The papers are full of top stories about important people who cannot get into important parties because the doorman does not recognise them and tells them to shove orf, and other stories about the wizard wheezes that various nobodies employ to bluff their way in. The Stoic Seneca (c. 4 BC–AD 65), multimillionaire adviser to Nero, has stern words to say on these piffling urges.
Seneca’s basic point is that there are indeed things that will hurt the wise man — infirmity, death of loved ones, the ruin of his country — but he will be able to deal with them. When it comes to trivial rebuffs, the truly wise man will exhibit gracious magnanimity and laugh them off.
Consider, he says, the doctor, and the humiliations he endures: he has to handle private parts, examine excreta and endure the ravings of lunatics. Does he take offence? Of course not. His patients’ abuse of him counts for nothing in his eyes. So it should be with the wise man when someone insults him. To such a man he will never pay the compliment of admitting that an insult was offered.
Seneca now provides a list of those to whose behaviour one has no need to pay any attention at all, however insulting: bejewelled women, always wild and sex-crazed, unless intelligent and well brought-up; the tiresome hairdresser who pushes you out of the way; a rude doorman; an arrogant major-domo; a supercilious bell-boy (supercilium — ‘eyebrow’).
True, says, Seneca, if serious business is afoot, one will throw a coin to the doorman as a bone to a dog. Only a small-minded person will feel pleased with himself if he has shouted at the man or approached his master and demanded the hide off him. In such circumstances, ‘an ordinary man of sense will say to himself “Do I deserve what has happened to me, or not? If I do, it is not an insult, but justice; if I do not, the man who has done the injustice should be the one to blush…” It is not an insult to be told what is self-evident.’
One rather doubts that Seneca is in tune with the modern world.