Today’s reminder is from Seneca’s essay, “On Providence”, included in the volume Dialogues and Essays. Seneca was a practicing Stoic in the Roman court, a one-time tutor to Emperor Nero (not a very good student, Nero), one whose counsel and advice were sought by his contemporaries. His insights are no less fruitful today.
We see wrestlers, who concern themselves with physical strength, matching themselves with only their strongest opponents, and requiring those who prepare for a bout to use all their strength against them; they expose themselves to blows and hurt, and if they do not find one man to match them, they take on several at a time. Excellence withers without an adversary; the time for us to see how great it is, how much its force, is when it display its power through endurance. […]
Fortune lays into us with the whip and tears our flesh; let us endure it. It is not cruelty but a contest, and the more often we engage in it, the stronger our hearts will be: the sturdiest part of the body is the one that is kept in constant use. We must offer ourselves to Fortune so that in struggling with her we may be hardened by her; little by little she will make us a match for her; and constant exposure to risk will make us despise dangers. So the bodies of mariners are tough from the buffeting of the sea, the hands of farmers calloused, the muscles of soldiers strong to enable them to hurl the javelin, the legs of athletes agile: in each case the part of the body exercised is the strongest. It is be enduring ills that the mind can acquire contempt for enduring them.“On Providence”, Dialogues and Essays. Seneca