Some Timeless Wisdom From Seneca

Seneca – Letters From A Stoic.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, better known as Seneca, was born in Cordoba, the Roman Spain, in 4 BC and died in 65 AD. He grew up in Rome as a son of a procurator who was an authority in rhetoric, public speaking and debate, and I guess Seneca learnt from his father.

Seneca is known for his writings, mainly his essays and over one hundred letters dealing with moral issues. The essays and letters is the main material for Stoicism. His influence is immense, read the quotes below to understand why, and his timeless wisdom will most likely continue for thousands of years. Seneca gained much wisdom from his own illness: During his life he suffered from ill health and contemplated suicide several times. This is apparent in some of the letters where he discusses life and death.

In the introduction of Letters From A Stoic the translator writes that Seneca’s writing style matters more than the topic. The sentences are pretty long, but still easy to understand.

I have read two books by Seneca: On the Shortness Of Life and Letters From A Stoic. Below you find what I consider to be the main takeaways after the first read, and the quotes are pretty self-explanatory. The quotes are taken in chronological order from start to finish and not sorted on topic.

On the shortness of life:

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it…..So it is – the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but we are wasteful of it.

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The part of life we really live is small.

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No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

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Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things – eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies – since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it.

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Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from yearning for the future and a weariness of the present.

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But no one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing.

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They keep themselves very busily enganged in order that they may be able to live better, they spend life in making ready to live!

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….then at last they reflect how uselessly they have striven for things which they did not enjoy…..

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But those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and troubled…..

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Reasons for anxiety will never be lacking, whether born of prosperity or of wretchedness; life pushes on in a succession of engrossments. We shall always pray for leisure, but never enjoy it.

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They will waste all their years, in order that they may have one year reckoned by their name.

Letters from a Stoic:

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.

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To be everywhere is to be nowhere.

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A plant which is frequently moved never grows strong.

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It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.

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You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.

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But if you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of a true friendship.

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Those people who, contrary to Theophrastus’ advice, judge a man after they have made him their friend instead of the other way around, certainly put the cart before the horse.

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Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one.

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For a delight in bustling about is not industry – it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind.

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…the active man should be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action.

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Refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention.

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Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more.

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There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.

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Associating with people in large numbers is actually harmful.

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Associate with people who are likely to improve you.

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When his whole attention is absorbed in concentration on the work he is enganged on, a tremendous sense of satisfaction is created in him by his very absorption.

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What is my object in making a friend? To have someone to be able to die for.

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“All my possessions”, he said, “are with me”, meaning by this the qualities of a just, a good and an enlightened character, and indeed the very fact of not regarding as valuable anything that is capable of being taken away.

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Does it make you see how much easier it can be to conquer a whole people that to conquer a single man?

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Any man…who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the world.

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Only the wise man is content with what is his. All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.

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Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it.

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Every pleasure defers till its last its greatest delights.

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Whoever has said “I have lived” receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

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It is clear to you, I know, Lucilius, that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom.

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Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.

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If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.

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So, my dear Lucilius, start following these men’s practice and appoint certain days on which to give up everything and make yourself at home with next to nothing. Start cultivating a relationship with poverty.

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A good character is the only gurantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.

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How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddles with the very thing that drove you away.

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Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive there.

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As it is, instead of travelling, you are rambling and drifting, exchanging one place for another when the thing you are looking for, the good life, is available everywhere.

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For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right.

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…he should not increase his pace and pile on the words beyond the capacity of the ear….I’m telling you to be a slow-speaking person.

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You’ve as many enemies as you’ve slaves. They are not our enemies when we acquire them; we make them so.

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Treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your own superiors.

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I propose to value them according to their character, not their jobs……should respect a master rather than fear him……to be really respected is to be loved,

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No one can lead a happy life if he thinks only of himself and turns everything to his own purposes.

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People who are really busy never have enough time to become skittish.

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Nothing makes itself unpopular quite so quickly as a person’s grief.

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Our Stoic philosphers, as you know, maintain that there are two elements in the universe from which all things are derived, namely cause and matter.

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…but life is never incomplete if it is an hounourable one.

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Wouldn’t you think a man an utter fool if he bursts into tears because he didn’t live a thousand years ago? A man is as much a fool for shedding tears because he isn’t going to be alive a thousand years from now.

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You want to live – but do you know how to live?

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There are times when even to live is an act of bravery.

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Everything hangs on one’s thinking……A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is…..when some trouble or other comes to an end the natural thing is to be glad.

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…the feeling that one is tired of being, of existing, is usually the result of an idle and inactive leisure.

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In a single day there lies open to men of learning more than there ever does to the unenlightened in the longest of lifetimes.

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Drunkenness inflames and lays bare every vice, removing the reserve that acts as a check on impulses to wrong behaviour.

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Well, I have no respect for any study whatsoever if its end is the making of money.

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The geometrician teaches me how I may avoid losing any fraction of my estates, but what I really want to learn is how to lose the lot and still keep smiling.

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What’s the use of overcoming opponent after opponent in the wrestling or boxing rings if you can be overcome by your temper?

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Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy?

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Nothing is durable, whether for an individual or for a society.

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A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity.

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Timagenes, used to declare that the one reason fires distressed him was the knowledge that what would rise up afterwards would be of a better standard than what had burned.

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We’re born unequal, we die equal.

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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.

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Death you’ll think of as the worst of all bad things, though in fact there’s nothing bad about it at all except the thing which comes before it – the fear of it.

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It’s not because they’re hard that we lose confidence; they’re hard because we lack the confidence.

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And then we need to look down on wealth, which is the wage of slavery.

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Now think of the things which goad man into destroying man: you’ll find that they are hope, envy, hatred, fear, and contempt.

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People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax.

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We must see to it that nothing takes us by surprise.

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And just as the way in which each individual expresses himself resembles the way he acts, so in the case of a nation of declining morals and given over to luxury forms of expression at any given time mirror the general behaviour of that society.

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It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.

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Look at the number of things we buy because others have bought them or because they’re in most people’s houses.

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Eating, drinking, spending the money that’s been left to you, that’s what I call living – and that’s what I call not forgetting that you’ve got to die some day, too.

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No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt.

 

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