Sen. Epist. LVII
Commentary by Richard G. Spaulding, Jr., Revised by J. Bailly
LVII. SENECA LUCILIO SUO SALUTEM
 Cum a Bais deberem Neapolim repetere, facile credidi tempestatem
esse, ne iterum navem experirer; et tantum luti tota via fuit ut possim
videri nihilominus navigasse. Totum athletarum fatum mihi illo die
perpetiendum fuit: a ceromate nos haphe excepit in crypta Neapolitana.
 Nihil illo carcere longius, nihil illis facibus obscurius, quae
nobis praestant non ut per tenebras videamus, sed ut ipsas. Ceterum
etiam si locus haberet lucem, pulvis auferret, in aperto quoque res
gravis et molesta: quid illic, ubi in se volutatur et, cum sine ullo
spiramento sit inclusus, in ipsos a quibus excitatus est recidit? Duo
incommoda inter se contraria simul pertulimus: eadem via, eodem die et
luto et pulvere laboravimus.
 Aliquid tamen mihi illa obscuritas quod cogitarem dedit: sensi
quendam ictum animi et sine metu mutationem quam insolitae rei novitas
simul ac foeditas fecerat. Non de me nunc tecum loquor, qui multum ab
homine tolerabili, nedum a perfecto absum, sed de illo in quem fortuna
ius perdidit: huius quoque ferietur animus, mutabitur color. 
Quaedam enim, mi Lucili, nulla effugere virtus potest; admonet illam
natura mortalitatis suae. Itaque et vultum adducet ad tristia et
inhorrescet ad subita et caligabit, si vastam altitudinem in crepidine
eius constitutus despexerit: non est hoc timor, sed naturalis affectio
inexpugnabilis rationi.  Itaque fortes quidam et paratissimi fundere
suum sanguinem alienum videre non possunt; quidam ad vulneris novi,
quidam ad veteris et purulenti tractationem inspectionemque succidunt
ac linquuntur animo; alii gladium facilius recipiunt quam vident. 
Sensi ergo, ut dicebam, quandam non quidem perturbationem, sed
mutationem: rursus ad primum conspectum redditae lucis alacritas rediit
incogitata et iniussa. Illud deinde mecum loqui coepi, quam inepte
quaedam magis aut minus timeremus, cum omnium idem finis esset. Quid
enim interest utrum supra aliquem vigilarium ruat an mons? nihil
invenies. Erunt tamen qui hanc ruinam magis timeant, quamvis utraque
mortifera aeque sit; adeo non effectus, sed efficientia timor spectat.
 Nunc me putas de Stoicis dicere, qui existimant animam hominis
magno pondere extriti permanere non posse et statim spargi, quia non
fuerit illi exitus liber? Ego vero non facio: qui hoc dicunt videntur
mihi errare.  Quemadmodum flamma non potest opprimi - nam circa id
diffugit quo urgetur -, quemadmodum aer verbere atque ictu non
laeditur, ne scinditur quidem, sed circa id cui cessit refunditur, sic
animus, qui ex tenuissimo constat, deprehendi non potest nec intra
corpus effligi, sed beneficio subtilitatis suae per ipsa quibus
premitur erumpit. Quomodo fulmini, etiam cum latissime percussit ac
fulsit, per exiguum foramen est reditus, sic animo, qui adhuc tenuior
est igne, per omne corpus fuga est.  Itaque de illo quaerendum est,
an possit immortalis esse. Hoc quidem certum habe: si superstes est
corpori, obteri illum nullo genere posse, [propter quod non perit]
quoniam nulla immortalitas cum exceptione est, nec quicquam noxium
aeterno est. Vale.
Text from www.thelatinlibrary.com, as submitted there by Hansulrich
Guhl (Frauenfeld, Switzerland) from an unidentified edition and (the
later books) by Sally Winchester from the Reynolds edition.
Two themes predominate in the first half of this letter: 1. the limits
of philosophy in overcoming nature, and 2. the preferability of any one
form of death. Seneca argues that certain reactions to certain things
are natural and unavoidable even by the strongest minds and so should
be considered the sort of fear that the wise avoid. He also argues that
it is unreasonable to prefer
any form of death, since all have the same result.
The second half of the letter is a digression in which Seneca argues
against the belief, which he attributes to some Stoic philosophers,
that the animum can be crushed or contained. He argues that, while it
does have substance, it is so tenuous that nothing is able to obstruct
its free motion. Seneca therefore concludes, in an apparent lapse of
logic, that if animum survives the body, it must be immortal because
"immortality is without exception."
The crypta Neapolitana discussed in the letter provided a shortcut,
avoiding a circuitous journey around the promontory of Pausilipum.
Petronius fragment 16 says that some people had to stoop to get through
exact location has now been lost, although Petrarch claims to have
visited it in 1343 (Petrarch Re Reb. Fam. 5.4).
Coming to Naples by land, I first was drenched in mud and then coated
in suffocating dust in the Neapolitan Tunnel.
cum deberem a cum temporal clause which refers to the present or future
has indicative, but those which refer to the past have subjunctive. Why
is it imperfect subjunctive? Hint: what sequence?
repetere complementary infinitive with debeo.
iterum: in letter 53, Seneca recounts the sea voyage.
experirer subj. in a clause that may be purpose or perhaps fear.
luti partitive genitive.
tota via nominative, the subject of fuit.
ut possim tantum in the main clause prepares for this result clause.
nihilominus adverbial. "not at all less" A combination of nihilo,
ablative of measure from nihilum, and minus, the neuter accusative
comp. of parvus used adverbially.
fatum atheletarum wrestlers were first annointed with oil, then
with sand to improve their opponent's grip.
mihi dative of agent with passive periphrastic.
illo die ablative of time when.
perpetiendum fuit past passive periphrastic: "it had to be endured "
haphe Seneca refers to the dust of the road. The term is from the Greek
longius obscurius (est) as often, supply a form of esse.
praestant "accomplish." Its objects are the result clauses that follow.
Note the switch from past to present, which makes the story more vivid.
ut videamus, sed ut ipsas substantive clauses of result are used with
verbs of accomplishing an effort (A&G 568).
ut ipsas The verb must be fetched from the previous clause, as often
happens, and ipsas modifies a feminine plural noun which must also be
fetched from the previous clause. Whenever items are apparently missing
from a clause, look backwards and fetch whatever makes sense and fits
ceterum adverbial: see vocabulary.
haberet auferret imperfect subjunctives are used in present unreal
(also called present contrary to fact).
in aperto quoque res gravis et molesta this whole nominal phrase is in
apposition to pulvis.
quid interrogative adverb, like English 'What about' as in 'What about
there on the step? That's where your muddy shoes belong.' Note that the
object of 'about' in English can be anything, not just a noun. It's
similar in Latin, where illic operates similarly.
volutatur fetch a subject from what precedes.
cum sit inclusus cum causal clause.
in ipsos that is, onto the people going through the tunnel.
eadem via, eodem die et luto et pulvere three different types of
ablative in a row: ablatives of location, time, and cause (A&G
The Tunnel provided food for thought: the novelty of the place produced
an involuntary change, which was not fear, but the quite natural
reaction of even the most courageous. Stoics held that a wise person
was not subject to any strong passion, even when confronted with a
terrible or odious situation. Rather, the wise person would experience
a certain inevitable physical reaction, but in the soul, there would be
no passionate reaction. The reason for this lack of passion is that the
wise person realizes that such things do not affect virtue, and so are
not ultimately important. Only things that affect virtue are ultimately
important and they are all under the wise person's full control.
quod cogitarem: a relative clause of characteristic can express purpose
animi: objective genitive with ictum. Objective genitives occur with
nouns that have some notion of an action in them (e.g. amor has the
notion of amo, amare in it). The genitive acts like the object of that
verbal notion in the noun (e.g. 'love of
your dog' expresses the
thought 'you love your dog' in which 'your dog' is the object of
nedum a perfecto: a parenthetical remark.
absum ab: "I am far from ."
in quem ius: ius in quem = "authority over whom."
ferietur mutabitur: these futures have the same force as the future in
the English saying 'boys will be boys.' In other words, it does not
refer to a future time so much as it serves to generalize the statement
so that it applies to all time. Such futures are often used in
philosophy. Other tenses may have the same atemporal, gnomic quality
(e.g. the perfect).
quaedam: agrees with virtus.
mi Luculli: voc.
admonet: admoneo takes an accusative and a genitive. For example,
admoneo te huius = 'I call your attention to this' or 'I call this to
illam: find a feminine noun in what precedes for this to refer to.
adducet inhorrescet caligabit: future in the apodosis of a future more
despexerit: future perfect in protasis of a future more vivid
indicating action occurring prior to that of the apodosis. Latin
frequently uses the future perfect where English uses the future or
even the present. For example, in English we say 'If you do that, I
will do this.' In Latin, the same sentence would be 'si illud feceris,
crepidine: originally from a Greek word for pedestal, base, the word
crepido came to have the meaning 'edge, ledge' and from there
fundere: complementary infinitive with paratissimi.
alienum: understand a second sanguinem.
ad vulneris novi ad: ad never occurs without an accusative object. Thus
the first ad
needs an object. Usually, things that need to be supplied by the reader
occur before they need to be supplied, but in this case, the object
occurs afterward: supply another tractationem inspectionemque for the
linquuntur animo idiom.: "they fainted." linquo with ablative of agent.
gladium recipiunt: recipio is the term used for the action of the
gladiator who resignedly 'accepts' the sword into his body and is
killed. Note how the resonance with the horrific gladiatorial games
gives color to what seemed an innocuous sentence.
I began to consider the irrationality of our fears; for we fear equally
deadly events to different extents.
redditae lucis: objective genitive with conspectum.
alacritas incogitata et iniussa: the adjectives are in the predicate
position, as in English, when one says "I returned unbidden," unbidden
is predicative and modifies the subject.
illud: sometimes, illud anticipates something to follow, in which case
tranlate it as 'the following.' In this case, it anticipates the
indirect question to follow.
deinde: although this adverb usually indicates that something follows
time or sequence, here it seems to have a logical force, 'therefore.'
quam: interrogative particle in indirect question.
timeremus: subjunctive in an indirect question.
omnium: refers either to nos (subject of timeremus) or quaedam (object
cum esset: cum adversative clause.
utrum: introduces the indirect question following interest.
qui: most relative pronouns have an antecedent, but sometimes it is
understood. Here you have to supply something like ei as the antecedent
and at the same time as the subject of erunt.
qui timeant: relative clause of characteristic.
hanc: "the latter." Refers to the nearer of two previously mentioned
quamvis: quamvis usually takes the subjunctive.
non effectus, sed efficentia: this jingly juxtaposition of acts and
agents is typical of Seneca's sententious style .
Stoicis Summers finds no other evidence for the belief Seneca here
ascribes to the Stoics, and it certainly was not a typically Stoic
belief, as the sentence appears to imply. Because the stoics thought
the soul was made of matter (non-atomic: Epicureans believed in atomic
matter), albeit extremely extenuated, it is perhaps logically possible
that the soul could be trapped or crushed, and perhaps there was some
discussion of whether a stoic sage ought to fear that (the stoics
categorically denied that a sage experienced fear of death).
qui existimant: normally, one would expect the subjunctive in a
subordinate clause in indirect speech (or thought, as in this case).
The indicative shows that the clause is not a part of the reported
thought, but rather is given by the author as though it were a
statement of fact independent of the reported thought.
extriti: notice the typical pattern: hominis and its adjective extriti
surround the ablative of instrument that goes with them.
fuerit: existential: "there was." This subordinate clause in indirect
speech is in the subjunctive because it is part of the reported
Ego vero non facio: facio is transitive and so needs an object. What is
Seneca no doing? Hint: it's the main verb of the previous sentence.
I am not talking of those
Stoics who think a crushing death may trap the soul (since the Stoics
thought the soul is material, it was inevitable that someone would ask
what happens if a huge mountain falls on someone: can the soul
The mind, like a flame, is made of such fine material that it can pass
right through any obstacle. We ought to ask, then, whether the mind is
immortal; if it survives the body, it surely is, for immortality is
quemadmodum ... quemadmodum ... sic: these adverbs tell us that the
parts are preparing for the third: "just as ... (and) just as ... so
also ... ."
Note that there is no "and" in Latin, but we need one in English. That
lack of connectives is called 'asyndeton,' and is frequent in Latin.
When you notice it, it is usually an intentional stylistic effect,
which draws attention to the fact that the author has a style (when no
attention is drawn to the style, that too is, of course, a style).
ne ... quidem: idiom. "not even." The two elements bracket the word
ex tenuissimo constat: constat, meaning "to consist," can take either
the genitive of material or, as here, ex + ablative.
subtilitatis suae: suae refers to animum, the subject of the sentence.
fulmini: predicative dative indicating possession. animo is also
exiguum foramen: lightning was thought to return to the sky.
est existential: "there is." see note on l. 7.4.
reditus: substantive, subject of est.
adhuc: adhuc adverbial + a comparative is a Silver Latin usage, meaning
"even more " or "still more ."
de illo: illo refers to animum.
quaerendum est: passive periphrastic.
an possit: indirect question: what sequence?
certum habe: idiomatic for "know for certain."
superstes: superstes takes a dative.
proteri: what form of the verb protero?
nullo genere: "by no means." genus, -eris may mean "way," "method" or
aeterno: dative of disadvantage with noxium.
absum abesse afui, afuturus, afore (fut. inf.), be away, be far from
adduco, adducere, adduxi, adductum, draw together, wrinkle
adhuc, up to now
admoneo, admonere, admonui, admonitus, remind, warn
affectio, -onis, f., disposition, state of mind
alacritas, -atis, f., spryness, nimbleness
alienus, -a, -um, belonging to another
altitudo, -inis, f., height, cliff
apertum, I, n., (ppp.of aperio), the outdoors, open space
athleta, ae, f., wrestler
aufero, auferre, ablatus, abstuli, take away
beneficium, -I, n., kindness, benefit, service
caligo (1), become dizzy
carcer, eris, m., prison
cedo, cedere, cessi, cessum, (+ dat.), yield, give way
ceroma atis, n., wrestling ointment
ceterum, on the other hand
color, coloris, m., color; style; external condition
conspectus, -us, m., sight
constituo, constituere, constitutum, stand
consto, constare, constiti, constatum, consist (of)
crepido, inis, f., brim, brink
crypta, ae, f., vault, tunnel
debeo, debere, debui, debitus, be obliged to; owe
deprehendo, deprehendere, deprehensi, deprehensum, catch
despicio, despicere, despexi, despectus, look down
effectus, us, m., effect
efficio, efficere, effeci, effectus, effect, bring to pass
effligo, effligere, efflixi, efflictum,strike dead, exterminate
effugio, effugere, effugi,escape
erumpo, erumpere, erupi, eruptum,break out, burst forth
exceptio, -onis, f.,exception, limitation, restriction
excito (1),stir up
exiguus, -a, -um,small, scanty
exitus, -us, m., leaving; death
experior, periri, pertus sum, try, know by experience
extero, exterere, extrivi, extritus, crush
fax, facis, f., torch
ferio, ferire, strike, hit
foeditas, -atis, f., filthiness
foramen, inis, n., aperture
fulgeo, fulgere, fulsi, gleam, shine
fulmen, fulminis, n., lightning
fundo, fundere, fudi, fusus, pour
genus, eris, n., here:way or manner
gladius, -I, m., sword; murder, death
haphe, es, f. (greek), wrestling sand
ictus, -us, m., blow
illic, in that place
includo, includere, inclusi, inclusum, confine
incogitatus, -a, -um, without thought
incommodus, -a, -um, uncomfortable
inepte, inappositely, unappropriately
inexpugnabilis, -e, unable to be overcome
inhorresco, horrescere, horrui, begin to bristle
iniussus, -a, -um, unbidden
insolitus, -a, -um, unusual
inspectio, -onis, f., sight, examination
invenio, invenire, inveni, inventus, find
ius, iuris, n., law; right; authority
laboro (1), struggle
laedo, laedere, laesi, laesum, strike
latus, -a, -um,wide, broad; widespread
linquo, linqere, liqui, leave; linqui animo: faint
lutus, i, m., mud
lux, lucis, f., light
mons, montis, m., mountain
mortiferus, a, um, deadly
mutatio, -onis, change, alteration
nedum, adv., much less, not to speak of, to say nothing of
noxius, a, us, harmful
opprimo, opprimere, ippressi, oppressus, press down, overwhelm,
perdo, dere, didi, ditus, lose
perfero, perferre, pertuli, perlatus, endure
permaneo, permanere, permansi, permansus, last, persist, endure
perpetior, peti, pessus, endure
perturbatio, -onis, f., disturbance
pondus, ponderis, n.,weight, mass
praesto, stare, steti, status, accomplish, perform
protero, proterere, protrivi, protritus, crush, rub out
pulvis, eris, m., dust
purulens, entis, festering
quemadmodus, in the way that
re(c)cido, (c)cidere, (c)cidi, casurus, fall back
reddo, reddere, reddidi, redditus, return, give back
redeo, redire, redivi, reditus, go back, return
refundo, refundere, refudi, refusus, flow back
repeto, repetere, repetivi, repetitus, return to, head back to
ruina, -ae, f., tumbling down, collapse; disaster, catastrophe
ruo, ruere, rui, rutus, hurl down
rursus, again, back
sanguis, sanguinis, m., blood
scindo, scindere, scidi, scissus, cut
spargo, spargere, sparsi, sparsus, scatter
spiramentus, i, n., breathing hole
subtilitas, -atis, f., extenuation, rarefaction
succido, succidere, succidi, collapse
superstes, stitis, surviving
tenebrae, tenebrarus, f. pl., darkness
timor, timoris, m., fer, dread
tractatio, -onis, f., handling
urgeo, urgere, ursi,prod on
uterque, utraque, utrumque,each (of two), both
verber, verberis, n., blow
vetus, veteris,old, aged
vigilarius, i, n., watch tower
volvo, volvere, volvi, volutus, turn or twist around
vulnus, vulneris, n., wound
vultus, us, m., facial expression
voluto (1), keep revolving