Stoicism and Consolation

Bo Lindberg


In this essay, Stoic consolation is presented by help of Seneca and his treatises on consolation addressed to two women, his mother Helvia and his relative Marcia. Consolation according to Seneca consists in arguments taken from the rhetorical genre of consolation embedded in Stoic philosophy. By excluding the passions and effects from the philosophical soul, by criticizing conventional opinion of what is important in life, and by ac- cepting determinism, Stoic consolation aimed at preventing grief from invading the mind of the mourner. It was a proactive strategy, preparing the soul for hardship rather than mitigating grief after misfortune has hit the individual. In theory, the Stoic would be in no need of consolation. In practice, however, as in the cases of Helvia and Marcia, the consolatory arguments are applied after the calamity. Stoic consolation differs from Chris- tian consolation in that the category of hope is excluded. Since affects are ruled out, compassion and pity on the part of the consoler are excluded as well. Stern and severe, Stoicism has not made itself popular in history; however, Stoic arguments are recognized in modern coach literature, where »acceptance«, focus on the present, »carpe diem«, and mindfulness are current prestige words.

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