Seneca: Letters from a Stoic

Aug 18, 2013

Seneca Letters from a Stoic cover

Rating: 45

I had high expectations for this book (or collection of essays), and it didn’t disappoint. When reading it I was constantly struck by how amazing it was that I was reading something written 2,000 years ago. Seneca lived from 4BC - AD65, and his ideas are still applicable today. The book is structured as a series of letters to Seneca’s friend, Lucilius Junior. Each letter to Lucilius is read as an essay with a theme Seneca is addressing. This style makes reading the letters easy, since they can be consumed in small pieces. The edition I read also had a biography of Seneca and his influences on later philosophers, but I found it to be pretty dry.

Notes:

  • The primary indication of a well-formed mind is the ability to linger in one’s own company.

  • Poor men are those who crave more.

  • A common theme was the importance of friendship. Nothing is pleasant without those to share it with.

  • Associate with people who will make you better (this same advice has apparently been given for thousands of years).

  • Stoic men are self-sufficient in their happiness.

  • It’s easier to change yourself to not rely on luck (Fortune) for your happiness, than it is to always be lucky.

  • Self control is harder and often more respectable than complete abstinence.

  • Think often about the worst case scenarios like poverty. Seneca even advocates practicing them. Then ask yourself is there really that much to fear?

  • Many travel to try to get away from themselves. Instead, learn to befriend yourself and enjoy your own company.

  • You can make another’s words and ideas your own by putting them into action.

  • You need to acknowledge your faults before you can improve them (again, advice given for a long time).

  • Your life is complete as a whole if you live it honorably, regardless of achievements you’ve managed to complete.

  • Life without courage is slavery.

  • Despise death, do not fear it.

  • Pain is bearable and slight if no opinion is added to it. Tell yourself it is nothing.

  • Don’t linger in past sufferings.

  • Nothing should be unexpected, prepare for the worst possibilities.

  • We are better and more industrious if we welcome the dawn (wake early) than if we sleep through the noon.

  • We should be opposite from most: retreat from the objects that allure, and instead rouse ourselves to meet the objects that attack.

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