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You will be; but [you will be) something else, of which, at present, the world hath no need : for even you were not produced when you pleased, but when the world had need [of you]. Hence a wise and good man, mindful who he is, and whence he came, and by whom he was produced, is attentive only how he may fill his post regularly and dutifully to God. . . .
After you have received all, and even your very self, from another, are you angry with the giver, and complain if he takes anything away from you? Who are you, and for what purpose did you come ? Was it not he who brought you here? Was it not he who showed you the light? Hath not he given you assistants ? Hath not he given you senses ? Hath not he given you reason? And as whom did he bring you here? Was it not as a mortal? Was it not as one to live, with a little portion of flesh, upon earth, and to see his administration; to behold the spectacle with him, and partake of the festival for a short time? After having beheld the spectacle, and the solemnity, then, as long as it is permitted you, will you not depart when he leads you out, adoring and thankful for what
have heard and seen ? 2
1 From the Discourses, trans. by Elizabeth Carter, Bk. iii. chap. xxiv.
2 Ibid. Bk. iv. chap. i.
INCE it is possible that thou mayest depart from
life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of providence ? But in truth they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils. And as to the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man's power not to fall into it. Now that which does not make a man worse, how can it make a man's life worse? But neither through ignorance, nor having the knowledge, but not the power to guard against or correct these things, is it possible that the nature of the universe has overlooked them ; nor is it possible that it has made so great a mistake, either through want of power or want of skill, that good and evil should happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death certainly, and life, honour, and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil.1
1 From the Thoughts (trans. by George Long), ii. xi.
Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgment. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a stranger's sojourn, and afterfame is oblivion. What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing, and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the dæmon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man's doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded.
H threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise !
One thing at least is certain-This Life flies; One thing is certain and the rest is Lies; The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
1 From the Thoughts (trans. by George Long), ii. xvii.
Strange, is it not ? that of the myriads who
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
We are no other than a moving row
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays, And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Moving Finger writes ; and, having writ,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Lift not your hands to It for help—for It As impotently moves as you or I.1 1 From the Rubaiyat (Englished by Edward FitzGerald).
DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321)
[Beatrice has urged the Poet to “Look downward and contemplate what a world Already stretch'd under our feet there lies.”]
return’d Through all the seven spheres; and saw this
I in one God believe; One sole eternal Godhead, of whose love All heaven is moved, himself unmoved the while. Nor demonstration physical alone, Or more intelligential and abstruse, Persuades me to this faith : but from that truth It cometh to me rather, which is shed Through Moses, the rapt Prophets, and the Psalms, The Gospel, and what ye yourselves did write When ye were gifted of the Holy Ghost. In three eternal Persons I believe; Essence threefold and one; mysterious league Of union absolute, which many a time The word of gospel lore upon my mind
1 From Paradise, Canto xxii. (trans. by Cary).