Ō paupertās voluntāria!

for Bess

Q: How do you get a philosophy major off of your porch?
A: Pay for the pizza.

hee hee…


Once a week I tutor one of my fifth-grade girls in Latin. Though not head and shoulders above her classmates, she’s certainly bright, and whatever the case may be, she likes to have a bit of extra work to do. So we get together on Thursdays after pick-up and translate the short excerpts of original Latin prose in Wheelock’s Latin. It’s a lot of fun, especially when the content lends itself to a good conversation…which is almost always.

Today’s passage was no exception. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would reproduce it for you here. It’s from the younger Seneca’s Epistulae 17.5:

Sī vīs studēre philosophiae animōque, hoc studium nōn potest valēre sine frūgālitāte. Haec frūgālitās est paupertās voluntāria. Tolle, igitur, istās excūsātiōnēs: “Nōndum satis pecūniae habeō. Sī quandō illud ‘satis’ habēbō, tum mē tōtum philosophiae dabō.” Incipe nunc philosophiae, nōn pecūniae, studēre.

If you wish to be zealous for philosophy and spirit, this zeal cannot be strong without frugality. This frugality is a voluntary poverty. Put away, therefore, those excuses: “I do not yet have enough money. If ever I will have that ‘enough’, then I will give my whole self to philosophy.” Begin now to be zealous for philosophy, not for money.

I love it: “This frugality is a voluntary poverty.”

Yessir; ’tis.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not claiming the ennobled status of ‘philosopher’ — just the fairly prosaic status of one who is, in a sense, ‘voluntarily impoverished’ in the hope that someday he will have gained his own tuppence of wisdom.

Yes, I’m sure that Seneca would have approved of my further self-impoverishment at local bars, since this can only show my dedication to philosophy…

…right? If you’re poor, it’s because you’re a great lover of wisdom?

Or maybe it doesn’t work that way. Damn.

(Quick…distract from illogic of statement with slogan:)

Starving liberal-arts graduates, unite!

Way to be clutch, prez.




  1. I do think there is value in “sacrificing” great material gain for the sake of the soul. That is, in essence, what liberal arts lovers do. Witness our book collections vs. our cars.

    I like the new site. WordPress=better. Mine is due for a redo but, well, it’s low on the long list of priorities. Like…commenting on your blog. 🙂

  2. I believe that the contention between “the liberal arts philosophy” (for the lack of a better phrase) and wealth is a real one, though perhaps, not a necessary one. Honestly I find those who claim to be able to do both are usually not spending time in the cultivation of the liberal arts; “career” always wins in this case. But that’s just my personal experience…

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