Seneca on Travel

July 9, 2013 — 11 Comments

“Then from this dislike of others’ success and despair of their own, their minds become enraged against fortune, complain about the times, retreat into obscurity and brood over their own sufferings until they become sick and tired of themselves. For the human mind is naturally mobile and enjoys activity. Every chance of stimulation and distraction is welcome to it–even more welcome to all those inferior characters who actually enjoy being worn out by busy activity…

For some things delight our bodies even when they cause some pain like turning over to change a side that is not yet tired and repeatedly shifting to keep it cool…like an invalid could endure nothing for long but used his restlessness as a cure. Hence men travel far and wide, wandering along foreign shores and making trial by land and sea of their restlessness, which always hates what is around it. ‘Let’s now go to Campania.’ Then when they get bored with luxury–‘Let’s visit uncultivated areas; let’s explore the woodlands of Bruttium and Lucania.’ And yet amid the wilds some delight is missing by which their pampered eyes can find relif from the tedious squalor of these unsightly regions. ‘Let’s go to Tarentum with its celebrated harbor and mild winters, an area prosperous enough for a large population even in antiquity.’ ‘Lets now make our way to the city’–too long have their ears missed the din of applause: now they long to enjoy even the sight of human blood.

They make one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius says ’Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself? He pursues and dogs himself as his own most tedious companion And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves. — Seneca (“On Tranquility of the Mind“)

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

11 responses to Seneca on Travel

  1. Ryan,
    Thank you for the inspiration and thought-provoking writing..keep it up

  2. You’re too hard on travel. It’s easy to pigeonhole millions of people’s mindsets into “they’re trying to run away from something because they aren’t happy where they are” but that’s rarely the case.

    The world is full of fascinating, beautiful things. Sometimes reading a book is enough. Sometimes you can’t appreciate the wonder you could feel without being there.

    I understand what you’re trying to express about the natural, ever-fleeing restlessness of people who are just generally unsatisfied, but you should be a little more open minded about the genuine benefits too.

    • Michael Paradise July 9, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Agreed.

      Seneca is great, but condemning travel as purely a means of superficial escape is the same blanket statement as saying “drugs are bad.” Yeah, maybe. But especially if you’re a half-wit superficial fuck with no sense of self-control, higher purpose & reason.

      You could make this exact same “escape for the unhappy & unintelligent” argument for anything – TV, drugs, books, travel, hobbies, etc are all tools that people use to escape (knowingly or not), to transport their mind to a different state… and it depends entirely on the user & their mindset as to whether this indulgence will enhance or inhibit their connection with reality.

  3. Ah, that’s where you got it from.

  4. I actually prefer Seneca to Augustine, but Augustine got this one right when he said:

    “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

    But I agree, if an idiot gets on a plane and goes somewhere else, he’s still an idiot.

  5. I do not think that Seneca was criticising travelling per se but rather his elitist contemporaries (especially Nero – as the reference to wanting applause and blood shows) who travelled due to being restless and cared more about showing off rather than expanding their minds.

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