Download document

LIPSIUS, Justus (1547 – 1606)

( Editor’s note: Flemish Renaissance humanist & classicist, founder of Neostoicism )

Book of constancy

The definitions of constancy, patience, right reason, opinion: also how obstinacy differs from constancy, and baseness of mind from patience.

I being somewhat emboldened with these speeches of Langius, said unto him, that truly these admonitions of his were notable and worthy to be esteemed, and that I began now to lift up myself a little, but yet in vain, as it were a man in a slumber. For surely, Langius, to tell you the truth, my cogitations do slide back again to my country, and the cares of the same both private and public fast in my mind. But if you be able, chase away these evil birds that thus feed upon me, and loose those bands of cares wherewith I am tied fast to the Caucasus [an allusion to the fable of Prometheus, whose heart (according to the marginal note) is continually fed upon by eagles and yet not consumed.

Hereto Langius with a smiling countenance replied: I will drive them away, and like a newborn Hercules will set at liberty this chained Prometheus: only give attentive care to that which I shall say unto thee. I have exhorted thee to constancy, and placed therein all hope of thy safety. First therefore we must know what it is. constancy is a right and immovable strength of the mind, neither lifted up nor pressed down with external or casual accidents. By strength I understand a steadfastness not from opinion, but from judgment and sound reason. For I would in any case exclude obstinacy (or as I may more fitly term it, frowardness) which is a certain hardness of a stubborn mind, proceeding from pride or vainglory. And this hardness is only in one respect incident to the froward and obstinate. For they can hardly be pressed down but are lifted up, not unlike to a blown bladder [balloon], which you cannot without much ado thrust under water, but is ready to leap upwards of itself without help. Even such is the lighthardiness of those men, springing of pride and too much estimation of themselves, and therefore from opinion. But the true mother of constancy is patience, and lowliness of mind, which is a voluntary sufferance without grudging of all things whatsoever can happen to or in a man. This being regulated by the rule of right reason is the very root whereupon is settled the high and mighty body of that fair oak constancy. Beware here, lest opinion beguile thee, presenting unto thee instead of patience a certain abjection and baseness of a dastardly mind. Being a foul vice, proceeding from the vile unworthiness of a man's own person. But virtue keeps the mean, not suffering any excess or defect in her actions, because it weighs all things in the balance of Reason, making it the rule and squire of all her trials. Therefore we define right reason to be a true sense and judgment of things human and divine (so far as the same pertains to us). But opinion being the contrary to it is defined to be a false and frivolous conjecture of those things.