Category Archives: Seneca to Lucilius

Seneca to Lucilius: on old age

Old LeonardoThis is the 12th letter to Lucilius, in the translation by Richard Mott Gummere published in the Delphi Classics edition of Seneca’s Complete Works, and it deals with an issue that an increasing number of people in the first world of today have to deal with: old age.

Seneca begins by recalling a recent visit to one of his country houses, during which he complained to one of his employees that too much money was being spent to keep it up. But his bailiff protested that the house was getting old, and the repairs were therefore entirely warranted. So Seneca writes to Lucilius: “And this was the house which grew under my own hands! What has the future in store for me, if stones of my own age are already crumbling?” (XII.1)

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Seneca to Lucilius: on the blush of modesty

BlushingThe 11th letter to Lucilius, in the translation by Richard Mott Gummere published in the Delphi Classics edition of Seneca’s Complete Works, deals with a couple of crucial Stoic tenets: the distinction between impressions and assent, and the idea of role models.

Seneca begins with the unlikely topic of blushing, which one simply cannot avoid doing, no matter how hard one tries. He tells his friend Lucilius that “by no wisdom can natural weaknesses of the body be removed. That which is implanted and inborn can be toned down by training, but not overcome” (XI.1).

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Seneca to Lucilius: on friendship

Friendship[see here for a brief introduction to this ongoing series]

The ninth letter written by Seneca to his friend Lucilius is about friendship, and it begins with an example of what could fairly — if superficially — be considered a Stoic paradox: “the wise man is self-sufficient. Nevertheless, he desires friends, neighbours, and associates, no matter how much he is sufficient unto himself.”

But of course there is no contradiction in this. One is self-sufficient in the sense that, if need be, one can be happy even without externals such as friends, neighbors and associates. Indeed, remember that for the Stoics the Sage can be “happy” (meaning eudaimon) even on the rack. But that doesn’t mean that’s the preferred way to live, even for a Sage, let alone for the rest of us.

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Seneca to Lucilius: on avoiding crowds

Crowds[see here for a brief introduction to this ongoing series]

The seventh letter from Seneca to his friend is on the subject of crowds, and why a Stoic (or any sane person, really) ought to avoid them. Since I myself never particularly liked crowds — be that at sports events, concerts, or large parties — I was keen on comparing my own opinion with that of the prominent Roman Stoic.

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Seneca to Lucilius: on the terrors of death

Anonymous. 'Pendant with a Monk and Death,' 1575-1675

Anonymous. ‘Pendant with a Monk and Death,’ 1575-1675

[see here for a brief introduction to this ongoing series]

The fourth letter to Lucilius by Seneca concerns the recurring Stoic theme of death and how to think about it. It begins with a charming reminder of a Roman rite of passage, which Seneca uses to reassure his friend that things are only going to get better with age, from the point of view of wisdom:

“You remember, of course, what joy you felt when you laid aside the garments of boyhood and donned the man’s toga, and were escorted to the forum; nevertheless, you may look for a still greater joy when you have laid aside the mind of boyhood and when wisdom has enrolled you among men.” (IV.2)

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Seneca to Lucilius: on true and false friendship

Friendship[see here for a brief introduction to this ongoing series]

The third letter to Lucilius is on the topic of friendship, and here Seneca advises his pal to tread carefully and make important distinctions. To begin with, he says that one cannot decouple friendship from trust: if one doesn’t trust another person, then one cannot reasonably say that that person is a friend. However, the relationship between friendship and trust is cast by Seneca in the following manner:

“When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment.” (III.2)

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Seneca to Lucilius: on saving time

Seneca the YoungerI have been going through Seneca’s famous Moral Epistles, written to his friend Lucius, so it’s time to begin covering them on this blog. This is the first of a good number of occasional entries which will cover the full range of topics in the Letters, though not every single entry. Most of these posts will be short commentaries with excerpts, since many of the letters are brief. The translation I am using is the classic 1916 one by Richard Gummere. A very recent, excellent, new translation has just been published, by Margaret Graver and Anthony Long. The reason I’m using Gummere’s is because of my purely aesthetic preference for a slightly more old fashioned language.

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