Alexander the Great Sucked at Geometry

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

In one of Seneca’s letters to Lucilus, he tells a story about a great man (or at least what historians and most lay folk would consider him to be). Every general, politician or dictator from Napoleon, Hitler or Patton would probably have had dreams of achieveing what Alexander the Great did: rule over much of Asia minor that no other man would.

The “Great” Alexander once took up the study of geometry, but his mind, accustomed to thinking ahead to whole continents and empires, had difficulty fathoming minuscule dimensions that the discipline of geometry requires.

And so he whined to his tutor

“Teach me the easy things”.

His tutor, (emphatically I assume) replied

“These things are the same for everyone, equally difficult for all.”


Seneca’s anecdote to this was how life deals us lessons and difficulties in the same way: equally difficult for everyone. And some of us would naturally ask of life

“Why is this so difficult? Can’t the heavens give me an easier life?”

Life’s answer would of course be no different from the tutor’s reply, that she is fair to all, and can make it no easier for anyone.

However, she would also say that anyone may make it easier for themselves. How? By viewing Life with calmness, composure, and evenness of temper.

How often do we complain about our lot in life, that others are having it better than us? Strip away all the social masks, self-promotion, and media-messages: the base element and process for all of us is the same.

If you’re struggling with pain now, take solace for the fact that the mighty and powerful struggled, complained, and was dumbfounded by the inconsequential, however “great” his or her achievements may seem be. You’d probably whoop their asses at these things.

In a broad sense, life is to you as is to anyone else.

Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


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