1"But why," you ask, "does God sometimes allow evil to befall good men?" Assuredly he does not. Evil of every sort he keeps far from them - sin and crime, evil counsel and schemes for greed, blind lust and avarice intent upon another's goods. The good man himself he protects and delivers: does any one require of God that he should also guard the good man's luggage? Nay, the good man himself relieves God of this concern; he despises externals. 2Democritus, considering riches to be a burden to the virtuous mind, renounced them. Why, then, do you wonder if God suffers that to be the good man's lot which the good man himself sometimes chooses should be his lot? Good men lose their sons; why not, since sometimes they even slay them? They are sent into exile; why not, since sometimes they voluntarily leave their native land, never to return? They are slain; why not, since sometimes they voluntarily lay hand upon themselves? Why do they suffer certain hardships? 3It is that they may teach others to endure them they were born to be a pattern. Think, then, of God as saying: "What possible reason have you to complain of me, you who have chosen righteousness? Others I have surrounded with unreal goods, and have mocked their empty minds, as it were, with a long, deceptive dream. I have bedecked them with gold, and silver, and ivory, but within there is nothing good. 4The creatures whom you regard as fortunate, if you could see them, not as they appear to the eye, but as they are in their hearts, are wretched, filthy, base - like their own house-walls, adorned only on the outside. Sound and genuine such good fortune is not; it is a veneer, and that a thin one. So long, therefore, as they can stand firm and make the show that they desire, they glitter and deceive; when, however, something occurs to overthrow and uncover them, then you see what deep-set and genuine ugliness their borrowed splendour hid. 5But to you I have given the true and enduring goods, which are greater and better the more any one turns them over and views them from every side. I have permitted you to scorn all that dismays and to disdain desires. Outwardly you do not shine; your goods are directed inward. Even so the cosmos, rejoicing in the spectacle of itself, scorns everything outside. Within I have bestowed upon you every good; your good fortune is not to need good fortune.
6'Yet,' you say, 'many sorrows, things dreadful and hard to bear, do befall us.' Yes, because I could not withdraw you from their path, I have armed your minds to withstand them all; endure with fortitude. In this you may outstrip God; he is exempt from enduring evil, while you are superior to it. Scorn poverty; no one lives as poor as he was born. Scorn pain; it will either be relieved or relieve you. Scorn death, which either ends you or transfers you. Scorn Fortune; I have given her no weapon with which she may strike your soul. 7Above all, I have taken pains that nothing should keep you here against your will; the way out lies open. If you do not choose to fight, you may run away. Therefore of all things that I have deemed necessary for you, I have made nothing easier than dying. I have set life on a downward slope: if it is prolonged, only observe and you will see what a short and easy path leads to liberty. I have not imposed upon you at your exit the wearisome delay you had at entrance. Otherwise, if death came to a man as slowly as his birth, Fortune would have kept her great dominion over you. 8Let every season, every place, teach you how easy it is to renounce Nature and fling her gift back in her face. In the very presence of the altars and the solemn rites of sacrifice, while you pray for life, learn well concerning death. The fatted bodies of bulls fall from a paltry wound, and creatures of mighty strength are felled by one stroke of a man's hand; a tiny blade will sever the sutures of the neck, and when that joint, which binds together head and neck, is cut, the body's mighty mass crumples in a heap. 9No deep retreat conceals the soul, you need no knife at all to root it out, no deeply driven wound to find the vital parts; death lies near at hand. For these mortal strokes I have set no definite spot; anywhere vou wish, the way is open. Even that which we call dying, the moment when the breath forsakes the body, is so brief that its fleetness cannot come within the ken. Whether the throat is strangled by a knot, or water stops the breathing, or the hard ground crushes in the skull of one falling headlong to its surface, or flame inhaled cuts off the course of respiration, be it what it may, the end is swift. Do you not blush for shame? You dread so long what comes so quickly!
1 As, notably, did Lucius Junius Brutus and Manlius Torquatus, exalting public duty.
2 Cato is the favourite exemplar.