On the Shortness of Life – by Seneca
Date read: 5/4/17. Recommendation: 9/10.
If you're looking to dive deeper into the works of Seneca, this is a great follow up to Letters from a Stoic. I read the Penguin Great Ideas edition. It's a collection of three essays filled with plenty of brilliant insight that Seneca is so well known for.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
Life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks. One man is soaked in wine, another sluggish with idleness...
You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing which it is right to be stingy.
You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don't notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply...You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.
How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!
Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and a weariness of the present. But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day. For what new pleasures can any hour now bring him? He hast tried everything, and enjoyed everything to repletion.
So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.
But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it costs nothing.
The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.
Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own.
We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all; and if we are prepared in loftiness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a long period of time through which we can roam. We can argue with Socrates, express doubt with Carneades, cultivate retirement with Epicurus, overcome human nature with Stoics, and exceed its limits with the Cynics.
Honors, monuments, whatever the ambitious have ordered by decrees or raised in public buildings are soon destroyed: there is nothing that the passage of time does not demolish and remove.
But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.
It was nature's intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy. External goods are of trivial importance and without much influence in either direction: prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him.
Never have I trusted Fortune, even when she seemed to offer peace. All those blessing which she kindly bestowed on me – money, public office, influence – I relegated to a place whence she could claim them back without bothering me. I kept a wide gap between them and me, with the result that she has taken them away, not torn them away.
Let us pass on to the rich: how frequently they are just like the poor! When they travel abroad their luggage is restricted, and whenever they are forced to hasten their journey they dismiss their retinue of attendants.
No man is despised by another unless he is first despised by himself.
What you need is...confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours of people who are hopelessly lost, though some are wandering not far from the true path. But what you are longing for is great and supreme and nearly divine – not to be shaken. The Greeks call this stead firmness of mind 'euthymia', but I call it tranquility.
If you apply yourself to study you will avoid all boredom with life, you will not long for night because you are sick of daylight, you will be neither a burden to yourself nor useless to others, you will attract many to become your friends and the finest people will flock about you.
We must be especially careful in choosing people, and deciding whether they are worth devoting a part of our lives to them, whether the sacrifice of our time makes a difference to them.
Avoid those who are gloomy and always lamenting, and who grasp at every pretext for complaint...a companion who is agitated and groaning about everything is an enemy to peace of mind.
People are more cheerful whom Fortune has never favored than those whom she has deserted.
Let us aim to acquire our riches from ourselves rather than from Fortune.
In this race course of our lives, we must keep to the inner track. (minimalism)
So we should buy enough books for us, and none just for embellishment...Excess in any sphere is reprehensible.
Should Nature demand back what she previously entrusted to us we shall say to her too: "Take back my spirit in better shape than when you gave it."
For by foreseeing anything that can happen as though it will happen he will soften the onslaught of all of his troubles, which present no surprises to those who are ready and waiting for them, but fall heavily on those who are careless in the expectation.
It is too late for the mind to equip itself to endure dangers once they are already there.
Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.
So we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.
We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air.