What’s it all about?
The focus of the collection is the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of happiness (eudaimonia) which was the most widespread philosophical tradition in the Western world from when it was first extensively introduced in the philosophical dialogues of Plato in Athens in the fourth century BC all the way up to the writings of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the late second century CE. In other words, a period of more than five hundred years. Since the core concepts and questions in this tradition was defined by the Socrates we meet in Plato’s dialogues – and since all the following thinkers in the tradition saw themselves as followers of Socrates – it seems to be both fair and informative to call it the Socratic tradition.
So why do I focus almost exclusively on Stoicism rather than, say, Aristotle or Epicurus – or simply on Socrates? Because I think Stoicism is the most advanced and well-argued version of the Socratic philosophy of happiness.
I had many occasions,due my culture and work, to think about the Roman Philosophy. Sometimes I think the meaning of “happiness” is misunderstood. Because “happiness” was something more related to the “common wealth” of a group of people…the family (the Domus), the friends, the commilitons , the Urbe (the town). Happiness was something to share, not like today, something related only to the “expression of their own Ego”. As Plato as well underlines many times: the Ego can be destructive and it should be balanced by other forces.
This is the fundamental of the Roman Right and the Roman Law as well(directly based on the Greek Philosophy but more”practical” I would say).
So, instead “Happyness” I would sometimes replace and use the words ” Philosophy of the Good Sense” or (if you understand better)”Philosophy of the Right Common Sense”.
A Happy person is someone that has”everything is needed” but in a right balance. A simple,humble,honest but proud life. This was shown as samples to the any roman soldier as well,that at the end of the service,was able to retire with his own “piece of (conquered) Roman land” where to build the Villa (a house with a minimum of an hectare of land around, still in Tuscany a house with less it is not considered a Villa,but a house,a Palace,a Domus, a different building)… Better to not analyse too much the reasons of the Roman decadence, because they are the direct consequence of this though: when the Ego go over the “Common sense”. Probably Decadence it is that. Hope I was able to give you some hints to think about.
“Not only we humans, who are born a thing short-lived and mortal, but cities also, districts and coasts of the earth, and the very sea are the slaves of fate. Despite this we make ourselves assurances that Fortune’s blessings will last for ever, and we believe that felicity, whose constancy is the most fickle of all human affairs and swiftest to fly, will have weight and permanence in the case of some person. And as men assure themselves that all things will last for ever, it does not occur to them that the very ground on which we stand is not secure” – Seneca, Natural questions 6.1.14-15
“Let us place before our eyes in its entirety the nature of man’s lot, and if we would not be overwhelmed, or even dazed, by those unwonted evils, as if they were novel, let us summon to our minds beforehand, not as great an evil as oftentimes happens, but the very greatest evil that possibly can happen. We must reflect upon fortune fully and completely” – Seneca, Letters 91.8
“Our ancestors made the complaint, we make the complaint, and our descendants will complain plain about it too: morals are corrupt, vice is dominant, human affairs are declining, and all sense of right and wrong is crumbling. But the situation is still the same and it will remain pretty much the same, give or take a little movement one way or the other, like the waves which the incoming tide brings further inland and the outgoing tide holds back to the low-water line. At one point our moral failings will lean more in the direction of adultery than any other vice, and the restraints of sexual modesty will be shattered; at another point the dominant vice will be the mad excesses of feasting and gastronomic extravagance, which reduce inheritances to a shameful state of ruin; at some other time it will be excessive cultivation of the body and an obsession with beauty that advertises intellectual and moral ugliness; again, it will be badly managed freedom which breaks out into presumptuous impudence; then we will descend into public and private savagery and the madness of civil wars, in which everything sacred and holy is violated. Some day drunkenness will bring respect, and the capacity to drink a huge volume of strong wine will be a virtue. Vices do not wait around in just one location; they are on the move and jostle competitively with each other – sometimes winning, sometimes losing. But we will always be obliged to make the same declaration about ourselves: that we are bad now, have been bad in the past, and (though I add this point reluctantly) will be bad in the future. There will always be killers, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, rapists, violators of religion, and traitors” – Seneca, On Benefits, I.10.1-4.