Opinion | How to Serve a Deranged Tyrant-Stoically – by Ryan Holiday – NYT

“In the ancient world, as is true today, navigating political chaos was a pressing dilemma. Philosophers were forced to decide whether to participate in, resist or simply endure the political rulers of their time. Socrates, the incorrigible free spirit, was a soldier in the Peloponnesian War and a citizen who lived through Athens of the Thirty Tyrants. Aristotle, who wrote brilliant works on justice, happiness and government, worked for Alexander the Great, a murderous warmonger.

Or consider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca’s hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca’s time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: “Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero’s worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy.”We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.”

Fascinating. Here are two of many good comments, I particularly valued.

Stephen Hoffman
Harlem

Roman Stoics like Seneca gave a characteristically Roman public spin to the academic writings of their Greek masters like Epictetus. Seneca had a writer’s vanity and high literary ambitions with which he inspired his star pupil, Nero. He made himself monstrously rich by profiteering in military contracts in the Roman colony of Britain. When the political entanglements in which he had ensnared himself finally exacted their fatal dues, he died in the messy, non-Stoic way all people die (read Tacitus’ gruesome account) ) but not without preparing his own “dignified” version of his death to leave to posterity as a literary testament.

B
BobMeinetz
Los Angeles

Unmentioned here is Marcus Aurelius’s classic Meditations, the Roman emperor’s treatise on Stoicism considered by many one of the finest works of philosophy.

When my teenage daughter was undergoing teenage-daughter-type problems I recommended Meditations to her, thinking it might provide some non-religious insight on personal values. Years later she admitted she had read it three times, and it’s since become somewhat of a secular Bible in our family.

Highly recommended to Times readers unfamiliar with Stoicism and unaccepting of theistic religion.

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About David Lindsay Jr

David Lindsay is the author of "The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth- Century Vietnam," that covers a bloody civil war from 1770 to 1802. It was published by Footmad and Cherry Blossom Press on September 11, 2017. Find more about it at TheTaySonRebellion.com, also known as, DavidLindsayJr.com.
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