Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 36 - On the Value of Retirement

On the Value of Retirement

Key ideas from this letter

  • a Stoic will value indifferents differently from most other people
  • how a Stoic manages, uses and thinks of indifferents is how he demonstrates his character
  • death is not the end, but merely an interruption / eternal recurrence
It seems that this man to whom Seneca is referring, is contemplating retirement and some of his associates are reproaching him and goading to not retire.  Seneca seems to think that the man considering retirement is choosing wisely.

Seneca commentates a bit about the indifferent of wealth and fortune:

Prosperity is a turbulent thing; it torments itself. It stirs the brain in more ways than one, goading men on to various aims, – some to power, and others to high living. Some it puffs up; others it slackens and wholly enervates.

If you give your desires wholly over to acquiring fortune, then you will suffer the follies he lists above.  Wisdom is knowing how to use indifferents well and not be affected by them, but to retain equanimity regardless if you acquire wealth or not.

And because this man chooses retirement over acquiring more wealth, less wise people accuse him of being "a trifler and a sluggard."  Perhaps this man has chosen wisely because "he continues to cherish virtue and to absorb thoroughly the studies which make for culture."  And perhaps he learned this wisdom while young and now he can spend his retirement in continued pursuit of virtue.

the young man must store up, the old man must use.

Seneca explains more clearly, further in the letter, the wise course of action.

Fortune has no jurisdiction over character. Let him so regulate his character that in perfect peace he may bring to perfection that spirit within him which feels neither loss nor gain, but remains in the same attitude, no matter how things fall out. A spirit like this, if it is heaped with worldly goods, rises superior to its wealth; if, on the other hand, chance has stripped him of a part of his wealth, or even all, it is not impaired.

The latter part of the letter hits on themes of memento mori and the eternal recurrence.

I say, let him learn that which is helpful against all weapons, against every kind of foe, – contempt of death ...

In death there is nothing harmful ...

And death, which we fear and shrink from, merely interrupts life, but does not steal it away; the time will return when we shall be restored to the light of day ... everything which seems to perish merely changes. Since you are destined to return, you ought to depart with a tranquil mind. Mark how the round of the universe repeats its course.

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