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Letters from a Stoic (A Penguin Classics…
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Letters from a Stoic (A Penguin Classics Hardcover) (edition 2015)

by Seneca (Author), Coralie Bickford-Smith (Illustrator), Robin Campbell (Translator), Robin Campbell (Introduction)

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2,433216,216 (4.14)34
Essays. Philosophy. Nonfiction. HTML:

Brought to you by Penguin.
This Penguin Classic is performed by Julian Glover, Olivier Award winning actor, also known for his roles in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. This definitive recording includes an Introduction by Robin Campbell.

A philosophy that saw self-possession as the key to an existence lived 'in accordance with nature', Stoicism called for the restraint of animal instincts and the severing of emotional ties. These beliefs were formulated by the Athenian followers of Zeno in the fourth century BC, but it was in Seneca (c. 4 BC- AD 65) that the Stoics found their most eloquent advocate. Stoicism, as expressed in the Letters, helped ease pagan Rome's transition to Christianity, for it upholds upright ethical ideals and extols virtuous living, as well as expressing disgust for the harsh treatment of slaves and the inhumane slaughters witnessed in the Roman arenas. Seneca's major contribution to a seemingly unsympathetic creed was to transform it into a powerfully moving and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.
(P) 2019 Penguin Audio

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Member:kaixo
Title:Letters from a Stoic (A Penguin Classics Hardcover)
Authors:Seneca (Author)
Other authors:Coralie Bickford-Smith (Illustrator), Robin Campbell (Translator), Robin Campbell (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2015), Edition: Reissue, 352 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading
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Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger

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» See also 34 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Lyrical, poetic, easy flowing story of a woman's life in Iran during one of it's most turbulent times. But it falls very short. She is almost an observer, if even that, of what was really going on. Her husband is active in the efforts to get nuclear arms banned, but even with that cause she mostly views his activity as time away from her. Even when she is challenged on the street because a little of her hair is showing, it seems to be brushed over when friends manage to talk her way out of the situation. A situation that could easily have gotten very serious. Three stars for the writing. Two stars for the story.
1 vote mysterymax | Dec 4, 2023 |
While there were a lot of points that I disagreed with, for the most part there were lots of insights that I will try taking with me. There were a couple funny letters, I liked letter 88 when he was just clowning Liberal Arts lol. A couple of my other favorites were 90, 65, and 78. The introduction was also very interesting it’s funny how he preached all these stoic values but didn’t practice it. He definitely led a really crazy life with lots of ups and downs. It is interesting to see how people wrote to each other back then, and how his writing changed over time. It is interesting how much he quoted Epicurious in his earlier letters and how he changed it views to be that one should not just spout quotes. ( )
  Radar12378 | Nov 30, 2023 |
This is my first foray into Greek philosophy as an adult. Bits of Stoic philosophy seem absorbed into modern culture, so few of the adages and admonitions are "brand new" to me. The human faults he addresses at length, mostly to do with excess and lack of self control, are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Buckle up, Seneca has strong opinions on just about every facet of the human experience.

Much of the first few letters discusses becoming happy with oneself, to the point of needing nothing else, riches or home or possessions or companionship. This is more or less tempered by the contention that you should want friends and family, and riches only in proportion as is needed to service those people and the public good, but that you should be equally comfortable with none of it.

Probably the single most relatable anecdote is Seneca's complaint that people prepared for Saturnalia earlier each year such that December "used to be a month but is now a year". Halloween, Christmas, anyone?

Here I also found my new favorite Diogenes anecdote: Upon observing a child drinking from a stream with his hands, Diogenes immediately his cup and chastises himself for foolishly carrying around extra luggage.

A few segments that stood out to me:

- In Letter LXIII (probably the best to me,) Seneca discusses the death of a friend. He gives some admonition that one should not grieve overlong because it's basically done to prove to ourselves or others that we loved the deceased, and that we'll stop grieving when it's "convenient" anyway. This is probably a massive oversimplification of grief in the modern day, but I'm sympathetic to it. Commenting on one who has no other friends he calls this self-injury: "[fortune] has deprived us of a single friend but we have deprived ourselves of every friend we have failed to make."
- Letter LIV: Talking about the fear of death, Seneca asserts that the time before one is born is more or less equivalent: "If there is any torment [after I die], there must also have been torment in the period before we saw the light of day."
- In Letter LVI Seneca discusses occasionally working above the din of a bath house rather than in seclusion, and amongst this I mostly enjoy some commentary about how an anxious person's mind will be more (or merely differently) anxious during the supposed "peaceful stillness" of night.
- In letter CXXIII he addresses the distortive and destructive impact of vice and how it pushes our limits and expectations further as we indulge. He discusses the idea that absurd vices infect society because "... our lives are guided by the example of others; instead of being set to rights by reason we're seduced by convention". Things that we wouldn't consider doing or owning if only a few people did them are seen as reasonable once they are ubiquitous. He gives some hilarious examples that are analogous to today's status-signal luxuries. Here too he addresses the need to stay away from people who indulge to excess or make mischievous, gossipy or otherwise destructive talk, as "once such talk has made its entry and been allowed inside, it becomes a good deal bolder."

Seneca rails at length about the supremacy of philosophy over all other fields of endeavor. He arbitrarily demarcates where prose is overly flowery (or 'effeminate') or where technology is too advanced to be good. This is actually pretty relatable, but it's hard to draw much value from it. He quotes the contemporary and wildly popular Virgil liberally and mostly refrains from chiding the poet for any literary excess while knocking down Gaius Maecenas, whose writing at least as translated here seems pretty natural. I'm sympathetic to his points, but this gets kind of old.

If you find your interest waning in the latter half of the collection, consider skipping ahead a bit, as some of the most substantial letters are the last few.

The Penguin Classics edition has an excellent biographical introduction to Seneca and useful footnotes. I wish I hadn't known that Seneca was fabulously wealthy before reading and had instead learned it afterwards, as I think my reading was a bit tainted by that. It's a little harder to buy the commentary about how noble it is to "do without" when the person telling you so is one of the richest people in the Roman empire.

There's a bunch of other random thoughts I have based on context but this review is already overlong. A lot of the commentary will at this point seem like "fluff" to most, but I take the (short) piece for what it is, enjoy what it offers that is novel to me and ignore the sillier bits. ( )
1 vote bozun | Aug 22, 2023 |
I've deeply disliked modern philosophy. To me, it feels like the field comes up with theories about human life, happiness, behavior, ideals, but then brazenly refuses to put any of it to the test. It prefers the beauty of an idea to the reality of its implementation. It's kind of like fantasy-writing except the authors pretend it's an actual field of study instead of acknowledging what they're doing is just a fun mental exercise.

In the meantime, I've felt like there was something missing from human understanding. There's no one out there trying to create a philosophy and live it, see how it works in the real-world, modify it, and improve it. This field is absent from human life, even though, to me, it feels like this would be the most important thing humans could do.

This collection of letters is that missing field in action. These letters were only intended for 1 person (Lucilius), so there's a deep level of intimacy to them. We don't see Seneca as the public figure, but Seneca as the man, trying to live the good life, putting his ideals to the test every day as best he can, faltering along the way and being upfront about the faltering. Throughout, he tries to emphasize that philosophy-- all of this -- is only useful if it improves life.

He does go on random esoteric rants about abstract ideas (as all philosophers ultimately do) but that's not the core of these letters -- there is a small amount of intellectual debate between 2 people (where, unfortunately, we only get 1 side), but it's mostly "how are you, here's how I'm doing, here are some of the things I'm facing/have faced and here's how it interconnects to this philosophy I'm practicing".

What's also weird is how extremely apropos almost all of his advice is to our modern lives. Not just in a "timeless ideal" sense -- he complains about how noisy it is to have an apartment in the city, how sometimes we like to pretend to be too busy to respond to messages, he even complains about shops setting up for Christmas (Saturnalia) earlier and earlier every year! It really makes him feel relatable to me and my own world, which is why I think it also strikes such a strong chord with me.

It's also just so refreshing to see a person trying to merge their intellectual ideals with their real-life self, and exchanging tips and tricks to help do that, but also not getting lost in the abstract, and not beating themselves up too much when they slip up. I feel like I'm trying to do the same in my life, and reading these letters makes me feel like I'm not the only one doing that. I feel personally supported by this guy from 2000 years ago in a way I don't feel in the modern world.

I've never more desperately wanted to meet a person from history and sit and have a beer with them.
( )
  nimishg | Apr 12, 2023 |
Read the first 25 of the 125 “letters.” Some good advice in there I’m sure, but nothing that captivated me or seemed very different from other stoic/epicurean type writing I’ve seen over the years in bits and pieces.
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Youngerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Campbell, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Feldhūns, ĀbramsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zariņš, VilnisForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Judging from what you tell me and from what I hear, I feel that you show great promise.
Quotations
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.
Letter XXVIII
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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Essays. Philosophy. Nonfiction. HTML:

Brought to you by Penguin.
This Penguin Classic is performed by Julian Glover, Olivier Award winning actor, also known for his roles in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. This definitive recording includes an Introduction by Robin Campbell.

A philosophy that saw self-possession as the key to an existence lived 'in accordance with nature', Stoicism called for the restraint of animal instincts and the severing of emotional ties. These beliefs were formulated by the Athenian followers of Zeno in the fourth century BC, but it was in Seneca (c. 4 BC- AD 65) that the Stoics found their most eloquent advocate. Stoicism, as expressed in the Letters, helped ease pagan Rome's transition to Christianity, for it upholds upright ethical ideals and extols virtuous living, as well as expressing disgust for the harsh treatment of slaves and the inhumane slaughters witnessed in the Roman arenas. Seneca's major contribution to a seemingly unsympathetic creed was to transform it into a powerfully moving and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.
(P) 2019 Penguin Audio

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