I was reminiscing on Spanish philosophers and run across Seneca. I remembered then that his father had been born in Cordoba, Spain. I am from Seville, Spain, just about an hour away (70 or so miles) from the birthplace of the famous philosopher and his rhetorician father. It is interesting to see how many famous Spanish philosophers there are. I suppose that is part of the legacy given to us by Ancient Greeks, Romans, Moors, Jews, Catholic Mystics, and everyone else who came and stayed on the land. I grew up reading the works of biblical philosophers such as Ben Moses Maimonides and Abu Jafar ibn Harun al-Turjali; jurists such as Al-Ghazali, Avicenna, and Ibn Al-Arabi. I supposed that it shouldn’t be a surprise that Miguel de Unamuno, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Antonio Machado, Luis de Gongora, Rafael Alberti, and many other Spanish poets and writers used the Andalusian mystics understanding of love and life to write; especially considering St. Teresa of Avila and her acolytes. Marcus Aurelius was another Spanish Roman, and also another Stoic. Cicero defended Spaniards in the Roman courts and, one could argue, their rights to influence Rome as a whole. Evidence of that influence is definitely found in the Stoicism of the Roman Empire.
Thus, in honor of my fellow Andalusian mystics of every creed, Empire, and small village, I dug up a quote by the quintessential Andalusian, Seneca the Elder.
Omnia mors poscit. Lex est, non poena, perire.
Death claims all things. It is Law, not punishment, to die.
La muerte lo clama todo. Es ley, no castigo, el morir.
Consider the influence such a father had in Seneca the Younger, who decided to go the way of philosophy rather than rhetoric. In eight words Seneca the Elder voids the complaints of many who, unable to find answers to why evil happens in life blame death, god, or someone or something else, for their problems. ‘Poscit’ is such a strong verb as well. Translated as ‘claims’ it has the connotation of ‘demanding’ or ‘asking urgently’ as well. It is not a passive claim that death makes, it is very much active, seeking, ensuring that it takes place. In a litigious society such as Rome, and especially in the period in which Seneca the Elder was writing (ie. Roman civil war, the death of Caesar, the transition from Republic to Empire, Octavian/Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula – ya, he was old), death pervaded all things. Death was seen, by Seneca, as the demanding party in a court case, claiming that which is owed to it and must be given. It is almost as if life is a debt from which all men debent poenas dare (ought to pay the penalty).
As such, with life in the balance and our punishment or blessing in the afterlife being only the memory left behind for those who survive us, judgment for the Romans did not happen after death, but during life. Seneca understood he sat on the court of his own existence as long as he lived, and thus tried to live the best life possible, allowing that to be his defense. Action dictated good. Men were responsible for their own victories and shortcomings. Time was only undermined by death; a death that was legitimate and binding as the judgement in a courtroom. In a Rome in which damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory – one is, in fact, condemned to be forgotten) was a real thing people could be condemned to, deeds were the only proof that could save a man from being blotted out for all time and thus truly dead. Thus, life is not the punishment of God, Nature, or whatever your believe in. Life, and death, is law; we all die. Knowing that, live a life that will allow others to remember you when you are gone. Whether you think you are going to a better world or not, live so that those left behind can think of you and be made stronger by your actions.
John Adams once wrote: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
Seneca would have said it in much the same way. Summoning his own memory and his spirit, and condemning Rome to death if they did not follow his advice. We do things in the present for the future; a future we may not see, because death claims all things. Yet, it is a future of hope, for law shall also claim deaths in times to come and, through our deeds, we may be able to help others overcome their grief and sorrow.
Memoria semper remanebit. (Memory will always remain)