08 Jan Consolation to Apollonius
In general everyone ought to hold the conviction, if he seriously reviews the facts both by himself and in the company of another, that not the longest life is the best, but the most efficient.
For it is not the man who has played the lyre the most, or made the most speeches, or piloted the most ships, who is commended, but he who has done these things excellently. Excellence is not to be ascribed to length of time, but to worth and timely fitness.
For these have come to be regarded as tokens of good fortune and of divine favour. It is for this reason, at any rate, that the poets have traditionally represented those of the heroes who were pre-eminent and sprung from the gods as quitting this life before old age, like him
Who to the heart of great Zeus and Apollo was held
to be dearest,
Loved with exceeding great love; but of eld he reached not
the threshold (Homer)
For we everywhere observe that it is a happy use of opportunity, rather than a happy old age, that wins the highest place.
For of trees and plants the best are those that in a brief time produce the most crops of fruit, and the best of animals are those from which in no long time we have the greatest service toward our livelihood. The terms “long” and “short” obviously appear to lose their difference if we fix our gaze on eternity.
For a thousand or ten thousand years, according to Simonides, are but a vague second of time, or rather the smallest fraction of a second. Take the case of those creatures which they relate exist on the shores of the Black Sea, and have an existence of only one day, being born in the morning, reaching the prime of life at mid-day, and toward evening growing old and ending their existence; would there not be in those creatures this same feeling which prevails in us, if each of them had within him a human soul and power to reason, and would not the same relative conditions obviously obtain there, so that those who departed this life before mid-day would cause lamentation and tears, while those who lived through the day would be accounted altogether happy?
The measure of life is its excellence, not its length in years.
We must regard as vain and foolish such exclamations as these: “But he ought not to have been snatched away while young!”
For who may say what ought to be? Many other things, of which one may say “they ought not to have been done,” have been done, and are done, and will be done over and over again.
For we have come into this world, not to make laws for its governance, but to obey the commandments of the gods who preside over the universe, and the decrees of Fate or Providence.