Sue Limb: Help from the Greeks

PUBLISHED: 12:44 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:45 04 May 2020

Zeno of Citium looked a bit like Gandalf after half an hour with Vidal Sassoon (photo: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli/Creative Commons)

Zeno of Citium looked a bit like Gandalf after half an hour with Vidal Sassoon (photo: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli/Creative Commons)

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli/Creative Commons

‘Practice Stoicism and you can endure all the painful vicissitudes of human life’

It’s going to be a special summer all right. But I’ve got the answer, folks. Stoicism. You know the sort of thing. ‘Waitrose had run out of capers but Dominic and Melissa endured this disaster with Stoicism.’

Stoicism was conjured up – or whatever you do with a philosophy – by Zeno of Citium. He was born around 334BC and if his bust is anything to go by, he looked a bit like Gandalf after half an hour with Vidal Sassoon. There should be two different words for bust, shouldn’t there? Zeno’s bust is in marble, and can be seen in the Farnese collection, Naples, if anyone ever goes anywhere again. He looks worried. Imagine how he’d look if he was alive now.

But as I said, Zeno provides the answer. Practice Stoicism and you can endure all the painful vicissitudes of human life. Even a global pandemic. How does it work? Easy Peasy. ‘Goodness and peace of mind can be attained by living a virtuous life in tune with Nature.’ OK, let’s give it a whirl.

My daughter and I are self-isolating surrounded by Nature, and it was time to walk the dog. Goodness and virtue dictated that I should volunteer. But it was drizzling. We decided to toss for it, but we couldn’t find a coin (another story) so we decided to toss a small tin of Vaseline. Lids or Base? I called Lids. My daughter tossed it in the air. It rolled under the sofa. But lying on the floor with our faces very close to the biscuit crumbs we could see it was Base. I had lost.

Never mind. I got up with a gracious smile. Zeno would have been proud. I harnessed up the terrier. I set forth, smiling Stoically at the drizzle. I saw a steep muddy track I had never walked up before. The terrier seemed interested. I saw a violet. I photographed it and tweeted it so my fellow humans might feel in tune with Nature.

We pressed on up the slope. By now I had started to pant. Remembering my GP’s advice to exercise until I felt breathless, I stopped and cursed, virtuously. Wait! No! This hill was Nature’s work. The ankle deep mud was Nature’s work. The drizzle trickling down my neck was Nature’s work. ‘Thank you, Nature,’ I murmured virtuously.

The dog, impatiently, pulled on the lead. Losing my footing and fearing I would fall face down in the mud, I performed a series of preposterous dance moves. One was a windmill. One was a light aircraft coming in to land in a gale. One was an iguana twerking. When I finally regained verticality, I realised I had pulled seventeen muscles all along my Atlantic seaboard.

The dog decided I wasn’t safe to be allowed out, and began to pull me back downhill. Now my knees had to be coaxed out of retirement. Though I have occasionally used a walking stick for the past four years, I hadn’t brought one with me. Stoically I effed and blinded my way down the slippery slope, as the rain got heavier and the terrier more desperate to get back to shelter.

“Sod that for an effing game of soldiers!” I gasped, though fully aware that it is never pleasant to hear women in their later years giving vent to foul language. As we trudged along the last bit of track to the much underrated indoors, I tried hard to get in tune with Nature’s bounties: the mud, the drizzle, my knees, the global pandemic.

I was about to reproach Nature in picturesque terms for what she was inflicting on humanity, but then I remembered what humanity had inflicted upon her.

I don’t think I’m cut out for Stoicism, however. Epicureanism, now that’s more like it. According to Google, Epicureanism recommends modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquillity, freedom from fear and absence of bodily pain. So, tea and toast and The Antiques Roadshow.

Hedonism is taking things a bit further: the pursuit of five star, naughty, sensational pleasure for its own sake. Now you’re talking Portuguese custard tarts and a box set of Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple. Enjoy!

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