Lucius Annaeus Seneca on Living Within Limits

Writing in the 1st century AD, Seneca makes a good case for common sense limits:

Is it not living unnaturally to hanker after roses during the winter, and to force lilies in midwinter by taking the requisite steps to change their environment and keeping up the temperature with hot water heating? Is it not living unnaturally to plant orchards on top of towers, or to have a forest of trees waving in the wind on the roofs and ridges of one’s mansions, their roots springing at a height which it could have been presumptuous for their crests to reach?

-Letter CXXII from Letters from a Stoic (Penguin Classics)

Apparently the Romans had a thing for ridiculous, energy intensive vertical gardening schemes. Perhaps it’s what happens as empires trend towards the decadent and live beyond their means. It’s hard not to see modern parallels. Witness what happened when an upscale hair salon planted a vertical garden on a south facing wall in Los Angeles.

I’ve come to much the same conclusions about the garden surrounding our own household. Growing blueberries in Southern California? I’ve done it, but who wants the extra effort to secure acidic soil and tend a potted plant? Maybe it’s better to grow pomegranates here instead. They thrive in terrible soil with not much water.

I could thoughtstyle on about this but, as usual, Archdruid John Michael Greer beat me to it with a thought provoking interview on the C-Realm podcast about the creativity of living within limits. Have a listen and, on a similar theme, check out my new, most favorite, blog, Low-Tech Magazine.


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  1. Now you’ve gone and become a dangerous radical. Anybody who questions the philosophy of “more, more, more” is striking at the very root of what has – sadly – become our identity as Americans. Listen to our media: we are no longer described as citizens, but as consumers.

    Years ago when I was first learning Swedish, I was introduced to the Scandinavian concept of “lagom”, which means “just enough”. I take just enough for my needs so that there is enough left for others. No wonder there’s a subset of Americans who view Scandinavians with suspicion – they’re so un-American! All those small cars, modest homes and bike riding! A society can’t operate like that and still worship the god of the free market like we Americans do!

    I think of this a lot and try to consider what “enough” is when I make decisions. It’s actually a lot more complicated and involved that it appears, but that makes it all the more interesting.

  2. Dude, this is kinda snooty. It’s too hard to grow potted plants? A lot of people grow plants in pots who don’t own their property or have poor soil. What strange elitism for such a low techie. And Seneca the Elder lived just fine under the Roman dictators and their lifestyles he critiqued- Probably ate their blueberries once in a while, too. I love the blog but when I see a spade…

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