I love this quote from Seneca, via The Daily Stoic’s newsletter:
How long will you be compelled by the claims of another? Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.
It comes from Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius (Letter 33, paragraph 7 – he wrote a lot of letters).
I’m not sure where the translation comes from. I read it in the Daily Stoic newsletter, and also find it on The Mission (on Medium, here). In fuller version, the passage reads:
“For it’s disgraceful for an old person, or one in sight of old age, to have only the knowledge carried in their notebooks. Zeno said this . . . what do you say? Cleanthes said that . . . what do you say? How long will you be compelled by the claims of another? Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.”
But elsewhere, I find a more pedestrian (but possibly more literal) translation (on Wikisource and The Stoic Life ).
That is why we give to children a proverb, or that which the Greeks call Chria, to be learned by heart; that sort of thing can be comprehended by the young mind, which cannot as yet hold more. For a man, however, whose progress is definite, to chase after choice extracts and to prop his weakness by the best known and the briefest sayings and to depend upon his memory, is disgraceful; it is time for him to lean on himself. He should make such maxims and not memorize them. For it is disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old age, to have a note-book knowledge. “This is what Zeno said.” But what have you yourself said? “This is the opinion of Cleanthes.” But what is your own opinion? How long shall you march under another man’s orders? Take command, and utter some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something from your own stock.
For words to live by, though, I’ll go with the Daily Stoic:
Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.
And, for a spot of random association, it reminds me of this line from the classic Warren Zevon song, The French Inhaler:
And when the lights came up at two
I caught a glimpse of you
And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase.
I can’t find a decent live version online, but here’s the original:
And, in fairness, I don’t think Warren was a stoic.
Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash