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Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Love and Relationships

*This is an assignment where I had to write a letter in the persona of Seneca, a Roman stoic. Chris, also know as Alexander Supertramp, is the character/person from Into The Wild the moive. This does not reflect my views.*

I have seen many examples in my life of people divided against themselves because of infatuation, Chris. The love and sexual appetite you describe has bereft many of the most virtuous people of their better judgment. You are in a predicament where you must choose between the person you love and your noble mission. Remember Venus-child Aeneas, forefather of great Augustus, had great vacillation of the mind when choosing between beautiful Dido and his mission to Italy. To understand why you must learn to depart yourself from this young girl, I must first explain the individual’s evolution of love.
Love is our longing for that which is immortal. When we are young, this manifests itself as infatuation for beauty in what is corporeal. As we realize the impermanence of youth, we progress like a climber on a latter to a greater love. Eventually, our soul finds what it has forgotten. That which is immortal in us realizes its origins as part of and emanating from Providence. As our love to the divine grows, so too does our love to our fellow man. Our love expands from “our relatives and friends, to our fellow citizens and eventually to all mankind”. What is divine in us is also within everyone; thus, service is of utmost virtue.
Sexual appetite, unlike that for food and drink, is a passion that only brings harm to oneself, “just as a foul itch finds satisfaction in anything that scratch”. As greed draws us to the trappings of money, sexual appetite draws us to the trappings of the flesh. One must learn to derive pleasure from that which is good for the soul and avoid that which harms us. Be not like other youths who in their heat of their passions abandon all virtue. Imagine if Aeneas had succumbed to his lust and stayed in Carthage—what would be of Rome? Remember Socrates rebuff of Alcibiades, how Socrates made no sexual attempt on this man who loved him. You face that now with this young woman.
I suggest to you, Chris, as I did to Serenus who also had much vacillation of mind, to partake in intellectual pursuits, make friendships, and go on excursions of drink and nonsense. These shall help cure your mind. Most importantly, though, you must have “faith in yourself and believe that you are travelling the right road”. If you let this woman distract you, she may lead you astray. Those who lack stability of mind constantly change their plans like insomniacs who toss and turn in their beds. You will live a life of regret if you let the passions of the body rule, for in the end you will have found that when you good have aided your fellow man, you had pursued self-interest as their expense. The person who follows their passion shall stop changing their mode not because of dislike of change but because of old age.
If you know of my correspondence with Serenus, then you know I suggested madness or nonsense as a remedied for vacillations of the mind. Madness on its face may look a lot like the lust; however, while madness allows the excited man to have a great and transcendent utterance, lust appeals the baser parts of our nature. As Aristotle says, “Genius is an admixture of madness.” While madness too will take you from the trodden path, it shall unlike lust set up aloft and cause divinely inspired poetry to cross your lips.
On your mission to Alaska, I beg you not to give up on society, for to do so is to renounce humanity. You should not live wrapped up in yourself because it will cause you to squander the time Providence has given you as a precious gift. I will suggest a public position but will not necessitate it for you. Even Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chysippus, all of whom urged people like you to take up a public career, did not themselves follow one. The reason being is that I suspect from what you have told me thus far that Providence has ordained your journey to this far off land. Unlike how you perceive, I believe that is part of the divine plan that you improve the lot of man on your journey. Pay special attention to those around you. Ponder on why Providence put these particular people along your path. Remember that destiny decides who you meet in life, but you decide who stays in it.
That being said, I shall continue to your question about the possibility of becoming friends with the young female. Aristotle explains quite clearly that a true friend is your equal. There are friends who exist for pleasure and those for utility, but true friends are both useful and essential to the good life. Unlike this woman, a true friend should be a man, around your age, and of good moral standing. Now you cannot become friends with someone in solitude because friendship necessitates interaction. While you neither become nor remain friend with someone who lives far away, solitude would separate you from the necessary social activities for friendship. If you remain too long in solitude you shall feel in your very soul your losses incurred through your flight from humanity. You shall reverse the good created through such ties, pursuing your lofty yet foolish dream. Providence has created us for each other and provided us with laws so that we may live well together. If destiny has it that you shall die in that wilderness, you will ultimately regret your decision to rebuff the people divinely placed in your life.
I do not know what you will find in Alaska. You may find new friends, who need you and whom you need. Socrates too had a divine sign which caused him to not take public office. It guided him to teach people their ignorance; however, it was society which spurn him, not vice versa. We stoics also applaud your travels because we value people who have sought relations with the whole earth. Your travels you have described before meeting this woman reflect the various relations you have successfully established. Many people have come to love you. Even if you refuse to return to your house, the broad world will remain open to you.
There is also the love that parents show to their children. You have described a very negative view of you childhood and of your parents. You feel as if your parents are more harm than a good. You have spurned them as a memory one want not to remember. I believe your ignorance of Providence has misguided. Your lack of faith in that which is in all of us, even your parents, has blinded you from recognizing Providence in your life. Just like a poor sailor may not know that the “lunar orb causes the tides to swell”, you do not know of Providence guidance. If you are a good man, as I suspect, no harm can come to you. Remember that “opposites cannot combine”, so no evil shall befall a good man. The treatment from your parents has hardened you. The strength has prepared you for this journey.
To question why you did not receive the childhood you wanted is like a soldier asking why the city had not elected him general immediately. We cannot all have a childhood of abundance. Some people will have parents like yours, or would you rather people like your parents cease to exist. Would you rather that Providence move others away from you strictly on your whims? Would you rather a life without difficulty? You are questioning providence, which is a pot complaining to the potter.
I hand you, Chris, these prescriptions to evolve your love, fend off the vacillations of the mind, and develop healthy relations with your fellow man. You have only yourself to blame if you bring unnecessary pain and suffering to your life and others by shunning society or by embracing that young girl in sexual union. Socrates himself could have easily refused to not follow his sign. He could have avoided the public which would grow to hate him, but then he would not have performed the duty of protecting those in public office from bringing Athens into decadence. TO reiterate, remember Providence’s wisdom greatly outpaces yours and mine. The world is vast, and your travels have brought you to many places within your large country. The faces you have met are not coincidence but given to you by Fortune. Know your place and learn to make the most of what Providence has given you. If your sign ever leads you in a different direction than that which you expect, follow it without question. As I told Serenus, “But note well: none of them is potent enough to protect so frail a boon unless devoted and unremitting care encompasses it to prevent backsliding.”
Work Cited:
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. M. Ostwald. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1962.
Coogan, Michael D., et al., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 4th rev. ed. New York: Oxford, 2010.
Plato. Apology. The Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed. Trans. G. M. A. Grube and Ed. John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000.
Plato. Symposium. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Michael Joyce and Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961.
Senena. The Stoic of Seneca. trans. by Moses Hadas. New York: W. W. Norton and Company,1958.
Virgil. Aeneid. trans. by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis:Hackett Pubishing Company, 2005

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