Natural Questions

From Harvesting Discoveries

Natural Questions by Seneca

XXX

ARISTOTLE has finely said that we should never be
more reverent than when we are treating of the
gods. We enter a temple with all due gravity,
we lower our eyes, draw up our toga, and assume
every token of modesty when we approach the
sacrifice. How much more is all this due when
we discuss the heavenly bodies, the stars, the
nature of the gods, lest in ignorance we make
any assertion regarding them that is hasty, or dis-
respectful ; or lest we wittingly lie. Let us not
be surprised that what is buried so deeply should
be unearthed so slowly. Panaetius and others,
who will have it that a comet is not an ordinary
star but the mere counterfeit of a star, have bestowed
careful treatment on the question whether all seasons
of the year are equally fitted to produce comets,
and whether all quarters of the sky are equally
suitable for their creation. They have inquired,
too, whether they can be formed in all regions
through which they can pass, and have discussed
other points of a like kind. But all these questions
are foreclosed by my statement that they are not
accidental fires, but inwoven in the texture of the
universe, directed by it in secret, but not often
revealed. And how many bodies besides revolve
in secret, never dawning upon human eyes? Nor
is it for man that God has made all things. How
small a portion of His mighty work is entrusted
to us ? But He who directs them all, who estab-
lished and laid the foundations of all this world,
who has clothed Himself with creation, and is the
greater and better part of His work, He is hidden
from our eyes, He can be perceived only by
thought.

XXXI

MANY things, moreover, akin to highest deity or
holding power near it, are still obscure. Or, perhaps,
one may be still more surprised to find that they
at once fill and elude our sight. Either their
subtlety is too great for human vision to grasp,
or such exalted majesty conceals itself in the holier
sanctuary, and rules its kingdom, which is itself,
without permitting access to any power except the
spirit. What that is, without which nothing is, we
cannot know: and when God, the greatest part of the
universe, is an unknown God, we are surprised, are we,
that there are some specks of fire we do not fully
understand? How many animals we have come to
know for the first time in our own days! Many,
too, that are unknown to us, the people of a coming
day will know. Many discoveries are reserved for
the ages still to be, when our memory shall have
perished. The world is a poor affair if it do not
contain matter for investigation for the whole world
in every age. Some of the sacred rites are not
revealed to worshippers all at once. Eleusis retains
some of its mysteries to show to votaries on their
second visit. Nature does not reveal all her secrets
at once. We imagine we are initiated in her
mysteries : we are, as yet, but hanging around her
outer courts. Those secrets of hers are not opened
to all indiscriminately. They are withdrawn and
shut up in the inner shrine. Of one of them this age
will catch a glimpse, of another, the age that will
come after.

When, then, it may be asked, will all these
things come to our full knowledge? Great schemes
mature slowly, especially if effort is relaxed. There
is one object we are bent on, heart and soul,
to be as wicked as possible and we have not
yet attained perfection. Vice is still making pro-
gress. Luxury is constantly discovering some new
outlet for its madness, indecency some new form of
insult on itself. Dissolute effeminacy and corruption
are constantly discovering some more refined and
delicate means of self-destruction. We have not yet
wholly cast off our vigour. We are still doing our best
to extinguish any spark of virtue that is left. By the
smoothness and polish of our bodies we men have out-
done the refinements of women ; we have adopted the
colours of harlots, that even an honest woman would
not put on. With delicate mincing step we check
our gait ; we do not walk, with measured pace we go.
We adorn our fingers with rings. A precious stone
sparkles on every joint. Day by day we devise
means of wronging and degrading our manhood,
vexed that we cannot strip it off. One becomes a
eunuch, another assumes the scandalous part of a
gladiator, and, hired for death, arms for disgrace.
The very pauper selects a victim on whom to sate
his morbid lust.

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