April 20, 2020 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Anger Is Temporary Madness
Seneca’s On Anger, Book 1, Chapter 1
(Plain English version by Dr. Chuck Chakrapani)
We are right to be terrified of this ugliest and most brutal of all emotions. Other emotions have some degree of peace and quiet. But anger is all action. It explodes the impulse of grief with an inhuman desire for weapons, blood, and torture. It doesn’t care as long as it hurts another. It is greedy for revenge even when it drags down the avenger along with it.
Anger is brief madness
Some wise people have, therefore, called anger a brief madness. It has no self-control, doesn’t care for dignity, forgets friendships, is tenacious on finishing what it started, all on equal measure. It is deaf to reason and advice, excited by minor things, and unable to see what is true and just. It is like a falling rock that breaks into pieces when it falls on the thing it crushes.
Anger changes our looks
To understand that people who are in the grips anger are not sane, watch how they look.
Here are the unmistakable signs that identify the mad: aggressive and threatening expressions, knitted brows, wrinkled faces, tense walks, nervous hands, different skin colors, quick and heavy breathing.
The same signs identify an angry person too: their eyes burn and shine, their whole face turns red with the boiling blood that rushes from the bottom of their heart, their lips quiver, their teeth clench, their hair bristles and stands on end, there is breath labored and hissing, their joints crack as they twist them, they groan and burst into gibberish. They often clap their hands together and stamp their feet. Their whole body is agitated and plays tricks that reveal a disturbed mind.
Thus, it provides us with an ugly and shocking picture of self-parody and excitement. You cannot tell what describes this better: unpleasant or disgusting.
Anger cannot be hidden
Other things can be hidden away and secretly cherished. But anger announces itself openly and ‘in your face’. The more intense it is, the more plainly it boils forth. Don’t you see how, in all animals, certain signals appear when they are about to attack? And how their entire body gives up their usual calm appearance as ferocity takes over?
Boars foam at the mouth and sharpen their teeth by rubbing them against trees; bulls toss their horns in the air and scatter the sand with their hooves; lions roar; enraged snakes puff up their necks; mad dogs look sullen. There is no animal so fearsome and noxious by nature that, when seized by anger, it does not become even more so.
Other passions such as lust, fear, and courage are also hard to hide. They too give signs of their presence and can be discovered in advance. In fact, there is no intense passion that does not change our appearance. Then what’s the difference between such emotions and anger? For other passions the signs are visible; for anger they prominently stand out.
Adapted from my forthcoming Stoic Book of Anger (plain English version of Seneca’s On Anger)