07 Apr Tragic actors on the stage (NUCCIO ORDINE)
Above all, wealth and power generate false impressions. This is pointed out eloquently by Seneca in his Letters to Lucilius, in which he employs the “all the world’s a stage” metaphor. The rich and powerful are as happy as actors playing the role of king on stage may be. When the show is over and the regal attire is taken off, they go back to being who they really are in everyday life:
None of these men you see in purple robes is happy, any more than you could deem happy those whose roles as tragic actors assign them scepter and chlamys on the stage: first they strut before the public with pompous conceit, their height enhanced by their buskins, then, as soon as they are off stage, they take off the footwear and return to their [true] stature. None of those whom wealth and honors have placed on a higher level is a great man.
This mistake, in Seneca’s view, is mainly determined by the fact that we do not value people for what they are but for the clothes they wear and for the adornments they flaunt:
So when you wish to make an authentic assessment of a man and to know his nature, observe him naked: set aside his assets, set aside his honors and the other deceitful frills of Fortune, strip him even of his body. Consider his personality carefully, what and how much consistency it may have, and if he be great for his own virtues or those of others.
The Usefulness of the Useless