17 August 2015

The Part of a Great Man

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "On Providence," Moral Essays, tr. John W. Basore, Vol. I (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1928), pp. 24-27:
Success comes to the common man, and even to commonplace ability; but to triumph over the calamities and terrors of mortal life is the part of a great man only. Truly, to be always happy and to pass through life without a mental pang is to be ignorant of one half of nature. You are a great man; but how do I know it if Fortune gives you no opportunity of showing your worth? You have entered as a contestant at the Olympic games, but none other besides you; you gain the crown, the victory you do not gain. You have my congratulations — not as a brave man, but as if you had obtained the consulship or praetorship; you have enhanced your prestige. In like manner, also, I may say to a good man, if no harder circumstance has given him the opportunity whereby alone he might show the strength of his mind, "I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, — not even yourself." For if a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what he can do except by trying. And so some men have presented themselves voluntarily to laggard misfortune, and have sought an opportunity to blazon forth their worth when it was about to pass into obscurity. Great men, I say, rejoice oft-times in adversity, as do brave soldiers in warfare.
The original:
Prosperae res et in plebem ac vilia ingenia deveniunt; at calamitates terroresque mortalium sub iugum mittere proprium magni viri est. Semper vero esse felicem et sine morsu animi transire vitam ignorare est rerum naturae alteram partem. Magnus vir es; sed unde scio, si tibi fortuna non dat facultatem exhibendae virtutis? Descendisti ad Olympia, sed nemo praeter te: coronam habes, victoriam non habes. Non gratulor tamquam viro forti, sed tanquam consulatum praeturamve adepto; honore auctus es. Item dicere et bono viro possum, si illi nullam occasionem difficilior casus dedit in qua una vim animi sui ostenderet: "Miserum te iudico, quod numquam fuisti miser. Transisti sine adversario vitam; nemo sciet quid potueris, ne tu quidem ipse." Opus est enim ad notitiam sui experimento; quid quisque posset nisi temptando non didicit. Itaque quidam ipsi ultro se cessantibus malis obtulerunt et virtuti iturae in obscurum occasionem per quam enitesceret quaesierunt. Gaudent, inquam, magni viri aliquando rebus adversis, non aliter quam fortes milites bello.
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