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CHLOE EFFRON // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (SMOKE)
CHLOE EFFRON // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (SMOKE)

13 Anger Management Tips From Ancient Philosophers

CHLOE EFFRON // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (SMOKE)
CHLOE EFFRON // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (SMOKE)

People have contemplated anger—and how best to deal with it—for thousands of years. While typical anger management techniques include breathing deeply and taking a walk to calm down, ancient Greek and Roman philosophers offered their own take on the topic. Some, though not all, of their advice remains surprisingly useful. The next time you’re stuck in traffic or waiting in a long line, consider these anger management tips from Seneca and Plutarch. 

1. FIRST, UNDERSTAND THAT ANGRY PEOPLE ARE TEMPORARILY INSANE.

Seneca, a Roman writer and Stoic philosopher, explored what anger is and how to control it in his essay De Ira (On Anger), written around 41 CE. Addressing the essay to his politician brother Novatus, Seneca begins by defining what anger is, explaining that anger is the most hideous emotion and that angry people are temporarily insane. In De Ira, he writes:

“Certain wise men, therefore, have claimed that anger is temporary madness. For it is equally devoid of self-control, forgetful of decency, unmindful of ties, persistent and diligent in whatever it begins, closed to reason and counsel, excited by trifling causes, unfit to discern the right and true … But you have only to behold the expressions of those possessed by anger to know that they are insane.” 

2. DON’T GET MAD WHEN PEOPLE MAKE MISTAKES.

Seneca explains that because all of us are imperfect and flawed, no one should get mad when mistakes are made. Just as we shouldn’t get angry at deaf people because they can’t hear or elderly people because they’re aging, we shouldn’t get mad at people who make mistakes. As he writes in De Ira:

“This rather is what you should think—that no one should be angry at the mistakes of men. For tell me, should one be angry with those who move with stumbling footsteps in the dark? With those who do not heed commands because they are deaf? With children because forgetting the observance of their duties they watch the games and foolish sports of their playmates? Would you want to be angry with those who become weary because they are sick or growing old? ... That you may not be angry with individuals, you must forgive mankind at large, you must grant indulgence to the human race.” 

3. IF YOU CAN’T COMPOSE YOURSELF, RUN AWAY AND HIDE.

Around 100 CE, Plutarch wrote De Cohibenda Ira (On Controlling Anger). A historian, philosopher, and writer, Plutarch was born in Greece but later became a Roman citizen. He structures his essay as a dialogue between two friends, named Sulla and Fundanus. According to Plutarch, preventing angry outbursts is important because we’re most likely to lash out at those closest to us, such as our friends and family. If we can’t compose ourselves before we let anger overtake us, we should get away from the situation, as he explains in De Cohibenda Ira:

“The best course, therefore, is for us to compose ourselves, or else to run away and conceal ourselves, and anchor ourselves in a calm harbor, as though we perceived a fit of epilepsy coming on, so that we may not fall, or rather may not fall upon others; and we are especially likely to fall most often upon our friends.” 

4. REMEMBER THAT PETTY THINGS CAN LEAD TO ANGER.

Investigating the causes of anger, Plutarch acknowledges that people can become angry for petty reasons. A simple joke or even laughter can make certain people angry, depending on the context, as he writes in De Cohibenda Ira:

“For anger does not always have great and powerful beginnings; on the contrary, even a jest, a playful word, a burst of laughter or a nod on the part of somebody, and many things of the kind, rouse many persons to anger.” 

5. TRY TO GET A HANDLE ON YOUR ANGER BEFORE IT BUILDS.

Seneca analyzes the differences between reason and anger, concluding that anger that arises automatically, against our will, is impossible to fight with reason. Just as we can’t control that we shiver when cold, we can’t use reason to control anger that instinctively rises up in us. Seneca advises, therefore, that we must devote our energy to preventing this type of anger before it gets out of control:

“With the mind—if it plunges into anger, love, or the other passions, it has no power to check its impetus; its very weight and the downward tendency of vice needs must hurry it on, and drive it to the bottom. The best course is to reject at once the first incitement to anger, to resist even its small beginnings, and to take pains to avoid falling into anger. For if it begins to lead us astray, the return to the safe path is difficult, since, if once we admit the emotion and by our own free will grant it any authority, reason becomes of no avail.” 

6. DON’T HAVE A WEAK SOUL.

According to Plutarch, weak people are more likely than strong people to have bad tempers and want to get revenge on people who wronged them. As he explains in De Cohibenda Ira, the weakest people are women, the sick, the elderly, and the poor:

“For just as with the flesh a swelling results from a great blow, so with the weakest souls the inclination to inflict a hurt produces a flaring up of temper as great as the soul's infirmity is great. That is also the reason why women are more prone to anger than men, and sick persons than healthy, and old men than men in their prime, and the unfortunate than the prosperous.”

7. AVENGE YOUR FATHER’S MURDER … BUT ONLY IF YOU DO IT CALMLY.

Seneca elucidates his view that good men should seek revenge on people who have seriously hurt them. So, a good man should avenge the murder of his father, but he shouldn’t let anger and bloodlust compel him to seek revenge. Instead, good men should act out of a sense of duty to retaliate against people who have hurt their families, as he discusses in De Ira:

“‘What then?’ you ask; ‘will the good man not be angry if his father is murdered, his mother outraged before his eyes?' No, he will not be angry, but he will avenge them, will protect them … My father is being murdered—I will defend him; he is slain—I will avenge him, not because I grieve, but because it is my duty … For a man to stand forth as the defender of parents, children, friends, and fellow citizens, led merely by his sense of duty, acting voluntarily, using judgment, using foresight, moved neither by impulse nor by fury—this is noble and becoming.”

8. DON’T DRINK WINE BECAUSE IT KINDLES ANGER. 

Seneca argues that just as climates may be hot, cold, dry, or moist, humans also have varying proportions of fiery or cold dispositions. Because drinking wine increases heat in the body, it leads to anger. According to Seneca, varying amounts of wine can make men angry, based on their differences in disposition. From De Ira:

“The fiery mind is by its nature most liable to wrath … A fiery constitution of mind will produce wrathful men,—for fire is active and stubborn; a mixture of cold makes cowards, for cold is sluggish and shrunken … Wine kindles anger because it increases the heat; some boil over when they are drunk, others when they are simply tipsy, each according to his nature.”  

9. EXERCISE CAN HELP REDHEADS, WHO ARE NATURALLY HOT-TEMPERED.

Seneca asserts that people with red hair have active, restless blood, which leads to anger. His advice? Redheads and people with fiery temperaments should avoid wine and overeating, get enough exercise, and play games to relax. From De Ira

“And the only reason why red-haired and ruddy people are extremely hot-tempered is that they have by nature the color which others are wont to assume in anger for their blood is active and restless … Neither should such men gorge themselves with food; for their bodies will be distended and their spirits will become swollen along with the body. They should get exercise in toil, stopping short of exhaustion, to the end that their heat may be reduced, but not used up, and that their excessive fever may subside. Games also will be beneficial; for pleasure in moderation relaxes the mind and gives it balance.”  

10. BEFORE REACTING IN ANGER, LISTEN TO THE OTHER PERSON. 

As Plutarch shares, one way to get over anger is to listen to what the other person is saying. Instead of getting angry with someone and lashing out at him, take a little time to cool your jets. Stopping to think can even make you realize that you’re not angry anymore, as Plutarch writes in De Cohibenda Ira

“I try to get rid of my anger, if possible, by not depriving those who are to be punished of the right to speak in their defense, but by listening to their plea. For both the passage of time gives a pause to passion and a delay which dissolves it, and also the judgment discovers a suitable manner of punishment and an adequate amount.” 

11. DON’T SPOIL YOUR KIDS.

Unspoiled kids are less likely to be hotheads, Seneca writes in De Ira. Giving his advice on child rearing, Seneca tells parents to be firm and to not give in to their kids’ temper tantrums:

“Childhood, therefore, should be kept far from all contact with flattery; let a child hear the truth, sometimes even let him fear, let him be respectful always, let him rise before his elders. Let him gain no request by anger; when he is quiet let him be offered what was refused when he wept. Let him, moreover, have the sight but not the use of his parents' wealth. When he has done wrong, let him be reproved … Above all, let his food be simple, his clothing inexpensive, and his style of living like that of his companions. The boy will never be angry at some one being counted equal to himself, whom you have from the first treated as the equal of many.” 

12. REPRESS YOUR ANGER.

One technique for squashing anger that Seneca offers is to use willpower to hide your anger. It’s difficult to do, but if you focus all your energy on concealing your anger, you might just conquer it. Fake it 'til you make it! From De Ira

“Fight against yourself! If you will to conquer anger, it cannot conquer you. If it is kept out of sight, if it is given no outlet, you begin to conquer. Let us conceal the signs, and so far as it is possible let us keep it hidden and secret … It should be kept hidden in the deepest depths of the heart and it should not drive, but be driven; and more, all symptoms of it let us change into just the opposite. Let the countenance be unruffled, let the voice be very gentle, the step very slow; gradually the inner man conforms itself to the outer.”

13. IF YOU’RE AN EVIL SERIAL KILLER, TOUGH LUCK.

Seneca makes a distinction between men who are merely angry and men who are truly evil. Using Hannibal and Volesus as examples, Seneca describes how Hannibal loved seeing a trench filled with human blood and how Volesus proudly beheaded 300 people in one day. Arguing that cruelty is much worse than anger, Seneca writes that evil, unlike anger, is unable to be cured: 

“When Hannibal saw a trench flowing with human blood, he is said to have exclaimed, "O beauteous sight!" How much more beautiful would it have seemed to him if the blood had filled some river or lake!...Only recently Volesus, governor of Asia under the deified Augustus, beheaded three hundred persons in one day, and as he strutted among the corpses with the proud air of one who had done some glorious deed worth beholding, he cried out in Greek, "What a kingly act!" But what would he have done if he had been a king? No, this was not anger, but an evil still greater and incurable.”

All photos via iStock unless otherwise noted.

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Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Badge: Gift of Dr. Patricia Heaston; Tin: Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.; Sign, Photograph of Walker Agents: Gift of A’Lelia Bundles / Madam Walker Family Archives. All from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Background/photo border, iStock
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Retrobituaries
Madam C.J. Walker, the First Self-Made Female Millionaire in the U.S.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Badge: Gift of Dr. Patricia Heaston; Tin: Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.; Sign, Photograph of Walker Agents: Gift of A’Lelia Bundles / Madam Walker Family Archives. All from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Background/photo border, iStock
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Badge: Gift of Dr. Patricia Heaston; Tin: Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.; Sign, Photograph of Walker Agents: Gift of A’Lelia Bundles / Madam Walker Family Archives. All from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Background/photo border, iStock

Like many fortunes, Madam C.J. Walker’s started with a dream. As she later explained to a newspaper reporter, Walker was earning barely a dollar a day as a washerwoman when she had a dream about a man who told her how to create a hair-growing tonic. When she awoke, Walker sent away for the ingredients, investing $1.25 in what she eventually dubbed “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” The venture would propel her to become one of America’s first black female entrepreneurs—and reportedly the first self-made female millionaire in the nation.

Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 to freed slaves on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, the woman who would become known as Madam C.J. Walker was orphaned by age 7 and married by 14. The couple had one child, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia), but six years into the marriage, Walker’s husband died, by some accounts in a race riot. Walker then worked washing clothes while dreaming of building a better life for her daughter. “As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds,” she later told The New York Times, “I said to myself: ‘What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff? Who is going to take care of your little girl?’”

By 1903, Walker had relocated to St. Louis and started to work for an African-American hair care company before then moving to Denver, where she had heard that the dry air exacerbated hair and scalp issues. At the time, such complaints were widespread among African-Americans, in part due to a lack of black-focused products and access to indoor plumbing. By the early 1900s, Walker herself had lost much of her hair.

Then came her dream. “[I] put it on my scalp,” she later said of the tonic, “and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out.”

In 1905, Walker began selling her solution door-to-door and at church events. She took the product on tour, traveling throughout the South and Northeast and recruiting other door-to-door saleswomen. A year later, she married Charles Joseph Walker and established the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, and in 1908 founded Lelia College in Pittsburgh, a beauty parlor and school for training Madam Walker brand ambassadors. Two years later, she relocated her business headquarters to Indianapolis—then a commercial hub—where she and a mostly female cadre of top executives produced Wonderful Hair Grower on an industrial scale.

A’Lelia, however, was not content with the Midwestern milieu. In 1913 she convinced her mother to open an office in New York and decamped to Manhattan, acquiring a stately Harlem townhouse designed by Vertner Tandy, the first registered black architect in the state. The home, later nicknamed the Dark Tower after poet Countee Cullen’s “From the Dark Tower,” included a Lelia College outpost on the first floor and living and entertaining spaces on the top three. A’Lelia frequently threw lavish parties there, attended by Harlem Renaissance luminaries such as Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.

Walker followed A’Lelia north, where she purchased the adjacent townhouse. Soon, she was a cultural mover and shaker in her own right, joining the NAACP’s New York chapter and helping to orchestrate the Silent Protest Parade in 1917, when roughly 10,000 African-Americans marched down Fifth Avenue as a demonstration against the East St. Louis race riots earlier that year, in which dozens of African-Americans had been killed.

“She became politically active and very much an advocate of women’s economic independence,” Walker’s great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, a journalist and biographer, tells Mental Floss. “She used her national platform to advocate for civil rights.”

The same year as the Silent Protest, Walker and a handful of Harlem leaders traveled to the White House to petition for anti-lynching legislation, and donated $5000 to the NAACP’s Anti-Lynching Fund—the largest single gift ever recorded by the fund. In 1916, she established the Madam C. J. Walker Benevolent Association, a program that encouraged Walker brand ambassadors to engage in charity work and hygiene education outreach.

As her empire grew, Walker continued to monumentalize her success. In 1916, she bought a four-acre parcel of land in Irvington, New York, and enlisted Tandy to design her a home to rival the nearby estates of Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller. Her determination only swelled in the face of realtors who tried to charge her twice the price of the land to discourage her, and incredulous neighbors who reportedly mistook the hair care baroness for a maid when she arrived at the property in her Ford Model T.

Villa Lewaro
Villa Lewaro
Library of Congress, Flickr // No known copyright restrictions

Like her Manhattan residence, the mansion became a popular hang-out for the writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Walker also used the home to give back. “She made a blanket invitation to the returning African American soldiers [from World War I] to please come visit the home,” Bundles says. It also served as a kind of early safe space for A’Lelia and her largely LGBTQ social network.

But almost as soon as the home was complete, Madam Walker’s health began to crumble. Though she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and kidney problems, Walker continued to work and roll out new products. “Like most entrepreneurs she couldn’t figure out how to slow down,” Bundles says. “She needed to rest, but she couldn’t really make herself.”

In the spring of 1919, while on a business trip to St. Louis to unveil five new formulas, Walker fell gravely ill and was shuttled back to Irvington in a private car. That May, she died of kidney failure at the age of 51.

Yet her influence would live on. At the time of her death, an estimated 40,000 black women had been trained as Walker saleswomen. In 1927 the Madame Walker Theatre Center opened in Indianapolis, housing offices, a manufacturing center, and a theatre. Her name on the building reflected her unprecedented imprint on black entrepreneurship.

Madam Walker items at the Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas
Madam Walker items at the Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas
FA2010, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Madam C.J. Walker brand also survived. In fact, it’s recently been revitalized, after black-owned hair care company Sundial acquired it in 2016, debuting two dozen new formulas exclusively at Sephora last spring. “It’s very glam,” says Bundles, who serves as the line’s historical consultant. In a historic deal in November 2017, consumer goods conglomerate Unilever acquired Sundial’s $240 million portfolio, and as part of the agreement designated $50 million to empower businesses led by women of color.

Walker’s house, known as Villa Lewaro, has had a rockier afterlife, having been owned by the NAACP and then used as an assisted living center for decades. In 1993, stock broker and U.S. ambassador Harold Doley and his wife Helena purchased the property, committing to a years-long restoration process. They’ve recently secured a protective easement for the site, which prevents future buyers from altering the appearance of the home—a means of preserving the house’s history, and that of Madam Walker.

Walker’s legacy is also likely to gain a new round of admirers with the recently announced Octavia Spencer-fronted television show about her life, which is based on a biography by Bundles and is allegedly courting distribution by Netflix.

With her brand in full swing and her life story about to be immortalized on the small screen, it seems that even in death, Madam Walker’s dream lives on.

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Hulton Archive//Getty Images
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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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