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On Restraining Anger
by [?]


Sec. I. Sylla. Those painters, Fundanus, seem to me to do well who, before giving the finishing touches to their paintings, lay them by for a time and then revise them; because by taking their eyes off them for a time they gain by frequent inspection a new insight, and are more apt to detect minute differences, that continuous familiarity would have hidden. Now since a human being cannot so separate himself from himself for a time, and make a break in his continuity, and then approach himself again–and that is perhaps the chief reason why a man is a worse judge of himself than of others–the next best thing will be for a man to inspect his friends after an interval, and likewise offer himself to their scrutiny, not to see whether he has aged quickly, or whether his bodily condition is better or worse, but to examine his moral character, and see whether time has added any good quality, or removed any bad one. On my return then to Rome after an absence of two years, and having been with you now five months, I am not at all surprised that there has been a great increase and growth in those good points which you formerly had owing to your admirable nature; but when I see how gentle and obedient to reason your former excessive impetuosity and hot temper has become, it cannot but occur to me to quote the line,

“Ye gods, how much more mild is he become!”[676]

And this mildness has not wrought in you sloth or weakness, but like cultivation of the soil it has produced a smoothness and depth fit for action, instead of the former impetuosity and vehemence. And so it is clear that your propensity to anger has not been effaced by any declining vigour or through some chance, but has been cured by good precepts. And indeed, for I will tell you the truth, when our friend Eros[677] reported this change in you to me, I suspected that owing to goodwill he bare witness not of the actual state of the case, but of what was becoming to all good and virtuous men, although, as you know, he can never be persuaded to depart from his real opinion to ingratiate himself with anyone. But now he is acquitted of false witness, and do you, as your journey gives you leisure, narrate to me the mode of cure you employed to make your temper so under control, so natural, gentle and obedient to reason.

Fundanus. Most friendly Sylla, take care that you do not in your goodwill and affection to me rest under any misconception of my real condition. For it is possible that Eros, not being able always himself to keep his temper in its place in the obedience that Homer speaks of,[678] but sometimes carried away by his hatred of what is bad, may think me grown milder than I really am, as in changes of the scale in music the lowest notes become the highest.

Sylla. Neither of these is the case, Fundanus, but oblige me by doing as I ask.

Sec. II. Fundanus. One of the excellent precepts then of Musonius that I remember, Sylla, is this, that those who wish to be well should diet themselves all their life long. For I do not think we must employ reason as a cure, as we do hellebore, by purging it out with the disease, but we must retain it in the soul, to restrain and govern the judgement. For the power of reason is not like physic, but wholesome food, which co-operates with good health in producing a good habit of body in those by whom it is taken. But admonition and reproof, when passion is at its height and swelling, does little or no good, but resembles very closely those strong-smelling substances, that are able to set on their legs again those that have fallen in epileptic fits, but cannot rid them of their disease. For although all other passions, even at the moment of their acme, do in some sort listen to reason and admit it into the soul, yet anger does not, for, as Melanthius says,

“Fell things it does when it the mind unsettles,”

for it absolutely turns reason out of doors, and bolts it out, and, like those persons who burn themselves and houses together, it makes all the interior full of confusion and smoke and noise, so that what would be advantageous can neither be seen nor heard. And so an empty ship in a storm at open sea would sooner admit on board a pilot from without, than a man in a tempest of rage and anger would listen to another’s advice, unless his own reason was first prepared to hearken. But as those who expect a siege get together and store up supplies, when they despair of relief from without, so ought we by all means to scour the country far and wide to derive aids against anger from philosophy, and store them up in the soul: for, when the time of need comes, we shall find it no easy task to import them. For either the soul doesn’t hear what is said without because of the uproar, if it have not within its own reason (like a boatswain as it were) to receive at once and understand every exhortation; or if it does hear, it despises what is uttered mildly and gently, while it is exasperated by harsh censure. For anger being haughty and self-willed and hard to be worked upon by another, like a fortified tyranny, must have someone born and bred within it[679] to overthrow it.