I found myself thinking about courage tonight, and found a quote that I liked a good deal:

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

I guess I related to it since I’ve gone through periods in life where just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward seems to require immense courage. However, I’m not satisfied with a quotation until I have a solid reference to the original—unless I can convince myself that someone, somewhere is actually being quoted, rather than the quotation just being made up by some dude on the interwebs. Seneca’s “Letters to Lucilius” was a good start, but we can do better than that.

I was able to get a longer version of the quote from this American Scholar article. It runs:

I saw not my own courage in dying, but his courage broken by the loss of me. So I said to myself, “You must live.” Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.

But the article gave no more information about the source. Yet somehow I was eventually able to discover the following:

The full name of the source is “Moral Letters to Lucilius” (“Epistulae morales ad Lucilium”) and the quote comes from Epistle LXXVIII (78). Here it is with some context, from the 1920 G. P. Putnam’s Sons version translated by Richard Mott Grummere (also available on Wikisource here):

That you are frequently troubled by the sniffling of catarrh and by short attacks of fever which follow after long and chronic catarrhal seizures, I am sorry to hear; particularly because I have experienced this sort of illness myself, and scorned it in its early stages. For when I was still young, I could put up with hardships and show a bold front to illness. But I finally succumbed, and arrived at such a state that I could do nothing but snuffle, reduced as I was to the extremity of thinness. I often entertained the impulse of ending my life then and there; but the thought of my kind old father kept me back. For I reflected, not how bravely I had the power to die, but how little power he had to bear bravely the loss of me. And so I commanded myself to live. For sometimes it is an act of bravery even to live. (Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, transl. Richard M. Grummere, 1920 ed., Epistle LXXVIII, pp. 181-182)

So young Seneca had once been so ill that he contemplated suicide, yet the thought of his elderly father and the grief it would cause him led the adolescent philosopher-to-be to press on and find a way through his darkness.

Here it is in Latin for good measure and for the fond memories of my Latin 101 class that transcribing a few lines will bring back:

Vexari te destillationibus crebris ac febriculis, quae longas destillationes et in consuetudinem adductas secuntur, eo molestius mihi est, quia expertus sum hoc genus valetudinis, quod inter initia contempsi; poterat adhuc adulescentia iniurias ferre et se adversus morbos contumaciter gerere. Deinde succubui et eo perductus sum, ut ipse destillarem ad summam maciem deductus. Saepe impetum cepi abrumpendae vitae; patris me indulgentissimi senectus retinuit. Cogitavi enim non quam fortiter ego mori possem, sed quam ille fortiter desiderare non posset. Itaque imperavi mihi, ut viverem. Aliquando enim et vivere fortiter facere est.

There. My bogus quotations detector is now satisfied. And hopefully this post makes it easier for future searchers to determine the validity of the quote.

One thought on ““Sometimes even to live is an act of courage”

  1. Diane

    Great job researching it and finding your answers! I like those quotes. Sometimes we have moments like that, where it really is courageous to choose to keep living despite everything. The Latin is a nice touch as well. 🙂

    Reply

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