unhappy thought that they have but toiled for an inscription on a tomb; some who have come to extreme old age, while they adjusted it to new hopes as if it were youth, have had it fail from sheer weakness in the midst of their great and shameless endeavours. Shameful is he whose breath leaves him in the midst of a trial when, advanced in years and still courting the applause of an ignorant circle, he is pleading for some litigant who is the veriest stranger; disgraceful is he who, exhausted more quickly by his mode of living than by his labour, collapses in the very midst of his duties; disgraceful is he who dies in the act of receiving payments on account, and draws a smile from his long delayed45 heir. I cannot pass over an instance which occurs to me. Sextus46 Turannius was an old man of long tested diligence, who, after his ninetieth year, having received release from the duties of his office by Gaius Caesar's own act, ordered himself to be laid out on his bed and to be mourned by the assembled household as if he were dead. The whole house bemoaned the leisure of its old master, and did not end its sorrow until his accustomed work was restored to him. Is it really such pleasure for a man to die in harness? Yet very many have the same feeling; their desire for their labour lasts longer than their ability; they fight against the weakness of the body, they judge old age to be a hardship on no other score than because it puts them aside. The law does not draft a soldier after his fiftieth year, it does not call a senator after his sixtieth; it is more difficult for men to obtain leisure from themselves than from the law. Meantime, while they rob and are being robbed, while they break up each other's repose, while they make each other wretched, their life is without profit, without pleasure, without any improvement of the mind. No one keeps death in view, no one refrains from far-reaching hopes; some men, indeed, even arrange for things that lie beyond lifehuge masses of tombs and dedications of public works and gifts for their funeral-pyres and ostentatious funerals. But, in very truth, the funerals of such men ought to be conducted by the light of torches and wax tapers,47 as though they had lived but the tiniest span.
1 It is clear from chapters 18 and 19 that, when this essay was written (in or about A.D. 49), Paulinus was praefectus annonae, the official who superintended the grain supply of Rome, and was, therefore, a man of importance. He was, believably, a near relative of Seneca's wife, Pompeia Paulina, and is usually identified with the father of a certain Pompeius Paulinus, who held high public posts under Nero (Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxiii. 143; Tacitus, Annals, xiii. 53. 2; xv.
2 The famous aphorism of Hippocrates of Cos: ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή.
3 An error for Theophrastus, as shown by Cicero, Tusc. Disp. iii. 69: "Theophrastus autem moriens accusasse naturam dicitur, quod cervis et cornicibus vitam diuturnam, quorum id nihil interesset, hominibus, quorum maxime interfuisset, tam exiguam vitam dedisset; quorum si aetas potuisset esse longinquior, futurum fuisse ut omnibus perfectis artibus omni doctrina hominum vita erudiretur."
4 i.e., of man. Cf. Hesiod, Frag. 183 (Rzach):
’Εννέα τοι ζώει γενεὰς λακέρυζα κορώνη
ἀνδρῶν γηράντω· ἔλαφος δέ τε τετρακόρωνος.
5 A prose rendering of an unknown poet. Cf. the epitaph quoted by Cassius Dio, lxix. 19: Σίμιλις ἐνταῦθα κεῖται βιοὺς μὲν ἔτη τόσα, ζήσας δὲ ἔτη ἑπτά.
6 Not one who undertook the actual defense, but one who by his presence and advice lent support in court.
7 Literally, "unripe." At 100 he should "come to his grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season" (Job v. 26); but he is still unripe.
8 The idea is that greatness sinks beneath its own weight. Cf. Seneca, Agamemnon, 88 sq.:
Sidunt ipso pondere magna
ceditque oneri Fortuna suo.
9 The notorious Julia, who was banished by Augustus to the island of Pandataria.
10 In 31 B.C. Augustus had been pitted against Mark Antony and Cleopatra; in 2 B.C. Iullus Antonius, younger son of the triumvir, was sentenced to death by reason of his intrigue with the elder Julia.
11 The language is reminiscent of Augustus's own characterization of Julia and his two grandchildren in Suetonius (Aug. 65. 5): "nec (solebat) aliter eos appellare quam tris vomicas ac tria carcinomata sua" ("his trio of boils and trio of ulcers").
12 Not extant.
13 As tribune in 91 B.C. he proposed a corn law and the granting of citizenship to the Italians.
14 Throughout the essay occupati, "the engrossed," is a technical term designating those who are so absorbed in the interests of life that they take no time for philosophy.
15 i.e., the various types of occupati that have been sketchily presented. The looseness of the structure has led some editors to doubt the integrity of the passage.
16 i.e., she has become the prey of legacy-hunters.
17 The rods that were the symbol of high office.
18 At this time the management of the public games was committed to the praetors.
19 Virgil, Georgics, iii. 66 sq.
20 A much admired teacher of Seneca.
21 An allusion to the fate of the Danaids, who in Hades forever poured water into a vessel with a perforated bottom.
22 Apparently watch-dogs that were let in at nightfall, and caught the engrossed lawyer still at his task.
23 Literally, "spear," which was stuck in the ground as the sign of a public auction where captured or confiscated goods were put up for sale.
24 Cf. Pliny, Epistles, i. 9. 8: "satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere."
25 For the technical meaning of otiosi, "the leisured," see Seneca's definition at the beginning of chap. 14.
26 Actors in the popular mimes, or low farces, that were often censured for their indecencies.
27 The ancient codex was made of tablets of wood fastened together.
28 Such, doubtless, as Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Crassus.
29 Pliny (Nat. Hist. viii. 21) reports that the people were so moved by pity that they rose in a body and called down curses upon Pompey. Cicero's impressions of the occasion are recorded in Ad Fam. vii. 1. 3: "extremus elephantorum dies fuit, in quo admiratio magna vulgi atque turbae, delectatio nulla exstitit; quin etiam misericordia quaedam consecuta est atque opinio eiusmodi, esse quandam illi beluae cum genere humana societatem."
30 i.e., Magnus.
31 A name applied to a consecrated space kept vacant within and (according to Livy, i. 44) without the city wall. The right of extending it belonged originally to the king who had added territory to Rome.
32 The New Academy taught that certainty of knowledge was unattainable.
33 The salutatio was held in the early morning.
34 Xerxes, who invaded Greece in 480 B.C.
35 On the plain of Doriscus in Thrace the huge land force was estimated by counting the number of times a space capable of holding 10,000 men was filled (Herodotus, vii. 60).
36 Herodotus, vii. 45, 46 tells the story.
37 Caliga, the boot of the common soldier, is here synonymous with service in the army.
38 His first appointment was announced to him while he was ploughing his own fields.
39 He did not allow his statue to be placed in the Capitol.
40 Disgusted with politics, he died in exile at Liternum.
41 Probably an allusion to the mad wish of Caligula: "utinam populus Romanus unam cervicem haberet!" (Suetonius, Calig. 30), cited in De Ira, iii. 19. 2. The logic of the whole passage suffers from the uncertainty of the text.
42 Three and a half miles long, reaching from Baiae to the mole of Puteoli (Suetonius, Calig. 19).
43 Xerxes, who laid a bridge over the Hellespont.
44 The Roman year was dated by the names of the two annual consuls.
45 i.e., long kept out of his inheritance.
46 Tacitus (Annals, i. 7) gives the praenomen as Gaius.
47 i.e., as if they were children, whose funerals took place by night (Servius, Aeneid, xi. 143).