Seneca's On Anger

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A series of short audio meditations on Seneca’s classic book on anger, one of the foundational texts of ancient Stoicism.

I.1: Anger is very like a falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes. That you may know that they whom anger possesses are not sane, look at their appearance.

I.8: The best plan is to reject straightway the first incentives to anger, to resist its very beginnings, and to take care not to be betrayed into it: for if once it begins to carry us away, it is hard to get back again into a healthy condition.

I.12: Defenders of the right to be angry say that we should be angered by injustice. But why is it that positive emotions, like love, concern for others, and a well developed sense of justice, aren’t enough?

I.13: Seneca responds somewhat sarcastically to the Aristotelian suggestion that a bit of anger is good because it makes soldiers more willing to fight. So does being drunk, but no general would want a drunken army.

I.14: When someone is wandering about our city because they have lost their way, it is better to place then on the right path than to drive them away.

I.15 & 16: People who do wrong should be treated like sick patients. By all means, restrain them if they are liable to hurt others. But do not be angry with them. They need help.

I.17: Seneca uses Aristotle’s own analogy between negative emotions and weapons to show that it is flawed: we control our weapons, but destructive emotions control us.

I.18: Reason wishes to give a just decision; anger wishes its decision to be thought just.

II.1: The Stoics’ opinion is that anger can venture upon nothing by itself, without the approval of mind. It follows that we are in charge, not whatever circumstances happen to trigger our initial reactions.

II.10: To avoid being angry with individuals, you must pardon the whole mass, you must grant forgiveness to the entire human race.

II.10: We need a long-breathed struggle against permanent and prolific evils; not, indeed, to quell them, but merely to prevent their overpowering us.

II.17: Often the pretense of passion will do what the passion itself could not have done. Sometimes, it may be effective to fake anger. Just don’t make the mistake of actually becoming angry.

II.26: We are so foolish that we actually get angry at inanimate objects, who neither deserve nor feel our anger. But in fact, no one deserves our anger: not animals, not children, and not even adults.

II.28: Someone will be said to have spoken ill of you; think whether you did not first speak ill of them; think of how many persons you have yourself spoken ill.

II.30: Is it a good person who has wronged you? Do not believe it. Is it a bad one? Do not be surprised at this; by their sin they have already punished themselves.

II.31: People think some things unjust because they ought not to suffer them, and some because they did not expect to suffer them: we think what is unexpected is beneath our deserts.

II.32: Revenge and retaliation are words which men use and even think to be righteous, yet they do not greatly differ from wrong-doing.

II.34: If anyone is angry with you, meet their anger by returning benefits for it: a quarrel which is only taken up on one side falls to the ground: it takes two people to fight.

II.36: Men, frantic with rage, call upon heaven to slay their children, to reduce themselves to poverty, and to ruin their houses, and yet declare that they are not either angry or insane.

III.1: Other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity. Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.

III.5: Anger pays a penalty at the same moment that it exacts one: it forswears human feelings. The latter urge us to love, anger urges us to hatred: the latter bid us do good, anger bids us do harm.

III.8: We should live with the quietest and easiest-tempered persons, not with anxious or with sullen ones: for our own habits are copied from those with whom we associate.

III.9: Do something that relaxes you, change your environment to make it soothing, and most importantly don’t engage in anything major if you are tired, stressed, or hungry.

III.11: It is said that Socrates when he was given a box on the ear, merely said that it was a pity a man could not tell when he ought to wear his helmet out walking.

III.12: While you are angry, you ought not to be allowed to do anything. Why?, do you ask? Because when you are angry there is nothing that you do not wish to be allowed to do.

III.13: Let us replace all of anger’s symptoms by their opposites; let us make our countenance more composed than usual, our voice milder, our step slower. Our inward thoughts gradually become influenced by our outward demeanor.

III.24: Seneca runs us through a long list of reasons why people do us wrong. And then concludes that we should be magnanimous, not vengeful, toward them, in part because they are human beings like us, and like us they make mistakes.

III.25: Say to fortune: Do what you will, you are too feeble to disturb my serenity: this is forbidden by reason, to whom I have entrusted the guidance of my life: to become angry would do me more harm than your violence can do me.

III.26: Let us be more gentle one to another: we are bad people, living among bad people. There is only one thing which can afford us peace, and that is to agree to forgive one another.

III.27: Revenge takes up much time, and throws itself in the way of many injuries while it is smarting under one. We all retain our anger longer than we feel our hurt.

III.27: It makes no sense to get angry with children or non-human animals, because they can’t reason. So why get angry with an adult who has temporarily lost the use of reason?

III.30: A person will never be well off to whom it is a torture to see any one better off than themselves. Have I less than I hoped for? Well, perhaps I hoped for more than I ought.

III.31: Do you ask, what is your greatest fault? It is, that you keep your accounts wrongly: you set a high value upon what you give, and a low one upon what you receive.

III.33: Money is what wearies out the law-courts, sows strife between father and son, concocts poisons, and gives swords to murderers just as to soldiers: it is stained with our blood.

III.36: Seneca gives us a rationale and detailed instructions on how too keep a philosophical journal. And modern cognitive science confirms that it works in order to improve self-analysis and let go of negative emotions.

III.37: Is anyone surprised at being cold in winter? At being sick at sea? Or at being jostled in the street? The mind is strong enough to bear those evils for which it is prepared.

III.42: Why should we, as though we were born to live forever, waste our tiny span of life in declaring anger against any one? Life is a matter which does not admit of waste, and we have no spare time to throw away.