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Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus…

Letters from a Stoic

by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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At times Seneca just sounds silly - there are passages where he waxes nostalgic about the era before daily bathing, or rails against people who don’t get up early enough. At other times he promises too much from philosophy, writing as if the wise person can reach a point where they are not susceptible to serious suffering. But he also gives thoughtful and eloquent advice towards the goals of continual self-improvement and steeling oneself against misfortune. ( )
  brokensandals | Feb 7, 2019 |

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! ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
This is a fantastic work in a great translation and equipped with just the right amount of notes and introduction. Seneca's wisdom will continue to instruct us as it has done for centuries. No problems there. To the edition: I chose the Penguin pocket hardback because it is a durable and attractive format, with a cover by the brilliant Coralie Bickford-Smith. However, this edition comes with an enormous caveat – it is riddled with typos. Not just a few, which is forgivable – lots. This is so out of keeping with Penguin's rigorous editorial tradition that it comes as quite a shock. I suspect that these are OCR errors occasioned when the new edition was set; with this in mind I would almost advise buying the paperback edition of this translation instead. ( )
  Lirmac | Aug 29, 2018 |
I have remiss in not studying philosophy. I cannot get enough of it these days. I guess maybe I had to be at a certain place in life to be a huge seeker of wisdom and onward I will certainly go. “We must spend time in study of the writings of wise men (women) to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not been discovered.”-Seneca ( )
  joyfulmimi | Jul 20, 2018 |
The Letters is regarded as one of the three key Stoic works, along with Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and Epictetus' Discourses. My initial thoughts were that Seneca's letters provided gems of genius amid banal everyday topics. Indeed, one critic compared Seneca's style with a boar taking a whiz (provided in the detailed notes to the letters). But the moments of genius continue to resonate as if Seneca showed me, empirically, a primal instinct. There is so much of the source of contemporary social norms in this work. I am often surprised how modern complaints were "old hat" even in the time of the classics. For example, Seneca despises those who follow the crowd and let the majority following determine right and wrong. Further, he complains about the modern conveniences and how people suffer from what we might today term "affluenza". Maybe this does not bode well for the present state of affairs. I have learnt a great deal from this book, as I did with Meditations, and I am eager to delve into Discourses. ( )
1 vote madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Seneca, Lucius Annaeusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Campbell, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Feldhūns, ĀbramsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zariņš, VilnisForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Judging from what you tell me and from what I hear, I feel that you show great promise.
Are you really surprised, as if it were something unprecedented, that so long a tour and such diversity of scene have not enabled you to throw off this melancholy and this feeling of depression? A change of character, not a change of air, is what you need.
I have been speaking about liberal studies. Yet look at the amount of useless and superfluous matter to be found in the philosophers. Even they have descended to the level of drawing distinctions between the uses of different syllables and discussing the proper meanings of prepositions and conjunctions. They have come to envy the philologist and the mathematician, and they have taken over all the inessential elements in those studies -- with the result that they know more about devoting care and attention to their speech than about devoting such attention to their lives. Letter LXXXVIII
A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man without trials.
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Selected letters from Seneca's epistles to Lucilius. Please do not combine with complete editions of the letters, with different selections, or with classical language versions.
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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 Stoicism was to spiritualize and humanize a system which could appear cold and unrealistic.… (more)

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