In letter 53 Seneca uses a personal experience of a sea voyage to affirm that we easily overlook our faults, even those that constantly make themselves apparent:
“we forget or ignore our failings, even those that affect the body, which are continually reminding us of their existence, — not to mention those which are more serious in proportion as they are more hidden.” (LIII, 5)
Then he goes on to say that no one admits his faults “Because he is still in their grasp; only he who is awake can recount his dream, and similarly a confession of sin is…
Seneca says that very few men find their way to the truth without anyone’s help, carving their own passage, and that most of us need teachers, dividing this sort into those with an aptitude for learning and others who must struggle against their nature.
“I should accordingly deem more fortunate the man who has never had any trouble with himself; but the other, I feel, has deserved better of himself, who has won a victory over the meanness of his own nature, and has not gently led himself, but has wrestled his way, to wisdom.“(LII, 6)
The theme of the…
This week’s letter would fit well with a time of festivities such as the Carnival or Spring Break. In it Seneca warns Lucilius of the dangers of pleasures and vices, saying that we should seek out places that are healthy not only for the body but especially for the spirit, and says that there is no point in “witnessing people wandering drunkenly along the beach, the turbulent parties, noisy music, and all other forms of luxury:
“We ought to select abodes which are wholesome not only for the body but also for the character.” (LI, 4)
Stoic doctrine teaches that…
Letters 49 to 58 were written while Seneca was traveling. This reflex on the first teaching of Letter 50, as Seneca says that our problems are not external, but intrinsic to each of us:
We are indeed apt to ascribe certain faults to the place or to the time; but those faults will follow us, no matter how we change our place. (L,1)
He soon goes on to tell a personal story, an illustration of the extravagant life of the Roman upper class. He speaks of his wife’s private buffoon who goes blind and doesn’t notice. …
Letter 49 discusses a very relevant theme for Seneca, which he dealt with in depth in his book “On the Shortness of Life“. In this letter we got the main idea, that is, that life is not short, but rather we make bad use of it:
“For this reason I am all the more angry that some men claim the major portion of this time for superfluous things, — time which, no matter how carefully it is guarded, cannot suffice even for necessary things.” (XLIX, 5)
“the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we…
In the letter 48, Seneca for the first time sharply criticizes Epicureanism, the antagonistic philosophy toward Stoicism. The central point of the criticism is the relationship with friends: Seneca says that for the Stoic, the terms “friend” and “man” are coextensive, since he is everyone’s friend, and his motive for friendship is to be useful; Whereas the Epicurean restricts the definition of “friend” and considers it merely as an instrument for his own happiness:
In letter 47 Seneca talks about the relationship between master and slave and brings some of his most striking phrases: “No servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed. ” (XLVII, 17)
The letter is long, but a very interesting read, mainly because of the details of Roman life narrated by Seneca ranging from gastronomic and sexual orgies to the trade, liberation and capture of slaves. Seneca reminds us that Plato and Diogenes as well as Hecuba (queen of Troy) fell into captivity and became slaves.
Letter 46 is quite particular to Lucilius and contains little actual message. However it is a good example of a laudatory text.
Originally published at http://thestoicletters.com on February 20, 2021.
1. I received the book of yours which you promised me. I opened it hastily with the idea of glancing over it at leisure; for I meant only to taste the volume. But by its own charm the book coaxed me into traversing it more at length. You may understand from this fact how eloquent it was; for it seemed to be written in the smooth style, and yet did…
In the letter 45 Sêneca talks about the sophist school and defines it as a futile exercise:
“They lost much time in quibbling about words and in sophistical argumentation; all that sort of thing exercises the wit to no purpose. We tie knots and bind up words in double meanings, and then try to untie them. Have we leisure enough for this? Do we already know how to live, or die? “ (XLV, 5)
It sums up that not knowing sophisms does no harm, and mastering them does no good, the main message is to focus on the important, letting…
The letter 44 is quite significant for the present days where it is common to complain about the “privileges” of others and play the victim, that is, just like Lucilius did 2000 years ago.
Seneca’s response is excellent, and contains two parts:
“Philosophy neither rejects nor selects anyone; its light shines for all. Socrates was no aristocrat. Cleanthes worked at a well and served as a hired man watering a garden. Philosophy did not find Plato already a nobleman; it made him one.” (XLIV, 2–3)