Discussion question


Seneca's "Asthma" defines asthma and informs readers about living with asthma and fearing death from the condition.  How does Seneca transition from one topic to the other by the end of his essay? Read and reply to at least two other classmates' posts.



Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca or Seneca the Younger, 4 BC - AD 65) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist who also was an advisor to Nero. In Seneca’s early essay form, he defines, describes and reacts to a recent asthma attack.

On Asthma

By Seneca (Translated by Robin Campbell)

Ill health—which had granted me quite a long spell of leave—has attacked me without warning again. “What kind of ill health?” you will be asking. And well you may, for there isn’t a single kind I haven’t experienced. There’s one particular ailment, though, for which I’ve always been singled out, so to speak. I see no reason why I should call it by its Greek name, difficulty in breathing being a particularly good way of describing it. Its onslaught is of very brief duration—like a squall, it is generally over within an hour. One could hardly, after all, expect anyone to keep on drawing his last breathe for long, could one? I’ve been visited by all the troublesome or dangerous complaints there are, and none of them, in my opinion, is more unpleasant than this one—which is hardly surprising, is it, when you consider that with anything else you’re merely ill, while with this you’re constantly at your last gasp? This is why doctors have nicknamed it “rehearsing death,” since sooner or later the breath does just what I has been trying to do all those times. Do you imagine that as I write this I must be feeling in high spirits at having escaped this time? No, it would be just as absurd for me to feel overjoyed at its being over—as if this meant I was a healthy man again—as it would be for a person to think he has won his case on obtaining an extension of time before the trial.

Even as I fought for breath, though, I never ceased to find comfort in cheerful and courageous reflections. “What’s this?” I said. “So death is having all these tries at me, is he? Let him, then! I had a try at him a long while ago myself.” “When was this?” you’ll say. Before I was born. Death is not just being. What that is like I know already. It will be the same after me as it was before me. If there is any torment in the later state, there must also have be torment in the period before we saw the light of day; yet we never felt conscious of any distress then. I ask you, wouldn’t you say that anyone who took the view that lamp was worse off when it was put out than it was before it was lit was an utter idiot? We, too, are lit and put out. We suffer somewhat in the intervening period, but at either end of it there is a deep tranquility. For, unless I’m mistaken, we are wrong, my dear Lucilius, in holding that death follows after, when in fact it precedes as well as succeeds. Death is all that was before us. What does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result of either is that you do not exist?

I kept on talking to myself in these and similar terms—silently, needless to say, words being out of the question. Then little by little the affliction in my breathing, which was coming to be little more than a panting now, came on at longer intervals and slackened away. It has lasted on, all the same, and in spite of the passing of this attack, my breathing is not yet coming naturally. I feel a sort of catch and hesitation in it. Let it do as it pleases, though, so long as the sighs aren’t heartfelt. You can feel assured on my score of this: I shall not be afraid when the last hour comes—I’m already prepared, not planning as much as a day ahead. The man, though, whom you should admire and imitate, is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die. For where’s the virtue about my case: I’m in the process of being thrown out, certainly, but the manner of it as if I were going out. And the reason why it never happens to a wise man is that being thrown out signifies expulsion from a place one is reluctant to depart from, and there is nothing the wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity is going to force on him.

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