The Wisdom of Silenus

Knowledge inherited from previous times ought never to be considered significant based purely on its long lifetime. Yet, some insights of old might in fact prove more appropriate than those of modern times. One of those is what’s known as the wisdom of Silenus.

“There is an old legend that king Midas for a long time hunted the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the king’s hands, the king asked what was the best thing for all for men; the very finest man could want. The daemon remained silent, motionless and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter
and said these words, “Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you
forcing me to say what would give you the greatest pleasure not to hear? The very best thing for you is totally unreachable: it is not to have been born, not to exist, to be nothing. The second best thing for you, however, is this—to die soon.” –Aristotle, Eudemus

As the world around us is full of suffering, and indeed, the very key to our existence is endured toil without end, how can we fail to realise that the very essence of our life is suffering? We seek to make things better, you might say, but where is better to be found? Does not every failure to achieve what is better bring us suffering? That bitter taste of knowing that the world was, once again, too much of an obstacle for you to achieve what you wanted? And if we are gifted with the fortune to achieve such pursuits, how long will it take until we are no longer satisfied? Is it not only when we have lost what is good we know to acknowledge it; is it not only when we again feel suffering we become aware of what we no longer have? Thus, will not the pursuit of that which is better, when finished, simply be replaced by a new pursuit, thereby never giving peace to our quest? Is it, therefore, not clear that suffering is the only constant man can ever expect?

Pessimism has been the bane of many potential enjoyments. But at times, it can have its uses. Those who live life waiting for the suffering to end might find advantage in realising that they are themselves the cause of the suffering they seek to escape. To know that, in the process of living, suffering will forever be a part of one’s endeavours. Perhaps it is through consolidation with the inevitability of suffering that betterment is best achieved.


'The Wisdom of Silenus' has 1 comment

  1. 19/01/2018 @ 4:55 am Karl Steiner

    Well, Silenus must have conversed with the Buddha at some point, no?


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