Hipparchus' Treatise On Tranquillity

September 9, 2015

Men live but for a very short period. If their life is compared with the whole of time, they will make a most beautiful journey as it were, if they pass through life with tranquillity.

This however they will possess in the most eminent degree, if they accurately and scientifically know themselves, viz. if they know that they are mortal and of a fleshly nature, and that they have a body which is corruptible and can be easily injured, and which is exposed to every thing most grievous and severe, even to their latest breath.

First, let us direct our attention to those things which happen to the body; and these are pleurisy, inflammation of the lungs, phrensy, gout, stranguary, dysentery, lethargy, epilepsy, putrid ulcers, and ten thousand other diseases.

But the diseases 208 which happen to the soul are much greater and more dire than these. For all the iniquitous, evil, illegal, and impious conduct in the life of man, originates from the passions of the soul. For through preternatural immoderate desires many have become subject to unrestrained impulses, and have not refrained from the most unholy pleasures, arising from being connected with daughters or even mothers. Many also have been induced to destroy their fathers, and their own offspring.

But what occasion is there to be prolix in narrating externally impending evils, such as excessive rain, drought, violent heat and cold; so that frequently from the anomalous state of the air, pestilence and famine are produced, and all-various calamities, and whole cities become desolate? Since therefore many such-like calamities are impendent, we should neither be elevated by the possession of corporeal goods, which may rapidly be consumed by the incursions of a small fever, nor with what are conceived to be prosperous external circumstances, which frequently in their own nature perish more rapidly than they accede. For all these are uncertain and unstable, and are found to have their existence in many and various mutations; and no one of them is permanent, or immutable, or stable, or indivisible.

Hence, well considering these things, and also being persuaded, that if what is present and is imparted to us, is able to remain for the 209 smallest portion of time, it is as much as we ought to expect; we shall then live in tranquillity and with hilarity, generously bearing whatever may befal us.

Now, however, many previously conceiving in imagination, that all that is present with, and imparted to them by nature and fortune, is better than it is, and not thinking it to be such as it is in reality, but such as it is able to become when it has arrived at the summit of excellence, they burden the soul with many great, nefarious, and stupid evils, when they are suddenly deprived of [these evanescent goods]. And thus it happens to them that they lead a most bitter and miserable life.

But this takes place in the loss of riches, or the death of friends or children, or in the privation of certain other things, which are conceived by them to be most honorable possessions. Afterwards, weeping and lamenting, they assert of themselves, that they alone are most unfortunate and miserable, not remembering that these things have happened, and even now happen, to many others; nor are they able to understand the life of those that are now in existence, and of those that have lived in former times, nor to see in what great calamities and waves of evils, many of the present time are, and of the past have been involved.

Considering with ourselves therefore, that many having lost their property, have afterwards on account of this very loss been saved, since hereafter they might either have fallen into the hands of robbers, or into the power of a tyrant; that many also who have loved certain persons, and have been benevolently disposed towards them in the extreme, have afterwards greatly hated them;—considering all these things, which have been delivered to us by history, and likewise learning that many have been destroyed by their children, and by those that they have most dearly loved; and comparing our own life with that of those who have been more unhappy than we have been, and taking into account human casualties [in general] and not only such as happen to ourselves, we shall pass through life with greater tranquillity.

It is not lawful that he who is himself a man, should think the calamities of others easy to be borne, and not his own, since he sees that the whole of life is naturally exposed to many calamities.

Those who weep and lament besides not being able to recover what they have lost, or recal to life those that are dead, impel the soul to greater perturbations, in consequence of its being filled with much depravity. It is requisite therefore, that, being washed and purified, we should by all possible contrivances wipe away our inveterate stains by the reasonings of philosophy.

But we shall accomplish this by adhering to prudence and temperance, being satisfied with our present circumstances, and not aspiring after many things.

Men who procure for themselves a great abundance [of external goods], do not consider that the enjoyment of them terminates with the present life. We should therefore use the goods that are present by the assistance of the beautiful and venerable things of which philosophy is the source, we shall be liberated from the insatiable desire of depraved possessions.


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