De Tranquillitate Animi (On Tranquillity Of Mind)


Seneca's Works / Monday, April 2nd, 2018
L Annaei Senecae operum 1594 page 395 De Tranquillitate Animi.png
From the 1594 edition, published by Jean Le Preux

De Tranquillitate Animi (On the tranquility of the mind) is a Latin work by the Stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC–65 AD). The dialogue concerns the state of mind of Seneca’s friend Annaeus Serenus, and how to cure Serenus of anxiety, worry and disgust with life.

Background

Around 400 B.C., Democritus wrote a treatise On Cheerfulness (Greek: Περι εύθυμίης; Peri euthymiés). The term euthymia, or “cheerfulness”, can mean steadiness of the mind, well-being of the soul, self-confidence. Seneca laudes Democritus in relation to his treatise on the subject, and states that he will use the Latin word tranquillitas as a rough translation of euthymia.

Writing a little later than Seneca, Plutarch wrote a similar work, described in the 1589 translation as, “a philosophical treatise concerning the quietness of the mind”.

Dating

De Tranquillitate Animi is thought to be written during the years 49 to 62 A.D. It has often been dated to around 60 AD on the (possibly wrong) assumption that the theme of the dialogue reflects Seneca’s own deteriorating political situation at court.

Title and contents

The title when translated into English means on the tranquility of the mind (or) soul. The word animi is translated, in a general sense, as the rational soul, and in a more restricted sense, as the mind as a thing thinking, feeling, willing. T. M. Green provides definitions of animus, animi as being soul, mind and also courage, passion. Monteleone translated tranquillitas animi as, mental equilibrium.

De Tranquillitate Animi is part of Seneca’s series of Dialogi (dialogues). The dialogue concerns the state of the animi of Seneca’s friend Annaeus Serenus, and how to cure Serenus of anxiety, worry and disgust with life.

it is more typical of a human to laugh down life than to bewail it

— 15.2

Seneca finishes De Tranquillitate with a quote by Aristotle:

nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit
no great genius has existed without a strain of madness

Themes

Point Mugu September 2013 013.jpg

Seneca, as with other Stoics, was concerned with providing insight for the development of a practice of life, for others to develop into virtuous individuals and to achieve inner harmony. De Tranquillitate Animi is one of a trio of dialogues to his friend Serenus, which includes De Constantia Sapientis and De Otio.
The superior position ho sophos (the sage) inhabits, of detachment from earthly (terena) possibilities of future events of a detrimental nature, is the unifying theme of the dialogues.

Compared with the other two works, the intention of De Tranquillitate Animi is more therapeutic. The work opens with Serenus asking Seneca for counsel, and this request for help takes the form of a medical consultation. Serenus explains that he feels agitated, and in a state of unstable immobility, “as if I were on a boat that doesn’t move forward and is tossed about.”

Read More  De Clementia (On Clemency)

Seneca uses the dialogue to address an issue that cropped up many times in his life: the desire for a life of contemplation and the need for active political engagement. Seneca argues that the goal of a tranquil mind can be achieved by being flexible and seeking a middle way between the two extremes.