Twice, Seneca was exiled. Twice, he basically lost everything. Money. Access. Influence. It all went away, like *that.*
How did he handle it? The first time, not so well. We can read the thou-dost-protest-too-much letter he wrote to his mother…and we can see what he was willing to do in order to be recalled. By Stoic standards, it wasn’t pretty.
The second time, he did a little better—as long as he could be free from Nero, the exile was worth the loss. And when he was approached by Nero’s executioner, he responded, finally, with courage and strength. Only then were the man and his philosophy aligned.
“It is a vast kingdom to be able to cope without a kingdom,” Seneca wrote in his play, Thyestes. This was no mere word play. This was hard-won wisdom. Seneca really did know of what he spoke. He really did learn how to break free of the hold that material things and status had over him. And in it, he found both great power and, eventually, immortality.
Another fellow traveler in Stoicism was the slave-turned-philosopher Publilius Syrus. “If you are to have a great kingdom,” he said, “rule over yourself!” That’s what we should think about today. Real power can’t be taken away—not by the economy or by an election or by anything else. A populist surfs on the moods of the crowd, but a philosopher—a person worthy of our respect—rests on principles.
They can hate you, they can send you away, they can mock you or even kill you, but no one can take away those principles. No one can stop you from ruling over yourself. It’s the best and the biggest and the strongest kingdom there is.