Translation II: Obituary and Origin or “On the Shortness of Life”

This is a “Translation” post used to illustrate and complement Epic entries. For a full list of the Epic, click here. To start at the beginning, click here.

We return again to the wisdom of the Stoics and a complement to the previous translation; The Tutor or Choose Yourself a Cato. Rather than choosing a model on which you can align your actions with and guide yourself, today’s translation revolves around the Shortness of Life. We began before by highlighting the relationship that exists between a good life and good actions. You are responsible for your actions and your “imaginary tutor” or Cato is the mentor whom you can judge these actions by. 

In the chaos of the modern world, choosing good actions is difficult enough. What plagues the human condition is the unconscious belief that “later” is where action can be made. People believe that they have a limitless supply of time and live without urgency. With this carelessness, it is easy to throw away the present moment and think that actions can be delayed or life can be lived later. Why then do most people arrive at death with regrets?

“You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply…”

Recognizing the Shortness of Life emphasizes the significance of the present moment for, in truth, it is the only moment we have. 

We return again to the writings of Seneca who reminds us:

“…we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it”

Seneca writes to a friend to illustrate that learning how to live and developing wisdom is not a task to be delayed. He implores his friend and us to recognize that time is passing whether we use it or not. Today the meaning of this message comes in a different form. We think that the numerous opportunities provided to us by the modern world are an advancement. History and philosophy show us that they are the same as the ancient world. 

We strive for empty goals, we value the wrong things, and we endlessly worry about perspectives and opinions other than our own. The modern world makes these distractions ever present – clouding our minds and allowing us to squander our time. Without reason and intention, we live idle and distracted lives.

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason?”

Philosophy reminds us that time is passing and we waste a lot of it. Let this remind us that we should not delay our actions. That we should live now and not put off our lives for the invisible later. We should not live shadow lives.

Resolve to take good actions today and waste no more time. 

Glenwood Cemetery

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Translation I: The Tutor or “Choose Yourself A Cato”

This is a “Translation” post used to illustrate and complement Epic entries. For a full list of the Epic, click here. To start at the beginning, click here.

The Tutor

Ancient philosophers have long espoused the virtues of living a good life. The highest aim. Stoicism, a school of philosophy from the 3rd century BCE, has long been idealized as a practical philosophy and way of being. As a path to living the good life, Stoics were no nonsense in their approach, focusing on the importance of actions and wasting no more time on the actions of others. This path to the good life was and is not easy, stoicism illuminates a responsibility you have for your own actions.

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them…”

But how can we follow this advice? How do I choose my actions? How do I know if my actions are good, if my actions are right?

Seneca, a follower of Stoic philosophy, presents us with numerous lessons and tenets of stoic philosophy through his collection of letters titled Letters from a Stoic. In these letters, Seneca presents us with a strategy to guide our actions and decisions. In his words, one should “Choose Yourself A Cato”. 

“Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”

Immediately, choosing a mentor and having a standard to measure yourself against can be the impetus to choosing good actions when confronted with the chaos of the modern world. Aiming for the good and aligning your actions with the judgment of your “imaginary tutor” can give you a bearing to strive towards and a metric to measure yourself and your actions against.

The question is then who will you choose? What sages or figures can you surround yourself with? How can you best “Choose Yourself A Cato”? Who can you choose to help you on this path you have set out on?

The path we are all on. Choose yourself a tutor, a mentor to guide you.
Olympic National Park, USA

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