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.
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”.
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
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.”
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.