"There Is No Great Genius Without Some Touch Of Madness"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

Context: De Tranquillitate Animi is one of a number of Seneca's works addressed to Annaeus Serenus, a young prefect of Nero and a good friend of the author. The De Constantia Sapientis and De Otio were also addressed to this young man. In On Tranquillity of the Mind Seneca gives...

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Context: De Tranquillitate Animi is one of a number of Seneca's works addressed to Annaeus Serenus, a young prefect of Nero and a good friend of the author. The De Constantia Sapientis and De Otio were also addressed to this young man. In On Tranquillity of the Mind Seneca gives wise advice to his friend, who is troubled by irresolution in facing life as he finds it in first century Rome. Serenus sees an appeal in various aspects of life: in luxury, in literature, and in fame as a writer, as well as in participation in public affairs. The dialogue takes up the causes of man's restlessness and boredom, and then moves on to present Seneca's practical rules for happiness and peace of mind, rules based upon reason and virtue. While Seneca credits Aristotle with the comment on genius, it is found in the writings of many authors of the ancient world, in Plato's Phaedrus, for example, as well as in Aristotle's Problemata. The mind, says Seneca, must sometimes be "drawn into rejoicing and freedom," and he suggests that the use of wine, granted judiciousness on the part of the user, leads to a release of the human spirit.

But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation. It is believed that Solon and Arcesilaus were fond of wine, and Cato has been reproached for drunkenness; but whoever reproaches that man will more easily make reproach honorable than Cato base. Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit, nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while. For whether we believe with the Greek poet that "sometimes it is a pleasure also to rave," or with Plato that "the sane mind knocks in vain at the door of poetry," or with Aristotle that "no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness"– be that as it may, the lofty utterance that rises above the attempts of others is impossible unless the mind is excited.

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