“Premeditatio malorum”: An Important Lesson From Ancients (IM 862)

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events…Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.

-Seneca

Premeditatio malorum is the premeditation of the evils and troubles that might lie ahead. It was the practice of imagining things that could go wrong or be taken away from us. It’s an awareness that bad things are inevitable. I find this as an important lesson that is passed down to us from ancients.

Those who have been meditating for the evils are prepared for any kind of evils and terrors and they remain unharmed when they encounter them in future. It is a kind of “defensive pessimism”. Right before his death in the “Moral Letters to Lucilius“, Seneca would say,

“To-day it is you who threaten me with these terrors; but I have always threatened myself with them, and have prepared myself as a man to meet man’s destiny. If an evil has been pondered beforehand, the blow is gentle when it comes. To the fool, however, and to him who trusts in fortune, each event as it arrives “comes in a new and sudden form,” and a large part of evil, to the inexperienced, consists in its novelty. This is proved by the fact that men endure with greater courage, when they have once become accustomed to them, the things which they had at first regarded as hardships. Hence, the wise man accustoms himself to coming trouble, lightening by long reflection the evils which others lighten by long endurance.”

Seneca would say, “It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead, for when Fortune is kind the soul can build defenses against her ravages.”

 

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