Seneca the Younger, Epistles

LCL 76: 376-377

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The Epistles Of Seneca

ait ex his, quae videntur, nihil esse uno excepto1 universo. Zenon Eleates omnia negotia de negotio deiecit: ait nihil esse. Circa eadem fere Pyrrhonei versantur et Megarici et Eretrici2 et Academici, qui 45novam induxerunt scientiam, nihil scire. Haec omnia in illum supervacuum studiorum liberalium gregem coice; illi mihi non profuturam scientiam tradunt, hi spem omnis scientiae eripiunt. Satius est supervacua scire quam nihil. Illi non praeferunt lumen, per quod acies derigatur ad verum; hi oculos mihi effodiunt. Si Protagorae credo, nihil in rerum natura est nisi dubium; si Nausiphani, hoc unum certum est, nihil esse certi; si Parmenidi, nihil est praeter unum; si Zenoni, ne unum quidem.

46Quid ergo nos sumus? Quid ista, quae nos circumstant, alunt, sustinent? Tota rerum natura umbra est aut inanis aut fallax. Non facile dixerim, utris magis irascar, illis, qui nos nihil scire voluerunt, an illis, qui ne hoc quidem nobis reliquerunt, nihil scire. Vale.

LXXXIX. Seneca Lvcilio svo salvtem

1Rem utilem desideras et ad sapientiam3 properanti


Epistle LXXXIX.

exists of all this which seems to exist, except the universe alone.a Zeno of Elea removed all the difficulties by removing one; for he declares that nothing exists. The Pyrrhonean, Megarian, Eretrian, and Academic schools are all engaged in practically the same task; they have introduced a new knowledge, non-knowledge. You may sweep all these theories in with the superfluous troops of “liberal” studies; the one class of men give me a knowledge that will be of no use to me, the other class do away with any hope of attaining knowledge. It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing. One set of philosophers offers no light by which I may direct my gaze toward the truth; the other digs out my very eyes and leaves me blind. If I cleave to Protagoras, there is nothing in the scheme of nature that is not doubtful; if I hold with Nausiphanes, I am sure only of this—that everything is unsure; if with Parmenides, there is nothing except the Oneb; if with Zeno, there is not even the One.

What are we, then? What becomes of all these things that surround us, support us, sustain us? The whole universe is then a vain or deceptive shadow. I cannot readily say whether I am more vexed at those who would have it that we know nothing, or with those who would not leave us even this privilege. Farewell.

LXXXIX. On the Parts of Philosophyc

It is a useful fact that you wish to know, one which is essential to him who hastens after wisdom—namely,

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-epistles.1917