The Stolen Lamp and the Path to Virtue.

“This is why I lost my lamp: because a thief was better than I am at staying awake. But he bought the lamp at a high price. In return he became a thief, he became untrustworthy, he became an animal. This seemed to him a good bargain!”

My dear friend,

It warms my heart to receive your correspondence and to know that you continue to reflect upon the lessons we shared. The passage you bring forth is indeed one that provokes profound contemplation. Allow me to share a personal anecdote that will illuminate the essence of this teaching.

One evening, as I retired to my quarters, I discovered that my lamp had been stolen. While I could have succumbed to anger and frustration, I chose instead to view this incident as an opportunity to practice my philosophy. I reminded myself that the lamp, like all material possessions, is an external thing, subject to the whims of fate and beyond my control. In his desperate act, the thief demonstrated the folly of attaching our happiness to such transient objects. Instead, I focused on the virtues within my grasp, such as wisdom, patience, and forgiveness.

Now, let us delve deeper into the meaning and implications of the passage you presented, for it holds within it the essence of Stoic wisdom.

The lamp, a symbol of material possession, represents the myriad of external things we often desire, pursue, and fret over. These externals, however, are ephemeral and beyond our control. In this instance, the thief surrenders to the misguided pursuit of transient possessions, forsaking the virtues that make us truly human.

In sacrificing his integrity, trustworthiness, and moral compass, the thief reveals the steep price for seeking externalities. As Seneca wisely observed:

“No man can swim ashore and take his baggage with him.”

Indeed, the thief’s gain of the lamp is a hollow victory, as he has sold his soul in exchange for a fleeting prize. With one more piece of baggage weighing them down, I fear their journey to the shores of an honest life will be a long and drawn-out affair.

Contrast the thief’s actions with the Stoic ideal, which urges us to focus on cultivating inner virtues. Our true wealth lies in our character, wisdom, and capacity for rational thought. These are the possessions that cannot be stolen or lost, and they form the foundations of a meaningful and contented life.

As a fellow traveller on the path of wisdom, I exhort you to relinquish your attachment to externalities. Embrace the tenets of reason, justice, courage, and temperance, for they are the pillars upon which a life of virtue is built. Even though I suffered the indignity of enslavement, freedom and tranquillity were found in the knowledge that my thoughts and actions were within his control while the world outside was not. I need to decide which interpretation I want to hold as the truth.

As Marcus Aurelius once said:

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Seek to cultivate thoughts and actions that reflect your commitment to virtue and wisdom, for therein lies true contentment. A thief taking one of your most treasured possessions need not spoil your life, or even a day, in the same way that it damages their soul.

Do not despair when you stumble or falter in your pursuit of wisdom. As your teacher, I understand that your path to virtue is laden with obstacles and trials. But take heart, my friend, for these struggles are the crucible in which our character is forged. With every challenge faced and overcome, you grow closer to the ideal.

So, let the loss of a lamp, or any other external thing, be a reminder of what truly matters: the cultivation of inner virtues, the resilience of our spirit, and the pursuit of wisdom. See them as opportunities to practice what you preach. When we focus on these aspects of our being, we can face the vicissitudes of life with equanimity and grace, just as the sage remains unperturbed in the face of misfortune.

May you continue to seek wisdom and apply the teachings of Stoicism in your daily life. And always remember, my dear friend, that the lamp may be taken from us, but the light of reason and virtue can never be extinguished.

With warmth and understanding, I remain,