Read Letters from a Stoic (a selection) by Seneca Robin Campbell Online


The power and wealth which Seneca the Younger (c.4 B.C. - A.D. 65) acquired as Nero's minister were in conflict with his Stoic beliefs. Nevertheless he was the outstanding figure of his age. The Stoic philosophy which Seneca professed in his writings, later supported by Marcus Aurelius, provided Rome with a passable bridge to Christianity. Seneca's major contribution to StThe power and wealth which Seneca the Younger (c.4 B.C. - A.D. 65) acquired as Nero's minister were in conflict with his Stoic beliefs. Nevertheless he was the outstanding figure of his age. The Stoic philosophy which Seneca professed in his writings, later supported by Marcus Aurelius, provided Rome with a passable bridge to Christianity. Seneca's major contribution to Stoicism was to spiritualize and humanize a system which could appear cold and unrealistic.Selected from the Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, these letters illustrate the upright ideals admired by the Stoics and extol the good way of life as seen from their standpoint. They also reveal how far in advance of his time were many of Seneca's ideas - his disgust at the shows in the arena or his criticism of the harsh treatment of slaves. Philosophical in tone and written in the 'pointed' style of the Latin Silver Age these 'essays in disguise' were clearly aimed by Seneca at posterity....

Title : Letters from a Stoic (a selection)
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ISBN : 9780140442106
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
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Letters from a Stoic (a selection) Reviews

  • Glenn Russell
    2019-05-11 16:16

    These letters of Roman philosopher Seneca are a treasure chest for anybody wishing to incorporate philosophic wisdom into their day-to-day living. By way of example, below are a few Seneca gems along with my brief comments:“Each day acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well. After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested throughout the day.” -------- I’m completely with Seneca on this point. I approach the study of philosophy primarily for self-transformation. There is no let-up in the various challenges life throws at us – what we can change is the level of wisdom we bring to facing our challenges.“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.” ---------- This is the perennial philosophy from Aristotle to Epicurus to Epictetus to Buddha: we have to face up to our predicament as humans; we are in the realm of desire. The goal of living as a philosopher is to deal with our desires in such a way that we can maintain our tranquility and joy.“But if you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him (or her) as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.” --------- Friendship was one key idea in the ancient world that modern philosophy seems to have forgotten. Seneca outlines how we must first test and judge people we consider as possible friends, but once we become friends with someone, then an abiding and complete trust is required.“The very name of philosophy however modest the manner in which it is pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society. Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd. Our clothes should not be gaudy, yet they should now be dowdy either. . . . Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob.”. ---------- The call of true philosophy isn’t an outward display but an internal attitude. There is a long, noble tradition of living the life of a philosopher going back to ancient Greece and Rome, that has, unfortunately, been mostly lost to us in the West. It is time to reclaim our true heritage.“You may be banished to the end of the earth, and yet in whatever outlandish corner of the world you may find yourself stationed, you will find that place, whatever it may be like, a hospitable home. Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive there." -------- This is the ultimate Stoic worldview: our strength of character is more important that the particular life situation we find ourselves in. Very applicable in our modern world; although, chances are we will not be banished to another country, many of us will one day be banished to a nursing home.“This rapidity of utterance recalls a person running down a slope and unable to stop where he meant to, being carried on instead a lot farther than he intended, at the mercy of his body’s momentum; it is out of control, and unbecoming to philosophy, which should be placing her words, not throwing them around.” --------- The ancient world had many people who talked a mile a minute, an unending gush of chatter. The Greco-Roman philosophers such as Seneca and Plutarch warn against garrulousness. Rather, we should mark our words well. From my own experience, when I hear long-winded pontifications, I feel like running away.“The next thing I knew the book itself had charmed me into a deeper reading of it there and then. . . . It was so enjoyable that I found myself held and drawn on until I ended up having read it right through to the end without a break. All the time the sunshine was inviting me out, hunger prompting me to eat, the weather threatening to break, but I gulped it all down in one sitting.” --------- Ah, the experience of being pulled into a good book! When we come upon such a book, go with it!

  • Ryan Holiday
    2019-04-25 17:10

    I tore this book to pieces. My copy is overflowing with tabbed pages and highlighted lines and notes in the margins. Seneca of course, is a fascinating figure. Gregory Hays once said about Marcus Aurelius that "not being a tyrant was something he had to work at one day at a time" and often, Seneca lost that battle. He was the Cardinal Richelieu behind Nero. He sat back and enjoyed the spoils of his student who had clearly lost his way--at least Aristotle didn't profit from Alexander's lust for power. However, there is some interesting evidence put forth in a paper titled - Seneca: The Case of the Opulent Stoic in which Lydia Motto presents that what we know of Seneca's reputation comes almost entirely from a single, less than objective source. And in fact, if we can trust the way in which Seneca faced his forced suicide there was not much difference between practice and philosophy.The book is profoundly insightful, it calls you to action, and it has that 'quit your whining--this is life' attitude that so defines the Roman Stoics. This is by no means an all inclusive list but is Seneca on some important topics:On doing more than consuming:He should be delivering himself of such sayings, not memorizing them. It is disgraceful that a man who is old or in sight of old age should have wisdom deriving solely from his notebook. 'Zeno said this.' And what have you said? 'Cleanthes said that.' What have you said? How much longer are you going to serve under others? Assume authority over yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources.On endurance:Life's no soft affair. It's a long road you've started on: you can't but expect to have slips and knocks and falls, and get tired and openly wish--a lie--for death.On freedom from perturbation:Show me a man who isn't a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his 'little old woman', a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.On quoting what you read:There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with. I shall send you, accordingly, the actual books themselves, and to save you a lot of trouble hunting all over the place for passages likely to be of use to you, I shall mark the passages so that you can turn straight away to the words I approve and admire."

  • Roy Lotz
    2019-05-12 17:14

    Philosophy is good advice; and no one can give advice at the top of his lungs.One of the most persistent criticisms made of modern philosophy is that it isn’t useful. The critics have a point. Modern philosophy largely concerns itself with a variety of theoretical problems. Even though many of these problems do have practical ramifications, many do not; and regardless, the debates can often get so technical, so heated, and so abstract, that it is difficult to see modern philosophy as the path to wisdom it once professed to be. People don’t have time or patience for logic-chopping; they want useful advice.Those of this persuasion will be happy to find a forerunner and a sage in Seneca. As the opening quote shows, he conceived philosophy to be, above all, the giving of good advice. Seneca thus finds a perfect vehicle for his thought in the form of the letter. Although this book apparently consists of the private correspondence between Seneca and his friend Lucilius, it is obvious from the first page that these were expressly written for publication and posterity. This book should rather be thought of as a collection of moral essays and exhortations.Even in translation, Seneca is a master stylist. He is by turns intimate, friendly, self-deprecating, nagging, mundane, and profound. He has an enormous talent for epigram; he can squeeze a lifetime into a line, compress a philosophy into a phrase. He is also remarkably modern in his tolerant, cosmopolitan, and informal attitude. Indeed I often found it difficult to believe that the book was written by a real Roman. Montaigne and Emerson obviously learned a great deal from Seneca; you might even say they ripped him off. The only thing that marks Seneca as ancient is his comparative lack of introspection. While Montaigne and Emerson are mercurial, wracked by self-doubt, driven by contrary tides of emotion, Seneca is calm, self-composed, confident.Perhaps because of his professed aversion to abstract argument, Seneca is not a systematic thinker. Emerson wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and Seneca apparently would agree, for there are many inconsistencies to be found in these pages. Sometimes God is conceived of as an impersonal order of the universe, and at other times a personal deity; sometimes Lucilius is advised not to take the opinions of friends and family into account, other times to do so. Seneca’s metaphysical arguments are weak and confused affairs; he is not one for disputation. But for all this, there is a core of good sense contained within these pages, which Seneca himself summarizes:No man is good by chance. Virtue is something which must be learned. Pleasure is low, petty, to be deemed worthless, shared even by dumb animals—the tiniest and meanest of whom fly towards pleasure. Glory is an empty and fleeting thing, lighter than air. Poverty is an evil to no man unless he kick’s against it. Death is not an evil; why need you ask? Death alone is the equal privilege of mankind.Like Marcus Aurelius, a prominent statesman in troubled times, Seneca is very concerned with how to be happy in spite of circumstances. There is no satisfaction to be had through external goods, like fame and riches, because these cannot be gotten unless fortune is kind, and fortune is notoriously fickle. Even in good times, this can only lead you into an empty, meaningless competition, valuing yourself for something that isn’t really yours, causing you to ceaselessly measure yourself against others. You must rather become content with yourself, taking pleasure in life whether fortune smiles or frowns: “We have reached the heights if we know what it is that we find joy in and if we have not placed our happiness in externals.”Of course, this is easier said than done, and Seneca does not have a fully worked-out system for reaching this state. He offers, instead, an unsystematic mass of advice. It is here that Seneca is most charming and helpful, for most other philosophers would not deign to offer such workaday recommendations and observations. Here is Seneca on negative thinking:The mind at times fashions for itself false shapes of evil when there are no signs that point to evil; it twists into the worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what lengths he may go if he is angry.It is in these sections, of plain, friendly advice, that I think Seneca is at his best. Certainly not all of his advice is good; every reader will pick and choose what suits them best. But much of Seneca's advice is timeless, and phrased in deathless prose. Most refreshing is Seneca’s insistence that his advice is for action and not reflection. This is more than slightly ironic, considering that Seneca is often accused of being a hypocrite whose lifestyle was far removed from his doctrines; but, to quote a modern philosopher, “There is no contradiction, or even paradox, in describing someone as bad at practising what he is good at preaching.” So preach on, Seneca.

  • João Fernandes
    2019-05-25 15:53

    I have to admit, I started this book with some hesitations. I had read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (easily one of my favourite books) and Epictetus' Discourses, the other two big pillars of Stoic philosophy. I also knew, from gossip girl Suetonius, how Seneca was a Stoic more in name than in practice.Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, the ruler of the known world, and yet he embraced the Stoic ideals like no other, feeling repulsion for his own political power and trying to rule Rome in accordance with the Stoic 'virtue over happiness' headline. Epictetus, on the other hand, was born and raised a slave, legally born with absolutely no rights or property. Yet, when he was freed and free to embrace all the pleasures he had been denied, he cast it all aside and started a Stoic school.Seneca's own story falls slightly short in contrast. At one point, he was no less powerful than Marcus Aurelius would be; Seneca was the tutor of teenage sociopath/arsonist/psychopath/"great" harp rockstar Emperor Nero, and served as the de facto political ruler during his adolescence.He therefore wielded tremendous power, and power rises to men's heads faster than opiates. He preached his Stoic ways, but was no stranger to lending money unfairly for economic gain (allegedly), hoarding a fortune comparable to the emperor's (allegedly), and possibly but very unlikely having known some members of the imperial family carnally (double allegedly, but probably the most unfounded accusation). I was therefore expecting a hypocrite.I was pleasantly ashamed of myself to find Seneca's philosophy and morals not falling short of any of the other two master Stoics.He did not present himself as a great philosopher to Lucilius, to whom Letters from a Stoic is addressed. He describes himself as a sick mind in recovery:“We who are recovering from a prolonged spiritual sickness are in the same condition as invalids who have been affected to such an extent by prolonged indisposition that they cannot once be taken out of doors without ill effects”But he did bring something new to the table.Seneca, as a 'reformed sinner', and a man of public office, has seen that the strict ideals of self-sufficiency and apathetic restraint will never be embraced by the common people. He therefore proposes a humanised version of Stoicism, more tolerant of the natural feelings of love and friendship that Stoics would try to repress. I leave only one of the many amazing quotes that Seneca left his pen pal, a mark of the human, approachable Stoicism he meant to follow:“Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one (though I should call the first the worthier and the second the safer behaviour).”

  • Parthiban Sekar
    2019-05-19 15:00

    No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing. No value should be set on it: it’s something we share with dumb animals – the minutest, most insignificance creatures scutter after it. Glory’s an empty changeable thing, as fickle as the weather. Poverty’s no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination. Superstition is an idiotic heresy: it fears those it should love: it dishonours those it worships. For what difference does it make whether you deny the gods or bring them into disrepute? These are things which should be learnt and not just learnt but learnt by heart..::Stoic::.Many of us are mistaken to think that word “Stoic” means inactive or even indifferent to Worldly pleasures, pains, and emotions. But, that is not entirely correct. It is all about bringing our soul to a state of inner calmness; In other words, Inner Peace! Stoicism is not about avoiding emotions and pleasures but to judge with clear conscience and free ourselves from the unwanted or unneeded. “Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones.” .::Seneca::.Seneca is one of the famous Roman philosophers, following Zeno’s stoicism. Though Seneca is often believed or questioned to be not much of a stoic himself, these letters help us know how he might have lived his life stoic way.Keeping aside his early life and his forced suicide … .::Letters::.'No man was ever wise by chance'This collection of letters from Seneca is easily one of the pearls in the sea of stoicism (So, there are other pearls and the word “sea” here simply symbolizes the vastness) It is not undisputable how stoic Seneca is. But, what I think is that we should see if there is anything good we can learn from him, rather than questioning about his life. These letters are like soul-health-capsules to make your spirit grow better only when taken as prescribed and the ingested capsule simmers deep down within you. “As it is with a play, so it is with life - what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.” Seneca says, for better living and living free of filthy temptations and unrealistic desires, one should dedicate himself to her – philosophy – For which only she can save us! Well, Philosophy is not just about wisdom, but she also comprises Courage, Justice, and Temperance. “But only philosophy will wake us; only philosophy will shake us out of that heavy sleep. Devote yourself entirely to her. You're worthy of her, she's worthy of you-fall into each other's arms. Say a firm, plain no to every other occupation.” Each of these letters addresses a different topic or an emotion or an issue in a more detailed fashion, sometimes with the help of Epicurus, Virgil, etc… His sayings on how to live and how one should not be afraid of the death which would visit one or one’s friends or family, rather acknowledging and welcoming it as if it were an expected guest whose visit has been only unpredictable!This Inuit word Iktsuarpok I recently learnt, sort of, explains what Seneca has to say about the Death.You want to live—but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying—and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?Again, the way Seneca died or to be precise, the way he invited his death was something, I think, questionable or disputable. But, there is a lot to learn from these gems of letters. What I am saying is to take away what is good and take not what is not.A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.Living in accordance with reason, nature and virtue, he says, is the way to live in harmony. Now, that is some difficult thought for most of us to even think of. “If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according what others think, you will never be rich.” I am going to see how much I myself can follow. But, it never hurts to try. Does it?Be harsh with yourself at times...

  • Evan Leach
    2019-05-01 09:00

    Along with his tragedies, treatises and longer dialogues, the philosopher Seneca wrote 124 letters addressed to his friend Lucilius. Whether these letters were actually sent is unknown, but their style indicates that they were intended for publication at some point. These letters are really mini-essays in disguise, discussing Seneca’s Stoic beliefs and his outlook on life in general. This collection contains about a third of Seneca’s surviving letters, some of which are abridged.For readers interested in Stoicism and Roman philosophy generally, I think these letters do just as good a job (if not better) of expressing Seneca’s beliefs as his dialogues do, and are more pleasant reading to boot. Stoicism (which had been around much longer than Seneca) held that men should live ‘in accordance with nature,’ learning to live in conformity with the world as it is and accepting whatever fate should bring their way. People should value and cultivate reason, and discipline the pleasures and the passions. Only in this way can true happiness be achieved. The duties Stoicism glorified – courage, self-control, simple habits, rationality and obedience to the State – corresponded closely to traditional Roman values, and Stoicism was the most influential philosophy in the Roman world for a long time. To some degree, it contrasted with Epicurean thought, which placed more value on the pursuit of individual pleasure. But in his letters Seneca displayed a remarkably open mind regarding Epicurus and his disciples, and the two schools of thought were not entirely at odds.Many of the values Stoicism promoted were universal ones with wide appeal. Also, although the Stoics believed in a supreme providence that governed the universe, they were not particularly concerned with how this force was labeled: nature, divine reason, god, destiny, etc. This flexibility helped Stoicism adapt and fit within all kids of belief systems. Interestingly, the early Christian Church (which was very disfavorably disposed to most pagan writings) viewed Seneca as ‘one of them’ for this reason. This popularity was to continue into medieval times – in the Inferno Dante placed Seneca in Limbo, the highest place a non-Christian could aspire to, and Queen Elizabeth I “did much admire Senca’s wholesome advisings.” However, Seneca has had his critics too over the centuries. He preached simple living and a rejection of luxury in his writings, but Seneca was one of the most powerful men in Rome and one of the wealthiest in the Western world during his lifetime. He was Emperor Nero’s chief advisor, and ‘the real master of the world’ for a while according to one modern writer. As chief imperial advisor, he almost certainly assisted Nero in the murder of the emperor’s own mother. Wealth and virtue are certainly not mutually exclusive, but extravagent wealth, advising a tyrant and being an accessory to murder do not scream good Stoic living. Whether Seneca lacked the courage of his own convictions, or was unable to practice what he preached, is at least in doubt. Also, Seneca is rarely (if ever) praised as a groundbreaking philosophical thinker. He did not invent Stoicism, but instead “spiritualized and humanized it” in his writings. Readers expecting Plato or Aristotle will probably be disappointed.But readers interested in learning about Stoicism in general will be well served by this book. As I said earlier, I thought these letters were on the whole better than Seneca’s longer dialogues (which are not really ‘dialogues’ at all in any traditional sense, with one exception). As an introduction to Stoic philosophy, which was an important school of thought in the Greco-Roman world and beyond, you could do a lot worse. 3.5 stars.

  • Erick
    2019-05-01 11:02

    This book was quite good. One would think that a collection of letters would have much material that is of little utility to those outside the correspondents, but that isn't the case. Seneca was a notable later Stoic. Very little of the first generation of Stoics survive, and we are left with mainly later Stoics like Epictetus, Rufus and Seneca; some may also include Marcus Aurelius to that list as well. Seneca was probably not the typical Stoic; indeed, he actually quotes Epicurus more times in here than any other philosopher is even mentioned. One is tempted to consider Seneca a closet Epicurean. He seemed to have more respect for Epicurus' philosophy than he may have even cared to admit. It is of course possible that he quoted him because he was also well respected by Lucilius, his correspondent, as well. But, whatever the case, Seneca was open to other philosophical influences besides just the Stoical, and Epicurus is a notable secondary, if not a primary, influence. Often these letters come across as highly aphoristic. I highlighted quite a few lines of pithy wisdom in here. Mainly, I would say, Seneca was given to ethical philosophy. While there are some metaphysical thoughts here and there, his main focus is in regards to living a good life. Many of his thoughts focus on the need to live simply, and, in typical Stoical fashion, to live according to nature. His philosophy of moderation is still highly relevant today, and maybe even more than it was then, because we have many more frivolous distractions than were available in his day. His thoughts on slaves and slavery were years of head of their time, maybe hundreds of years. His ideas on God are also often sublime. He does comment on Plato a bit, and at the end of this work, he even provides some discussion relating to physics and metaphysics.A great book overall. I cannot find much in here that I took issue with, so I can see no reason to give the work less than 5 stars.

  • Cassandra Kay Silva
    2019-04-27 11:03

    Seneca you wastrel! To teach of stoicism while living in such opulence. Eh-gads! Fabulous writing, I think I blushed unbeckoned during the blushing scene, and stop trying to get us all to give up oysters, they are both erotic and have the potential to profit a pearl or two. Unacceptable I say! Also very forward thinking in regards to slavery I must say.

  • Douglas Dalrymple
    2019-05-02 15:56

    It’s an interesting exercise to read Seneca’s letters and Homer’s Iliad at the same time: you get a sense for how arbitrary our categories are. Both of these ostensibly belong to “classical literature,” though eight hundred years separate them. Seneca and we are divided by a gulf of history more than twice that deep, but his world and our own have so much more in common with one another than either shares with the Achaean armies camped on the beach at Troy. Again and again, while marking up my copy of this book I found myself muttering, “My God, we are still the Romans!”Letters from a Stoic is a collection of Seneca’s Moral Epistles to Lucilius, superbly introduced, edited, and translated by Robin Campbell. I’d recently read James Romm’s Dying Every Day, a biography of Seneca, which first put me on the scent of the present title. I’d been looking for an entrée to Seneca for a long time, and this was the right one at the right time for me.Seneca was both a philosopher and a statesman, and while serving as the young Nero’s tutor and defacto regent he was possibly the most powerful man in the western world. Seneca was also a great hypocrite – at least many of his contemporaries thought so. He preached the embrace of poverty while at the same time amassing enormous wealth. He championed a blameless life while abetting or at least turning a blind eye to Nero’s murder of his own brother and other family members. In the end, of course, Nero turned on him too. As an elderly man trying to live quietly in retirement, Seneca was commanded on the emperor’s orders to open his veins and end his own life, and he did so without complaint.Was Seneca a hypocrite, and would being so make him unworthy of our consideration? Let’s say that Seneca is not for the youthful idealist; he will be better appreciated by someone with at least three or four decades under his belt. Seneca’s life was an especially powerful demonstration of the economizing we all engage in, to one degree or another, when we try to live according to our highest convictions in a world that requires everyone who would not be a monk in a cell to dirty his hands.These letters (which read more like essays) Seneca wrote in the last years of his life. As they demonstrate, he was well aware of his failures, but they also prove his continued commitment to the life of philosophy – to philosophy as a practical pursuit of wisdom, of the honorable life, freedom from fear, joy in our own being, and compassion for our fellow creatures. There’s a humility and humanity in these letters that surpasses anything you may find in Seneca’s fellow Stoics, like Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. I took so many notes. I copied out so many passages. This is one of those books you want to loan to everyone, except that you can’t bear to part with it.A few favorite passages:Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.It is not the man who has too little who is poor but the man who hankers after more.In the case of some sick people it is a matter for congratulation when they come to realize for themselves that they are sick.You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world.All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.Whatever is true is my property. Natural desires are limited; those which spring from false opinions have nowhere to stop, for falsity has no point of termination.A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.Each man has a character of his own choosing; it is chance or fate that decides his choice of job.With afflictions of the spirit...the worse a person is, the less he feels it. You needn’t feel surprised, my dearest Lucilius. A person sleeping lightly perceives impressions in his dreams and is sometimes, even, aware during sleep that he is asleep, whereas a heavy slumber blots out even dreams and plunges the mind too deep for consciousness of self. Why does no one admit his failings? Because he’s still deep in them.The man whom you should admire and imitate is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die.Night does not remove our worries; it brings them to the surface.I should prefer to see you abandoning grief rather than it abandoning you. Much as you may wish, you will not be able to keep it up for very long, so give it up as early as possible.At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is a whole.There are times when even to live is an act of bravery.You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive.[A] life spent viewing all the variety, the majesty, the sublimity in things around us can never succumb to ennui: the feeling that one is tired of being, of existing, is usually the result of an idle and inactive leisure.To want to know more than is sufficient is a form of intemperance.It would be some relief to our condition and our frailty if all things were as slow in their perishing as they were in their coming into being: but as it is, the growth of things is a tardy process and their undoing is a rapid matter.We’re born unequal, we die equal.What good does it do you to go overseas, to move from city to city? If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.To be feared is to fear: no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind himself.

  • Ransom Mowris
    2019-05-03 17:15

    One of the most profound books I've read. Seneca defines philosophy not as a system of logical rules for old men to argue about and rearrange, but as a means to prescribe a way of life. He sees a philosopher as a wise doctor who provides advice on the optimal way to live so as to be as happy as possible. With this goal in mind, Seneca wrote a series of letters to his close friend advising him on the many dangers of Roman social life circa the 1st century. He also advises his friend on practices one can exercise to avoid hardship -- for example, learning to "acquaint oneself with poverty" occasionally by eating only simple grains and water and sleeping on the floor without a pillow for short periods. In this way, one can learn that life without riches is actually tolerable, and actually prepare to lose all their riches at once and still retain their happiness.Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who wishes to be happy. Seneca believes that a trained man can transcend the whims of fate and find a greater happiness from within. "Winter brings in the cold, and we have to shiver; summer brings back the heat and we have to swelter. Bad weather tries the health and we have to be ill... Floods will rob us of one thing, fire of another. These are conditions of our existence which we cannot change. What we can do is adopt a noble spirit, such a spirit as befits a good man, so that we may bear up bravely under all that fortune sends us and bring our wills into tune with nature's... For fate the willing leads, the unwilling drags along"

  • Nick
    2019-05-25 12:05

    I don't buy the criticism you see about Seneca not practicing what he preached. The closest I've ever been to being emperor of anything is the emperor of ice cream, so maybe the guy deserves more credit than the typical accusations of hypocrisy.I had picked this book up again last year just sensing a need for some more sturdy philosophical grounding for resilience in my life and then decided to promote it in my queue at the reco of Tim Ferriss.I slogged through it for a long time. Not gonna lie, the first half of the book really took it out of me. But something crazy happened along the way. My father died abruptly and all the sudden these discussions about resilience, temperance, equanimity, simplicity, moral clarity, overcoming the limits of mortality, and the stoicism in the face of loss--all of it came into focus. I found a lot of this to be spot-on and hella-comforting at this time.Now, I'm not going to start taking cold showers. But maybe I'll try it?Parts of this book, if you read them carefully, are a total lol. His railing against over-grooming in men and against the wearing of age-inappropriate clothing (hello 2013!). His letters CXIV and CXII about decadence are just awesome, plump with rants against literary adornment, affectation, fetishes. I see this hilarious crotchety old dude railing against the hepcats of Rome with their sunscreened boys and entourages partying all night. It's actually quite hilarious.Some notable cross references that this book stirred for me. 1) Fellini's film masterpiece from 1960 La Dolce Vita. You get some of that same thematic stuff as in Seneca's letter about Rome's decadence.2)Thoreau's Walden from 1854. You note a lot of philosophical commonality. Certain passages seem almost lifted from Seneca. Especially the most quoted stuff about sucking the marrow from life, about working on yourself, eschewing the pleasures of the world, living a life of principle, avoiding travel for the sake of variety alone.3) The Declaration of Independence (1776). Most apparent here is this philosophical summum bonum of Happiness (its pursuit). Seneca sets his views apart from mere knowledge-acquisition or philosophy for the sake of itself, by explicitly saying the end is about putting into practice decisions that make for a happy life. It's a profound departure from many thinkers at the time. It's amazing to see the the deep taproots of this idea stretch all the way from 1776 to AD 50 (and probably before). It's a great rejection of sophistry. "My advice is really this: what we hear the philosophers saying and what we find in their writings should be applied in our pursuit of the happy life." (Letter CVIII). We may see this as obvious, but it has not always been so.Last thing, the cash value for me in this has been in allowing in Seneca's ideas about how to cope with the death of loved ones. I'm pretty sure Seneca would be happy to know we put this stuff to use.Take your time with this book.

  • Kevin Baird
    2019-05-01 11:03

    Lots of life lessons to digest with this one. A few of my favorite highlights:On the importance of continuous learning:"Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day."On the importance of having a role model / mentor of sorts to keep you on the path:"Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he beheld them."On getting old:"Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline."On living each day like it was your last:"...every day ought to be regulated as if it closed the series, as if it rounded out and completed our existence."and this on living a good life:"It is with life as it is with a play, —it matters not how long the action is spun out, but how good the acting is. It makes no difference at what point you stop. Stop whenever you choose; only see to it that the closing period is well turned."On being prepared:We should therefore reflect upon all contingencies, and should fortify our minds against the evils which may possibly come.On not being affected by the words of despicable people:"What madness it is to be afraid of disrepute in the judgment of the disreputable ! Just as you have had no cause for shrinking in terror from the talk of men, so you have no cause now to shrink from these things, which you would never fear had not their talk forced fear upon you. Does it do any harm to a good man to be besmirched by unjust gossip?"Finally...a simple bit of wisdom on how to get, and maintain, peace of mind:"The most important contribution to peace of mind is never to do wrong. Those who lack self-control lead disturbed and tumultuous lives; their crimes are balanced by their fears, and they are never at ease. For they tremble after the deed, and they are embarrassed; their consciences do not allow them to busy themselves with other matters, and continually compel them to give an answer. Whoever expects punishment, receives it, but whoever deserves it, expects it.Where there is an evil conscience something may bring safety, but nothing can bring ease; for a man imagines that, even if he is not under arrest, he may soon be arrested. His sleep is troubled; when he speaks of another man's crime, he reflects upon his own, which seems to him not sufficiently blotted out, not sufficiently hidden from view. A wrongdoer sometimes has the luck to escape notice but never the assurance thereof."

  • julieta
    2019-05-23 09:09

    Hay algo muy gracioso que me pasa con Seneca. Lo leo y me parece poder vislumbrar como se puede intentar ser mejor persona. Sus consejos a Lucilo, y a quien lo lea, te ayudan a enfrentar tantas cosas distintas, la muerte, la amistad, la política, la espiritualidad, los libros, etc etc, da mil consejos, y sobre todo lo que se te pueda ocurrir, tiene una opinión que te ayuda a entenderlo o enfrentarlo. Consejos prácticos para la vida, o auto ayuda a la romana. Bellísimo y muy recomendado.

  • Astrid
    2019-05-05 09:06

    Me voilà stoïcienne.

  • Philipp
    2019-05-17 10:05

    tl;dr: Classic philosophy, mixed with old-people-opinionsThis is really good if you want to have a primer into Stoicism - the writing in these letters is straightforward, each letter handles two or three themes and is usually only a couple of pages long.The annoying parts are Seneca's old-people-opinions, some of which are:1. People who stay up all night are terrible2. 'For it is silly [.] to spend one's time exercising the biceps'3. Popular styles are terrible: 'It's object is to sway a mass audience'4. Everything was better in the past and the present is bad ('The earth herself, untilled, was more productive, her yields being more than ample for the needs of peoples who did not raid each other.' etc. pp. - the same arguments 2000 years later repeated in the terrible Ishmael)But, to quote the man,We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching, and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application [..] and learn them so well that words become works.And of these 'helpful pieces of teaching' the letters are chock-full.Bonus best quote:Lucius Piso was drunk from the very moment of his appointment as Warden of the City of Rome.

  • Pavel Annenkov
    2019-05-13 08:47

    Главная книга для стоиков вместе с книгой Марка Аврелия. Эту книгу я перечитываю каждый год.

  • Cooper Cooper
    2019-04-29 11:48

    Selected by Tiberius, Nero became emperor of Rome as a mere teenager, and Nero’s ambitious mother selected Seneca to tutor her son. For five years, while Nero goofed off, Seneca (in alliance with a general, Burris) actually ruled Rome. Some have claimed these were the best five years in the empire’s history. Then palace intrigue caught up with Seneca; he retired voluntarily; but a few years later, after being implicated in a plot against Nero’s life, he was directed to commit suicide (this was a common mode of execution in ancient Rome). Apart from politics, Seneca is best known for his plays (The Trojan Women, Phaedra) and his letters. Some claim that he invented the essay—it’s true that his letters are really essays in thin disguise. In them he instructed a younger friend on the proper (stoical) attitude toward life. His primary motive, however, was to win everlasting fame for himself (the Romans tended to be obsessed with fame—their notion of immortality). Some claim that in espousing the Roman version of voluntary simplicity Seneca was one of the world’s all-time great hypocrites: one of the wealthiest men in the empire, he had farflung holdings and lived lavishly. But of course he always claimed that wealth meant nothing to him—that he could readily give it up and still be as happy. And it is true that he lived up to his preachments on dying well—when committing suicide (as described by Tacitus), he was much calmer and more philosophical than those around him. The letters are mostly didactic. Because of the rhetorical style in Seneca’s day, the writing is repetitious, dense and epigrammatic. This makes for a strange combination of boring paragraphs and quotable sentences. I found some of the down-to-earth descriptions—for example, of the Roman baths—more interesting than the philosophical homilies. Here are some Senecaisms: *To Nero: “However many people you slaughter you cannot kill your successor.” *“The shortest way to wealth is the contempt of wealth.” *“What we say should be of use, not just entertaining.” *“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”*“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”*“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.”*“Nothing is as ruinous to the character as sitting away one’s time at a show—for it is then, through the medium of entertainment, that vices creep into one with more than usual ease.”*“Associate with people who are likely to improve you.”*“If you wish to be loved, love.” (He’s quoting Hecato)*“No one is so very old that it would be quite unnatural for him to hope for one more day.”*“Making noble resolutions is not as noble as keeping the resolutions you have made already.”*“If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.”*“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times.”*“Man is a rational animal. Man’s ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he was born. And what is it that reason demands of him? Something very easy—that he live in accordance with his own nature.”*“If you’re sensible you’ll never hope without an element of despair, and never despair without an element of hope.”Recommendation? Of the three great Roman letter-writers, for general interest I rate Seneca third behind Pliny the Younger (first) and Cicero (second). Pliny first, because he is down-to-earth and describes rather than preaches (he gives a splendid description, for example, of the Vesuvial destruction of Pompei). Cicero second, because he concerned himself with the great social and political topics of his day. Of the three, only Pliny the Younger died naturally.

  • Shyam
    2019-05-17 12:14

    I felt sad when I finished reading Seneca's final letter. I was saying goodbye to a very dear friend who I not only felt that I had come to know intimately over the past weeks, but to someone whose philosophies resonated with my own on various topics, and also at the most fundamental levels.__________Seneca's letters are, in my opinion, not only an essential work of Ethics, but an essential work in themselves.I also think that they epitomise the Stoic doctrine. They are more expansive than Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and cover a wider range of topics than Epictetus' lectures. Furthermore, he is more lucid and elaborate in explaining his thought processes than both. He gives poignant analogies and examples from Roman life. He is not rigid in his adherence to the Stoic tenets, but applies elements from other schools when he believes that they have merit; indeed, during a large number of the earlier letters, he ends with quotations from Epicurus.__________Too many people go through life not thinking about their own actions; not thinking about why they are performing those very actions in the first place.Perhaps you are simply continuing to do/think what you were taught during childhood. You are emulating your parents. Your friends. Those around you. Those in the same socio-economic class. People on your social networks. People you look up to. Your idols. Famous people. "Successful" people.Seneca's letters can change this. They not only contain advice on a vast number of topics, but advice that can be put to use immediately, and I truly believe that his brand of stoicism can be life-changing. He can help you to stop and think about the best way to live your life. To identify & correct faulty judgments. To To think for yourself. To free you.The Letters are not only one of the best works of philosophy, but one of the best works period that I have read so far. Seneca has the potential to change your entire perspective on various topics, but also on life itself. His letters can also make you laugh. Feel grief. Happiness. Sadness. Disgust. Loathing. Surprise. He can move you, inspire you. He gets down to fundamental aspects of the human condition. He can touch your spirit. Your soul.At least, he did mine . . .__________Although I have only read a rather modest number of books across a few genres as of writing this review, and although I have a lot more seminal works to read (Plato, Aristotle, Proust, Shakespeare, The Greek Dramatists...), I honestly do not think that a work will move me quite like this has (I suspect Plato & Aristotle may, and also Montaigne's Essays but then Montaigne himself was highly influenced by Seneca!)I hope you give Seneca's Letters a chance, and I hope he affects you as much as he did me.Farewell__________Do Seneca justice and get a complete copy of his letters. This edition is a great copy; an immensely readable translation with extensive, useful notes. If you are interested in Stoicism I can recommend reading Marcus Aurelius and some of Cicero's dialogues (On Friendship & On The Good Life), but I think Epictetus and Seneca have the most wisdom to impart.

  • Mahmoud Awad
    2019-05-10 16:16

    The Stoics were an interesting bunch. While at times it could seem that they were on something, it's important to admit that they were also onto something. It's difficult to try to review this without mentioning Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and I'm sure some grad student out there has tried to draw up an exhaustive comparison between the two. The two works are different in style as a result of the different nature of the two authors-one an emperor and the other the tutor for the emperor Nero, who would eventually emerge as the original 'Mad King'-and the two texts: one intended for only one pair of eyes and the other intended for at least two.Seneca's letters, naturally, took on a much more persuasive tone than the Meditations while remaining true to the central themes of Stoicism. So basically a rehearsal in: praise of the minimalist lifestyle, living virtuously, mind over matter, eradication of fear and angst, etc. I admired how he wouldn't hesitate to quote Epicurus (whose views on moderation and happiness are much more realistic than those of the Stoics in my opinion) despite their starkly differing ideologies as well as his various literary references. As I neared the end of the letters, it suddenly struck me how his morals pertaining to certain issues like death and embracing controversy were very closely aligned with those of Socrates. It therefore came as no surprise when he mentioned Socrates as well as Plato in one of his later letters. I found myself in agreement with many of his ideals though to a lesser degree than I did with Marcus Aurelius. If a title were to be given to these letters, it would be fair to name them 'Reflections.'The death of Seneca is itself an exercise in Stoicism, as he remained true to his principles. Overall, these letters were a nourishing read and offer some enticing ideals worthy of application in daily life.

  • Franta
    2019-05-05 10:10

    Wisdom worth returning to regularly."When time is so scarce what madness it is to learn superfluous things!"The gist of Seneca is to avoid superfluous things and behavior, thus to live in accordance with nature and its laws. Which is one of the key principles of Chinese taoists as well.Also, life is short so it is good to think about death. Every single day."If you wished to be loved, love.""True happiness is... to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.""The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.""There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse.""For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.""Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.""While we are postponing, life speeds by."

  • Chuck Rylant
    2019-05-01 15:46

    This is hard to rate because the book is loaded with valuable insights. There are several quotes that will apply to your life today.That said, it was very hard to read. It is boring beyond belief. It took me months to get through it because I could only take a few pages at a time before my mind wondered off.I don't think I got all there is to get from it in one read. This is more of a book that needs to be studied. Perhaps leave is laying on the coffee table and read a page or two a day with a high lighter. I will probably read it many times over to let all the wisdom sink in, but this same information could be easily condensed into another book with fewer words, and better editing to appeal to modern day readers.

  • Ann Spivack
    2019-05-10 15:59

    Okay, I'm not good at reading something like this cover to cover -- it's thought-provoking but it takes me a while to just think over each letter. I keep this book on my nightstand and read it just one letter at a time, and sometimes weeks go by before I read another. But still, there's something astonishing about reading ideas that still apply so many centuries after Seneca wrote them. For example, he says, stay on one subject; if you fly from topic to topic, it's harder for your mind to work at its best (I'm paraphrasing, of course). His words about how to think and how to learn are so interesting.

  • Joe
    2019-04-29 11:50

    Don't think I'd recommend this edition. With the lack of important letters and headers for each letter the reader does not get the full effect of Seneca. However, reading the unabridged 124 letters is where to go. This is where you'll find how great Seneca is: his full thoughts, not cut up and diluted.

  • Michael
    2019-05-08 11:58

    I think if I were to ascribe to any worldview, I would choose Stoicism. Seneca is one of the reasons why. An eminently reasonable man who continually urges his young charge to self-examination through the light of reason. A fun read with profound insight.

  • Kevin Cole
    2019-05-19 09:46

    If you like Stoic thinking, Seneca is not as pretty as Marcus Aurelius or good as Epictetus. He's more middle-of-the-road. Oddly, these letters read a lot like newspaper columns or blog entries.

  • ✿ Eva ✿
    2019-05-17 16:58

    Thanks to these letters, I officially own a certificate that I took latin classes! Also very interesting views on life and how to lead a fulfilling life.

  • Ci
    2019-05-24 16:02

    Seneca’s Letters astonished me by how immediately useful and nourishing to modern life. The prerequisite may be that the reader has possessed a passing acquaintance with the lives of notable Romans and schools of philosophy in the Greco-Roman period in order to avoid stumbles of references. However the whole body of Letters is immensely useful, and urgently so.Once we pass the archaic references such as Virgil’s Aeneid and biographies of notables such as Socrates, Zeno, Cicero, Mark Anthony, among others, then this collection of Letters can be appreciated as listening to a wise elder on how to live well. Seneca’s correspondence with his young friend has an intimate, conversational style, yet such style does not obscure the eloquent austerity of his teaching. Reading out loud, most of the letters is a gentle yet firm persuasion — and even admonition — for living a virtuous and noble life. One can dip in and out of any letter, drinking and refreshing one’s spirit in the daily frays of living in the world. Or alternating other great essays and letters, such as C.S. Lewis “Screwtape Letters”, Montaigne’s Essays, Rilke’s Letters, as regular draughts to fortify in one’s life of mind.Our present world has its particular ills from a consumer-driven, ego-centric, emotively neurotic culture. Seneca had much to say about how one should live according to one’s natural condition, avoid luxury and vanity. Yet, Seneca’s teaching differs from secular spiritualism of today. Seneca’s main concern is to develop one’s virtue in living well and fully, which is in rejection of any Epicurean tendency to retreat into Nature to avoid the conflicts and frays. Instead, as a Stoic, Seneca asks one to bear one’s duty in society while maintaining an internal freedom from fear and greed. Emotions such as anger, fear and hope are encumbrances on one’s freedom to preserve one’s virtue. Other advices from Seneca includes education, style of communication, instructive lessons from other people’s lives. All lively and vividly written. Seneca talked quite frankly about death and suicides, illness and misfortune, and other frailty of life. He asked his young friend to consider all the hindrance of misfortune as well as fortune in the natural course of human lives. Does it matter how long we live? Does it matter that we are envied/despised by others? In the end, what does life boil down to?Not merely pleasure or even happiness. Seneca’s concern is about a life well-lived in according to Nature. Contrary to Epicureanism, the end of the rainbow for stoics is not easy tranquility, but a studious cultivation of virtue through carrying on one’s duty with reason and equanimity. This is a voice with noble rationality yet full of affection from a wise elder to an attentive young. -- A friend mentioned about her favorite paragraph in Seneca's Letter:Omnia, Lucili, aliena sunt, tempus tantum nostrum est. In huius rei unius fugacis ac lubricae possessionem natura nos misit, ex qua expellit quicumque vult. Et tanta stultitia mortalium est, ut quae minima et viiissima sunt, certe reparabilia, imputari sibi, cum impetravere, patiantur ; nemo se iudieet quicquam debere, qui tempus aecepit, cum interim hoc unum est, quod ne gratus quidem potest reddere.Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be! They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them ; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity,—time ! And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.Cher Lucilius, tout le reste est d’emprunt, le temps seul est notre bien. C’est la seule chose, fugitive et glissante, dont la nature nous livre la propriété ; et nous en dépossède qui veut. Mais telle est la folie humaine : le don le plus mince et le plus futile, dont la perte au moins se répare, on veut bien se croire obligé pour l’avoir obtenu ; et nul ne se juge redevable du temps qu’on lui donne, de ce seul trésor que la meilleure volonté ne peut rendre.

  • Rajai Nussiebeh
    2019-05-16 15:49

    Seneca, a great Stoic and a powerful man said “I don’t care about the author if the line is good.” That is the ethos of practical philosophy—it doesn’t matter from whom or when it came from, what matters if it helps you in your life, if only for a second. Reading Seneca will do that.Letter from a Stoic is one of the basic reads if you're getting introduced to Stoicism, again as with everything related to Stoics, no easy answers are provided, only advice on how to go through problems with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, disappointments and so many other things . A Greet recommendation

  • Noah
    2019-05-18 13:47

    "Greetings from Seneca to his friend Lucillius." Thus begins every letter of this impressive collection. The letters, although often times repetitive, offer a priceless look in Ancient Rome. The noise of the theaters, the roar of the crowds, and the chaotic and crowded streets of the Roman Empire are all described in detail. They are also (and thus their namesake) a collection of Stoic morals and philosophy, as Seneca tries to teach his friend Lucillius (who apparently was something of an Epicurean) how to live the Stoic life. Knowledge about Stoicism is extremely important for studying Roman history, and some scholars even consider it the unofficial religion of many Romans until the time that Christianity was embraced. How to treat your spouse, your friends, how to eat, how to be content and self controlled no matter how rich or poor you are, and how to abandon the fear of death (and in extension, about everything else) are just some of the topics covered by Seneca the Younger. However, there are some things which most modern readers will consider unusual. His stance on suicide, slavery, and the way he labels certain people "feminine" (with a negative connotation) will be disagreed with by many people. Despite these flaws, these letters are priceless for anyone studying Ancient Rome, Stoic philosophy, or just philosophy in general. Very highly recommended.

  • G.
    2019-04-28 10:10

    I would say that Seneca has given me one of the best explanations I have ever heard for the balance between living lives that are in our control and being able to affect a resillient attitude on those things which are not in our control, not allowing ourselves to become beholden to vice or fortune, or for that matter, misfortune. Any one of his letters is wildly quotable, and his style is both easy to percieve as well as intensely educated. If Chesterton demands that the best authors write to the masses rather than the masses attempting to understand what is Great or subtly powerful, Seneca achieves both connection as well as Greatness. If anything can inspire you to look critically at overconsumption, quality friendship, the influence of the masses, defining your fears, living unfettered by sickness and old age, and being able to live in comfort with poverty and simplicity, Seneca is your man.