Seneca the Stoic: Collection of commentary on Fitness & Training

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Greek Physique

This is for fitness nerds only. If you don't pump, you probably just won't understand.

I am currently re-reading Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. I could go on and on about how fascinating, and timely, his words are despite being thousands of years old, but today I just want to share a brief passage. It isn't going to change your life, but is interesting nonetheless if fitness is something you get amongst. ;)

In this letter, Seneca is writing about the cultivated ability of mental focus amongst noise. What I really enjoyed was his example of the noise he is able to ignore. At this point in his life he lives above a bathhouse, which I believe would be the ancient equivalent of a Crossfit Box or Globo-Gym. Anyway, check this out.

"Picture me with a babel of noise going on all about me, staying right over a public bath-house. Now imagine to yourself all manner of sounds that can get you hating your ears. When the strenuous types are doing their exercises, swinging weight-laden hands about, I hear the grunting as they toil away - or go through the motions of toiling away- at them, and the hissing and strident gasps every time they expel their pent up breath." - Seneca: Letter LVI

Ok, seriously how cool is that?

Not only were there people legitimately pumping weights around A.D. 50, but some of the recognizable behaviours that can be observed today, were also taking place thousands of years ago.

It sounds like the weightlifters of Seneca's time also had an understanding of proper bracing as they, "exhaled their pent up breathe". Hopefully that exhalation was in the extended phase of the lift.

Seneca even seems to call out the posers who, "go through the motions" of toiling away". At-least half of the people who can be found in gyms today are doing the very same thing. They have the workout gear, the cool water-bottle, and it appear as though they are training, but come nowhere near stimulating their bodies enough to elicit change. But, I'm not even mad, because clearly such folks are an ancient part of the world of strength training as well.

If you love lifting weights, you should be proud. Ignore those who ignore the benefits of a strong relationship with your physical body. Strength training is certainly not for meatheads only. It was clearly a common practise in one of the most intellectually enlightened ages of (hu)man. The journey you are on is yours, but it is also bigger than you, far older than you, will outlast you, and shared among countless humans past and present. The expression is different for all, but using the physical body for personal improvement goes way, way back.

If you are expressing your fitness today, do so with an extra smile, because you are part of something not only great, but ancient. Thank-you for reading,

Seneca Strength Myles Jeffers

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