Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

BRITISH youth has every right to be angry about the A-level grading fiasco, but their self-pitying sobs - `What of the effect on our future careers, income, quality of life and happiness?' moans one tragic whinger - have not impressed. Is taking a year out really that awful? But then, they have been raised in a victim culture. Even more disgusting has been the chorus of sympathy from adults encouraging them. Seneca has the answer.

In about AD 60, Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius about their mutual acquaintance Liberalis, who had been much downcast at the news of a great fire that had completely wiped out the proud Roman colony of Lugdunum (Lyon) in two days. Seneca starts by observing that fires, like earthquakes, damage but rarely destroy a whole town at one go, as had happened on this occasion. So this event has been, he goes on. a serious test of Liberalis' usually steadfast will, especially as it was so unexpected, `for the unexpected exacts the heaviest toll on us'.

Therefore, Seneca concludes, `We must ensure that nothing is unexpected by us. Our minds must look ahead at all times and think about not what usually happens, but what can possibly happen.' He points out that Fortuna is able to strike in any number of ways; she can turn our own hands against us or produce disasters out of top hats; one is never safe from her, especially at times of greatest hopes and happiness, and when she strikes, it is with terrifying rapidity. …

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