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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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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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