Ancient & Modern

By Jones, Peter | The Spectator, June 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Ancient & Modern


Jones, Peter, The Spectator


IN a message for World Tourism Day, the Pope argued that the purpose of tourism should be to help people `discover themselves and others' by experiencing `other ways of life, religions and ways of looking at the world'. The younger Seneca (AD 1-65), millionaire philosopher and briefly adviser to Nero, would have disagreed. He thought that travel was largely pointless.

In Letter CIV to his friend Lucilius, Seneca begins by discussing the effects of his retreat to his villa at Nomentum, ten miles north-east of Rome. Seneca's health was not good, and, while he agrees that he is feeling physically all the better for it, he goes on to point out that a mere location is not enough by itself to deliver benefits; only mastery of the mind will do that. He tells the story of someone complaining to Socrates that travelling abroad had never done him any good, to which Socrates replied, `Not very surprising, really, since you took yourself along with you.'

Seneca's conclusion is that, if a man really wants to change and escape the things that trouble him, he needs not to be in a different place, but to be a different person. `Suppose you have arrived in Athens or Rhodes (the height of sophistication for Romans]; suppose you have arrived anywhere you like what difference does the character of the place make? …

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