Sunday, 4 January 2015

Seneca as therapist for a grieving mother.

When people have problems in life, they can turn to friends or if that isn’t enough, to therapists.  There are nowadays loads and loads of psychologists, counsellors and coaches and they are very capable in detecting disorders you yourself are unaware of. These of course can be treated by taking a therapy. Therapists need an income too, like normal human beings.
These remarks are not autobiographical, but based on the observation that – with some exaggeration – half of the population of my dear country is in therapy with the other half or is being coached: `yes, you can!’
In antiquity there were no therapists in the modern sense, however this role can be assigned to philosophers. Indeed the excellent introduction into Hellenistic philosophy by Martha Nussbaum is called `The Therapy of Desire’. She rightly approaches the various schools of Hellenistic philosophy as different ways of coping with life.
Seneca, that self-declared therapist, has written three consolations: one to his mother Helvia, one to Polybius, secretary of Emperor Claudius, and one to Marcia. Though these consolations were directed to an individual, they also address a wider audience. Or may be better: the grief of these individuals was taken as a framework for writing about coping with loss. To be honest, these consolationes are full of platitudes and advice we would frown upon. On the other hand, they are also revealing about attitudes about mourning in Roman (upper-class) society.
The following text comes from Ad Marciam de Consolatione, written in AD 40. Marcia came from a wealthy family and had both lost her father and her son, for the latter she was already grieving for three years. Seneca consoles her inter alia by saying that many other mothers have lost their sons too and time will heal all wounds.
To be fair, it is not complete nonsense what Seneca is saying: there are people who are enjoying the misery they are living in as a way for giving meaning to their existence and Seneca advices: `nec illum opperiri diem quo te inuita dolor desinat! ipsa illi renuntia’ `Don’t wait for that day mourning will leave you against your will, but renounce/ take leave of it yourself.’ Indeed for many people may be a sound advice, but what about Marcia?
Seneca is definitely not the person I would someone advise to go when mourning, let alone myself…

Senaca, Ad Marciam de Consolatione , VIII.

Deinde quod naturale est non decrescit mora: dolorem dies longa consumit. Licet contumacissimum, cotidie insurgentem et contra remedia efferuescentem, tamen illum efficacissimum mitigandae ferociae tempus eneruat. 2. Manet quidem tibi, Marcia, etiamnunc ingens tristitia et iam uidetur duxisse callum, non illa concitata qualis initio fuit, sed pertinax et obstinata; tamen hanc quoque tibi aetas minutatim eximet: quotiens aliud egeris, animus relaxabitur. 3. Nunc te ipsa custodis; multum autem interest utrum tibi permittas maerere an imperes. Quanto magis hoc morum tuorum elegantiae conuenit, finem luctus potius facere quam expectare, nec illum opperiri diem quo te inuita dolor desinat! ipsa illi renuntia.

quod naturale: grief is not something which belongs to the essence of Nature, hence it is not something permanent.
mora:  delay, (space of) time (mora: abl.!)
longa dies: a long period of time
contumax, -acis:  insolent, unyielding
effervesco efferbui: to boil against, vehemently resist against
illum (dolorem)
efficacissimum: apposition to tempus (time, something very effective  (+ dat.) for mitigating  the fierceness (of sorrow)
enervo: to weaken
duxisse callum: (litt.) to have led to insensibility, i.e. to have become something used to.
concito: to rouse, urge. concitatus `acute’
pertinax, -acis: persevering
minutatim: little by little
eximo exemi exemptum: to take away
quotiens aliud egeris: as often as you do something else
custodio: to protect, guard,
multum interest: there is a great difference
maereo: to mourn
impero: to command, order
Quanto…expectare: How much more it would convene to the elegance of your customs (i.e. social status) rather to put an end to your mourning, than to wait for it.’ Yes, I am now giving away the translation, but I want to be sure that every reader gets the point: keeping up appearances…


No comments:

Post a Comment