Musonius Rufus

It is not possible to live well today unless one thinks of it as his last.

What indictment can we make against tyrants when we ourselves are much worse than they? For we have the same impulses as theirs but not the same opportunity to indulge them.

If one were to measure what is agreeable by the standard of pleasure, nothing would be pleasanter than self-control; and if one were to measure what is to be avoided by pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.

Musonius said that there was no more shameful inconsistency than to recall the weakness of the body under stress of pain, but to forget it in the enjoyment of pleasure.

One begins to lose his hesitation to do unseemly things when one loses his hesitation to speak of them.

And if you choose to hold fast to what is right, do not be irked by difficult circumstances, but reflect on how many things have already happened to you in life in ways that you did not wish, and yet they have turned out for the best.

Choose to die well while it is possible, lest shortly it may become necessary for you to die, but it will no longer be possible to die well.

One who by living is of use to many has not the right to choose to die unless by dying he may be of use to more.

You will earn the respect of all men if you begin by earning the respect of yourself.

Those men do not live long who have become accustomed to say to their subjects in defence of whatever they do, not, "It is my duty," but, "It is my will."

Do not expect to enjoin right-doing upon men who are conscious of your own wrong-doing.

Toward subjects one should strive to be regarded with awe rather than with fear. Reverence attends the one, bitterness the other.

The treasures of Croesus and Cinyras we shall condemn as the last degree of poverty. One man and one alone shall we consider rich, the man who has acquired the ability to want for nothing always and everywhere.

Since the Fates have spun out the lot of death for all alike, he is blessed who dies not late but well.

And further, of the notable sayings of Musonius which come to my mind, this is one, Sulla, that those who want to be in health should spend their lives taking care of themselves. For unlike hellebore, reason should not be cast forth with the illness after it has effected a cure, but it should be allowed to remain in the soul to keep and guard the judgment. For the power of reason should not be compared to drugs but to health-giving foods, since it introduces a good and healthy frame of mind into those to whom it becomes habitual. On the other hand admonitions and warnings made when the emotions are at their greatest heat barely have any effect at all. They are not unlike those scents which revive people who have fallen in a fit but do not cure the disease.

The notorious Rutilius coming up to Musonius in Rome said, "Zeus the Saviour whom you imitate and emulate does not borrow money." And Musonius with a smile answered, "Neither does he lend." For Rutilius, while lending money himself, was reproaching Musonius for borrowing.

Of the things that exist, God has put some in our control, others not in our control. In our control he has put the noblest and most excellent part by reason of which He is Himself happy, the power of using our impressions. For when this is correctly used, it means serenity, cheerfulness, constancy; it also means justice and law and self-control and virtue as a whole. But all other things He has not put in our control. Therefore we ought to become of like mind with God and, dividing things in like manner, we ought in every way to lay claim to the things that are in our control, but what is not in our control we ought to entrust to the universe and gladly yield to it whether it asks for our children, our country, our body, or anything whatsoever.

Who of us does not marvel at the action of Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian? For when he had been blinded in one eye by one of his fellow-citizens and had received the young man at the hands of the people to punish as he saw fit, he did not choose to do this, but trained him instead and made a good man of him, and afterward escorted him to the public theatre. And when the Lacedaemonians regarded him with amazement, he said: "This man I received from you an insolent and violent creature; I return him to you a reasonable man and a good citizen."

But most of all the work of nature is this: to make desire and impulse to act fit closely with perception of that which is seemly and useful.

To share the common notion that we shall be despised by others if in every way we do not strive to harm the first enemies we meet is the mark of mean-minded and ignorant men. For we say that the despicable man is recognized among other things by his inability to harm his enemies, but actually he is much more easily recognized by his inability to help them.

Of such a character the nature of the universe was and is and will be, and it is not possible for things that come into existence to come into existence differently from the way they now do. And in this process of change and transformation, not only human beings and other creatures of earth have had a part, but also the divine beings, and even the four elements are changed and transformed upwards and downwards; that is, earth becomes water and water air, and air is again transformed into ether; and there is the same process of transformation downwards. If a man resolves to focus his thoughts on these things and persuades himself willingly to accept the inevitable, he will lead a life well measured and in harmony with the universe.

Thrasea was in the habit of saying, "I should rather be put to death today than be banished tomorrow." What then did Rufus say to him? "If you choose that as the heavier misfortune, what a foolish choice to make! But if as the lighter, who has given you the choice? Are you not willing to train yourself to be satisfied with what has been given you?"

Why do we continue to be lazy and careless and sluggish and seek excuses for not working hard and sitting up late to perfect our mastery of logical argument? "Well, if I have made a mistake in this problem, I haven't been guilty of killing my own father, have I?" Stupid boy, shall I show you where in this instance there was a father to kill? The only possible error to make in this example you have made. Yet that was the very answer I once made to Rufus when he scolded me because I could not find the missing member in a certain syllogism. "It is not as bad," I said, "as if I had set fire to the Capitol." Whereupon he answered, "In this case, you foolish fellow, the missing member is the Capitol." Are these the only possible wrongs, burning the Capitol and killing one's father? But using one's impressions without purpose or profit and quite at random and failing to follow argument or demonstration or semblance of reason, and completely missing what is to one's advantage or disadvantage in question and answer —are none of these wrongs?

And in the same way to make trial of me, Rufus used to say, "Such and such a thing will befall you at the hands of your master." In answer to him, I said that in such a case it would be kind of him (to intercede in my behalf.) "What!" he exclaimed, "Do you mean that I should intercede in your behalf when I can get the same result from you yourself?" For in truth what one can get from himself it is superfluous and foolish as well to get from someone else.

It is not easy to produce an effect upon soft characters any more than it is to pick up a soft cheese with a hook, but young men of sound nature, even if you turn them away, hold to philosophy all the more. For that reason Rufus frequently discouraged pupils, using this as a means of testing the superior and inferior ones. For he used to say, "Just as a stone, even if you throw it upwards, will fall downwards because of its nature, so the superior man, the more one repels him, the more he inclines toward his own natural direction."

On the assassination of Galba someone said to Rufus, "Can you now hold that the world is ruled by divine Providence?" To which he replied, "Did I ever for a moment build my argument, that the world is ruled by a divine Providence, upon Galba?"

Rufus used to say, "If you have time to waste praising me, I am conscious that what I say is worth nothing." (So far from applause on our part,) he spoke in such a way that each of us sitting there felt that someone had gone to him and told him our faults, so accurately he touched upon our true characters, so effectively he placed each one's faults before his eyes.

We have it on good authority that Musonius the philosopher (in his discourses was accustomed to deprecate and repress applause on the part of his auditors.) " When a philosopher," he said, "is exhorting, persuading, rebuking, or discussing some aspect of philosophy, if the audience pour forth trite and commonplace words of praise in their enthusiasm and unrestraint, if they even shout, if they gesticulate, if they are moved and aroused, and swayed by the charm of his words, by the rhythm of his phrases, and by certain rhetorical repetitions, then you may know that both the speaker and his audience are wasting their time, and that they are not hearing a philosopher speaking but a fluteplayer performing. The mind," he said, "of a man who is listening to a philosopher, if the things which are said are useful and helpful and furnish remedies for faults and errors, has no leisure and time for profuse and extravagant praise. The hearer, whoever he may be, unless he has completely lost his moral sense, in listening to the philosopher's words must shudder and feel secretly ashamed and repentant, and again experience joy and wonder and even have varying facial expressions and changes of feeling as the philosopher's speech affects him and touches his recognition of that part of his soul which is sound and that which is sick.

Moreover, he used to say that great applause and admiration are to be sure not unrelated, but that the greatest admiration yields silence rather than words. For that reason he said the wisest of poets does not have those who listened to Ulysses relating the wonderful tale of his hardships leap up and shout and cry out their approval when he finished speaking, but he says that all kept silent as if struck dumb and senseless because the pleasure they had in hearing him affected their power of speech.

"Musonius," Herodes said, "ordered a thousand sesterces to be given to a beggar of this sort who was pretending to be a philosopher, and when several people told him that the rascal was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius, they say, answered with a smile, 'Well then he deserves money.'"

When I was still a boy at school, I heard that this Greek saying, which I here set down, was uttered by Musonius the philosopher, and because the sentiment is true and striking as well as neatly and concisely rounded out, I was very happy to commit it to memory. "If one accomplishes some good though with toil, the toil passes, but the good remains; if one does something dishonorable with pleasure, the pleasure passes, but the dishonor remains."

Afterwards I read that same sentiment in a speech of Cato's which was delivered at Numantia to the knights. Although it is expressed a little less compactly and concisely as compared with the Greek which I have quoted, yet because it is earlier and more ancient, it may well seem more impressive. The words from his speech are the following: "Consider this in your hearts: if you accomplish some good attended with toil, the toil will quickly leave you; but if you do some evil attended with pleasure, the pleasure will quickly pass away, but the bad deed will remain with you always."

"To relax (remittere) the mind," said Musonius, "is to lose (amittere) it."

Someone who was urging me to take heart quoted a saying of Musonius. "Musonius," said he, "wishing to rouse a man who was depressed and weary of life, touched him and asked, 'What are you waiting for, why stand you idly gazing? Until God in person shall come and stand by you and utter human speech? Cut off the dead part of your soul and you will recognize the presence of God.' Such," he said, "were the words of Musonius."

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