Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Per aspera ad Astra

 Nero ruled Rome from 54 to 68.  For those of us born in the sixties, that's quite a number.  He was generally considered a horrible person.  Besides feeding Christians to lions and setting fire to Rome, and blaming the Christians, Nero also ordered the suicide of his mentor, the philosopher Seneca.  Nero accused Seneca of taking part in a plot to overthrow and murder him.  To this day, historians argue whether or not the charges were false.  If Seneca had a part in the plot, it wasn't a large one.

In the first century, stoicism dominated Roman philosophy.  Stoics pondered such things as the nature of matter, happiness, virtue, divinity, and more.  Their influence on what was to become Christian thought is unmistakable; even though Seneca spoke about Christianity and Judaism, he was a pagan and a pantheist.

Seneca was known for his poetry.  He had a remarkable way with words.  One of my favorite thoughts from Seneca was "Per aspera ad Astra."  It's now part of official Star Trek lore, which is what started me thinking about it.

By "aspera" challenges, difficulties, struggle, effort, and resistance, we achieve "Astra" the Stars.  Through hardship, we reach the stars.  The Romans didn't have a very clear idea of what the stars actually were, so, like many cultures before them, "the stars" became an idea, the highest accomplishment, or the greatest goal.

We get the word "exasperate" from "aspera."  Considered a Southern expression, our use of exasperate probably comes from the 19th-century Southern obsession with romanticism and classical philosophy.  A fairly common practice among Southerners was to name slaves after classical figures, both real and mythical.

This idea that we reach the stars through hardship resonates with what I've been going through for the last two years.  I had to get really, very near death before I flipped the switch and started becoming something much greater than I had ever been.  Robert St. John tells a similar story.  He had to come very close to destroying himself to ultimately become himself. 

You see the influence of "Per aspera ad Astra" in Christian thought.  There are a number of instances where Christians advise perseverance in the face of adversity as the only path to a higher place.

In Star Trek, they take the ad astra part as quite literally the stars around us.  The real world isn't quite there yet; we have to make do with our one star.  Seneca's thought remains valid and strong though.  Through struggle, we become much more than what we were.  

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