Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, Part II

SenecaIn Part I of this edition of Poppa’s Notes, I briefly discussed and then summarized Seneca’s “Letters from a Stoic” (aka “Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium”). Seneca wrote these letters to his friend Lucilius. Here’s Part II:

78 – Sorry to hear you’ve been sick, Lucilius. Now buck up, li’l soldier – you can overcome it with your mind. An enlightened mind doesn’t waste energy fretting over material pleasures – pleasure comes through philosophy.
83 – I am getting older, so my day consists mostly of resting and reading, with some light exercise thrown in. Drunkenness doesn’t necessarily mean one is unworthy, but it is unwise nonetheless.
86 – Bath houses just aren’t what they used to be – what’s all this concern about clear, clean water? We are men and we should be proud of our manly smells! Even old olive trees can be transplanted.
88 – The study of liberal arts is inferior to that of wisdom and philosophy. Why waste your time measuring the circumference of a square if you cannot even measure the soul?Bravery, loyalty, self-control, humanity, simplicity, modesty, restraint, frugality, mercy – these are the tenets of wisdom, and they are not found in the liberal arts textbook.
90 – Philosophy is the path to living well – life without it is simply life. In seeking luxury, we shun nature. Philosophy does not make things, it makes happiness. Philosophy seeks to understand nature, to elucidate truth. Before there were possessions, people were truly free; but though they lived like philosophers, they were not wise – only ignorant of vice.
91. Prepare the spirit for rapid turns in fortune, for she is fickle. Chaos rules, all things must come to an end. From the unenlightened, I hear only the breaking of wind when their lips move.
104 – I have taken refuge from illness by getting out of the city and I’m better already. Travel doesn’t cure sickness or boredom or dissatisfaction.
105 – For peace of mind, forsake hope, envy, hatred, fear, and contempt – in return you will find these are seldom directed at you.
107 – Prepare for pain and suffering that they will not surprise you. Do not fight too hard against what fate has decreed.
108 – The goal in learning philosophy should be to seek out that which can be applied, then to apply it.
114 – One’s writing style is a reflection of one’s spirit – an extravagant society breeds extravagant, drunken writing.
122 – Night-dwellers live an existence antithetical to nature. A luxurious lifestyle is complicated and difficult, whereas the natural life is simple and straightforward.
123 – No man can have all, but all men can be content with little. Convention often creates consumption, consumerism. These days everybody has to have his Numidian horsemen, myrrhine vessels, and make-upped page boys. Do not crave luxury* – do not fear pain, suffering, death.

So there you have it, Seneca in his own words (or rather, my summarized translation of a translation of his words). Certainly not all is lost in translation, though – what comes across is a picture of a guy that, despite some tarnish, retains some shiny nuggets of wisdom for the harvesting.


*He says as his slaves pour him another bath.


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