“Our soul is sometimes a king, and sometimes a tyrant. A king, by attending to what is honorable, protects the good health of the body in its care, and gives it no base or sordid command. But an uncontrolled, desire-fueled, over-indulged soul is turned from a king into that most feared and detested thing — a tyrant.”SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 114.24
In today’s chapter, author Ryan Holiday explains the quote above by drawing a distinction between the concept of a philosopher king who only seeks the best for his subjects vs. an out of control tyrant who leads from a position of greed and avarice, is and consumed with their own desires only. History has many examples of both (Marcus Aurelius, Nero, etc), and it’s a fitting metaphor for how our soul leads our body.
Your soul can keep you focused on the things that you know to be true, and help you keep your emotions in check. It can remind you of what’s right and good, and steer you away from pursuits that are likely to be destructive. In this sense, the soul can be like a philosopher king.
On the other hand, your soul can just as easily allow itself to be consumed by its baser desires, and lead you down a path of obsession and addiction. It can choose to ignore the truths that it already knows are correct, and instead blindly follow in the path of short-term satisfaction and indulgence. Here the soul is acting as an out-of-control tyrant.
In the end, it comes down to your inner strength, and the work that you’ve put in to really know yourself. It takes a lot of willpower and a strong soul to walk the straight and narrow, and to not give in to temptation. It takes courage to abstain from things that aren’t healthy for you, and it takes conviction to pursue what you know is important and good for you.
So — is your soul a tyrant? Or a philosopher king?