In another lively passage, Seneca brings vividly before us a picture of the various scholars assembled in a school of the philosophers. After observing that philosophy exercises some influence even over those who do not go deeply in it, just as people sitting in a shop of perfumes carry away with them some of the odour, he adds, " Do we not, however, know some who have been among the audience of a philosopher for many years, and have been even entirely uncoloured by his teaching? Of course I do, even most persistent and continuous hearers; whom I do not call pupils, but mere passing auditors of philoso-phers. Some come to hear, not to learn, just as we are brought into a theatre for pleasure's sake, to delight our ears with language, or with the voice, or with plays. You will observe a large portion of the audience to whom the philosopher's school is a mere haunt of their leisure.
Their object is not to lay aside any vices there, or to accept any law in accordance with which they may conform their life, but that they may enjoy a mere tickling of their ears. Some, however, even come with tablets in their hands, to catch up not things, but words. Some with eager countenances and spirits are kindled by magnificent utterances, and these are charmed by the beauty of the thoughts, not by the sound of empty words; but the impression is not lasting. Few only have attained the power of carrying home with them the frame of mind into which they had been elevated".
It was to this small latter class that Seneca belonged. He became a Stoic from very early years. The Stoic philosophers, undoubtedly the noblest and purest of ancient sects, received their name from the fact that their founder Zeno had lectured in the Painted Porch or Stoa Poecile of Athens. The influence of these austere and eloquent masters, teaching high lessons of morality and continence, and inspiring their young audience with the glow of their own enthusiasm for virtue, must have been invaluable in that effete and drunken age. Their doctrines were pushed to yet more extravagant lengths by the Cynics, who were so called from a Greek word meaning "dog," from what appeared to the ancients to be the dog-like brutality of their manners. Juvenal scornfully remarks, that the Stoics only differed from the Cynics "by a tunic," which the Stoics wore and the Cynics discarded. Seneca never indeed adopted the practices of Cynicism, but he often speaks admiringly of the arch-Cynic Diogenes, and repeatedly refers to the Cynic Demetrius, as a man deserving of the very highest esteem. " I take with me everywhere," writes he to a friend, " that best of men, Demetrius ; and, leaving those who wear purple robes, I talk with him who is half-naked.
Why should I not admire him ? I have seen that he has no want. Any one may despise all things, but no one can possess all things. The shortest road to riches lies through contempt of riches. But our Demetrius lives not as though he despised all things, but as though he simply suffered others to possess them".
These habits and sentiments throw considerable light on Seneca's character. They show that even from his earliest days he was capable of adopting self-denial as a principle, and that to his latest days he retained many private habits of a simple and honourable character, even when the exigencies of public life had compelled him to modify others. Seneca was an inconsistent philosopher both in theory and in practice; he fell beyond all question into serious errors, which deeply compromise his character; but, so far from being a dissipated or luxurious man, there is every reason to believe that in the very midst of wealth and splendour, and all the temptations which they involve, he retained alike the simplicity of his habits and the rectitude of his mind. Whatever may have been the almost fabulous value of his five hundred tables of cedar and ivory, they were rarely spread with any more sumptuous entertainment than water, vegetables, and fruit. Whatever may have been the amusements common among his wealthy and noble contemporaries, we know that he found his highest enjoyment in the innocent pleasures of his garden, and took some of his exercise by running races there with a little slave.
Seekers after God, p. 23.