How To Keep Your Cool (De Ira) by Seneca. Book blog part 8


This quote is a bit long, but well worth the read. 

“Caligula once held in custody the son of a distinguished Roman knight, Pastor, and grew annoyed at the young man’s elegance and very well-groomed hair. When the boy’s father asked that, for his sake, the boy be kept safe, Caligula, acting as though that request had been a suggestion of capital punishment, ordered the boy brought up for summary execution. Then…he invited Pastor to dinner that day. Pastor arrived, his face showed no displeasure. The emperor had a cask of wine sent to him and set a guard over him. Pastor, though wretched, summoned the strength to drink it; it felt like drinking his son’s blood. Caligula sent him a festive ointment and garlands to wear, and ordered the guard to watch whether he would use them; he did. On the very day when he had laid out his son for burial (or rather, could not lay him out), Pastor reclined and revelled in a crowd of a hundred, a gout-stricken old man downing drinks that would scarcely be suitable for his children’s birthdays. All the while he shed no tear and allowed no sign of grief to burst forth; he banqueted as though celebrating the success of his plea for his son. Why did he do it, you ask? He had another son…”   (p. 87-91)


Could you celebrate the death of one child in order to save the life of your other child? This gives new meaning to the phrase, “pull yourself together.” Sometimes there are duties more important than grief and mourning. No one should ever be put in a situation like the one described, and in reality, most of us won’t. But to show that level of fortification against anger in your soul the way Pastor did is a feat greater than any strongman competition. He knew that if he showed any grief or anger that his other son would be dead too. 

While most of us won’t ever face anything like this scenario, we may be required to hold ourselves together and delay grief or anguish for the sake of our loved ones. I remember when I was a teenager, my parents forced me to go to a funeral of a distant family member. I didn’t think I had to go because I barely knew the person who died. But my stepdad said, “Solomon, you don’t always go to a funeral for the person who died. Sometimes you go for the living people that are going to be there.” This imparted a sense of responsibility and duty rather than grief or despair. You make an effort for the living, not the dead. Lashing out in anger can make you lose more than the original offence.

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