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Letters from a Stoic

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  4,225 ratings  ·  147 reviews
The power and wealth which Seneca the Younger (c.4 B.C. - A.D. 65) acquired as Nero's minister were in conflict with his Stoic beliefs. Nevertheless he was the outstanding figure of his age. The Stoic philosphy which Seneca professed in his writings, later supported by Marcus Aurelius, provided Rome with a passable bridge to Christianity. Seneca's major contribution to Sto...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 30th 1969 by Penguin Classics (first published 64)
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Community Reviews

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May 11, 2014 sckenda rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Stoic Wisdom
Sckenda interviews Seneca for Goodreads in an attempt to find out what a Roman stoic thinks about reading books, writing book reviews, and living like a Roman Stoic. (Seneca, is old-school, so he is not impressed by his fawning, sensitive and neurotic interlocutor.)

Seneca, Welcome to Goodreads. Thank you for agreeing to an interview regarding the Penguin Classics collection of your “Letters from a Stoic,” written around 65 CE. I have recently reviewed books by later Roman stoics, Epictetus and...more
Ryan Holiday
I tore this book to pieces. My copy is overflowing with tabbed pages and highlighted lines and notes in the margins. Seneca of course, is a fascinating figure. Gregory Hays once said about Marcus Aurelius that "not being a tyrant was something he had to work at one day at a time" and often, Seneca lost that battle. He was the Cardinal Richelieu behind Nero. He sat back and enjoyed the spoils of his student who had clearly lost his way--at least Aristotle didn't profit from Alexander's lust for p...more
Evan Leach
Along with his tragedies, treatises and longer dialogues, the philosopher Seneca wrote 124 letters addressed to his friend Lucilius. Whether these letters were actually sent is unknown, but their style indicates that they were intended for publication at some point. These letters are really mini-essays in disguise, discussing Seneca’s Stoic beliefs and his outlook on life in general. This collection contains about a third of Seneca’s surviving letters, some of which are abridged.

For readers inte...more
Ransom Mowris
One of the most profound books I've read. Seneca defines philosophy not as a system of logical rules for old men to argue about and rearrange, but as a means to prescribe a way of life. He sees a philosopher as a wise doctor who provides advice on the optimal way to live so as to be as happy as possible.

With this goal in mind, Seneca wrote a series of letters to his close friend advising him on the many dangers of Roman social life circa the 1st century. He also advises his friend on practices...more
tl;dr: Classic philosophy, mixed with old-people-opinions

This is really good if you want to have a primer into Stoicism - the writing in these letters is straightforward, each letter handles two or three themes and is usually only a couple of pages long.

The annoying parts are Seneca's old-people-opinions, some of which are:

1. People who stay up all night are terrible
2. 'For it is silly [.] to spend one's time exercising the biceps'
3. Popular styles are terrible: 'It's object is to sway a mass au...more
Cooper Cooper
Selected by Tiberius, Nero became emperor of Rome as a mere teenager, and Nero’s ambitious mother selected Seneca to tutor her son. For five years, while Nero goofed off, Seneca (in alliance with a general, Burris) actually ruled Rome. Some have claimed these were the best five years in the empire’s history. Then palace intrigue caught up with Seneca; he retired voluntarily; but a few years later, after being implicated in a plot against Nero’s life, he was directed to commit suicide (this was...more
Ann Spivack
Okay, I'm not good at reading something like this cover to cover -- it's thought-provoking but it takes me a while to just think over each letter. I keep this book on my nightstand and read it just one letter at a time, and sometimes weeks go by before I read another. But still, there's something astonishing about reading ideas that still apply so many centuries after Seneca wrote them. For example, he says, stay on one subject; if you fly from topic to topic, it's harder for your mind to work a...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Seneca you wastrel! To teach of stoicism while living in such opulence. Eh-gads! Fabulous writing, I think I blushed unbeckoned during the blushing scene, and stop trying to get us all to give up oysters, they are both erotic and have the potential to profit a pearl or two. Unacceptable I say!

Also very forward thinking in regards to slavery I must say.
I think if I were to ascribe to any worldview, I would choose Stoicism. Seneca is one of the reasons why. An eminently reasonable man who continually urges his young charge to self-examination through the light of reason. A fun read with profound insight.
Wealth or poverty -- just meaningless externalities! What matters is only whether you can content yourself with what fate has bequeathed you. Poverty is not lacking what you need, but wanting what you do not have. It takes strength to endure riches, too!

All easy to say for one of Rome's richest men, one who was basically the Roman emperor for five years at the beginning of Nero's reign.

We love to hate Seneca's Stoicism: admirable in its encouragement of humans to endure hardship without self-pit...more
I don't buy the criticism you see about Seneca not practicing what he preached. The closest I've ever been to being emperor of anything is the emperor of ice cream, so maybe the guy deserves more credit than the typical accusations of hypocrisy.

I had picked this book up again last year just sensing a need for some more sturdy philosophical grounding for resilience in my life and then decided to promote it in my queue at the reco of Tim Ferriss.

I slogged through it for a long time. Not gonna lie,...more
I would say that Seneca has given me one of the best explanations I have ever heard for the balance between living lives that are in our control and being able to affect a resillient attitude on those things which are not in our control, not allowing ourselves to become beholden to vice or fortune, or for that matter, misfortune. Any one of his letters is wildly quotable, and his style is both easy to percieve as well as intensely educated. If Chesterton demands that the best authors write to th...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Seneca says himself that the wisdom he imparts can be found in the common body of knowledge of the wise. The trouble is not that what Seneca says is not profound but that it is so hard to apply to ones life but that is exactly according to Seneca what is needed to live a good life. Seneca gives some good tips to apply to meet the travails of life and live it well no matter what one's circumstances are. This kind of wisdom is very similar to wisdom taught in other parts of the world and other age...more
This is the first time I've been fully absorbed by classic philosophy, as such it took an inordinate amount of time to finish. Each investigation or letter (as they are displayed) deserves time to mull over.

Robin Campbell has done a wonderful translation, only omitting the most extreme tangents (of which there are many) and indecipherable text. Extensive footnotes are given, which aid the reader in understanding some of the unfamiliar language and places.

It concludes with a tasteful account of h...more
Chuck Rylant
This is hard to rate because the book is loaded with valuable insights. There are several quotes that will apply to your life today.

That said, it was very hard to read. It is boring beyond belief. It took me months to get through it because I could only take a few pages at a time before my mind wondered off.

I don't think I got all there is to get from it in one read. This is more of a book that needs to be studied. Perhaps leave is laying on the coffee table and read a page or two a day with a h...more
Finally, a Western philosopher who's more practical than pedantic. Seneca's letters give us an interesting look at Roman life while offering advice on how to live a good life, advice which is still remarkably applicable today.
Mike W
In his letters to Lucius, Seneca elaborated his own eclectic version of stoicism. His central teachings are that happiness is internal and does not depend upon external events, that we should live in the moment and not burden ourselves with past regrets or future fears.

Seneca agrees with Socrates that "the unexamined life is not worth living." And like Socrates, he thinks of philosophy as a kind of medicine for the soul, which offers a cure for the pains and anxieties of life.

Unlike Plato, Sene...more
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"Greetings from Seneca to his friend Lucillius." Thus begins every letter of this impressive collection. The letters, although often times repetitive, offer a priceless look in Ancient Rome. The noise of the theaters, the roar of the crowds, and the chaotic and crowded streets of the Roman Empire are all described in detail. They are also (and thus their namesake) a collection of Stoic morals and philosophy, as Seneca tries to teach his friend Lucillius (who apparently was something of an Epicu...more
Kevin Baird
Lots of life lessons to digest with this one. A few of my favorite highlights:

On the importance of continuous learning:

"Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day."

On the importance of having a role model / mentor of sorts to keep you on the path:

"Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as i...more
Andrew Rothschild
This book proves the saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. Seneca was an intellectual in state governed by a despot. Despots and revolutionaries don't much like intellectuals and he was forced to take his own life at the age of 60 or so. Standard practise for those days for the well heeled who fell out of favour with the ruler. His writings however ring as true today as they did then. All that changed is the technology. The isssues however remain the same.
Many Stoic edicts have the profitable effect of reminding one how limited an individual is in the universe. We all need these reminders, especially in societies like Ancient Rome or the U.S. where envy is practically mandatory for all citizens. To the degree that these letters offer consolation, they are beneficial, but they can be harmful if one takes their apolitical stance too far. Remember, the reason why Stoicism was considered the basis for the Enlightenment culture is because appealing to...more
Kevin Cole
If you like Stoic thinking, Seneca is not as pretty as Marcus Aurelius or good as Epictetus. He's more middle-of-the-road. Oddly, these letters read a lot like newspaper columns or blog entries.
Certainly a book that will make you think, however it is probably not just for the casual read. To get the most from this book you need to set aside the time to fully digest exactly what it is saying. It is certainly easy to read and with each chapter representing a separate letter and topic following along is easy.

Like most book of this genre, it is something that will have to read more than once to get the full benefit from. This won't be a real concern since the book is truly timeless.
While I didn't like this as much as Epict.tus or Marcus Aurelius I nonetheless found it a most enjoyable book. The book was as valuable for its view into the ancient Roman lifestyle as it was its view of the Stoic philosophy. You read it and see that while their society was very much different than ours in some unique ways (the vomitorium for example) it was quite similar in many others. I was interested in reading this book too because it was often read and quoted in literature in the 1700's an...more
This collection of letters from the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca are surprisingly fresh and relevant. I enjoyed the aphoristic style. This correspondence carries the Stoic emphasis on a detachment that permits one to take whatever comes looking for the best and being prepared for its opposite. A few quotes will give a feel for the text:

"Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives."

"Nothing, to...more
I love how readable this translation is. Definitely something to be mulled over time and time again. In fact, Seneca says that instead of perusing several books superficially, not learning anything from them, you should read and re-read only a few classic texts, making them a part of your lifestyle. What great advice! And that was only the best part of the first page... there are gems around every corner in this wonderful text.
Chris Mitchell
This book contains a wealth of wisdom rarely seen in today's world. I'd have to say I was quite surprised by how applicable a lot of his stoic principles are to the present day. It was one of the most quotable books I've read in a long time, although at times a little repetitive. A wonderful book for people interested in history and philosophy alike.
This is the most important book of philosophy I have ever read. These letters from Seneca to his friend are full of brilliant, common sense advise for how to be happy in life. While the material is clearly dated, it is far more valuable than any current self-help book I can imagine.
Seneca is one of the Big Three of Stoicism, and his letters and essays draw on both Stoic and Epicurean principles. Easily read in good English translation, Seneca provides food for thought and advice for living still relevant today (like all Stoics)!
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  • The Discourses
  • A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
  • On the Good Life
  • The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus: A Roman Slave (1855)
  • Fragments
  • The Essential Epicurus (Great Books in Philosophy)
  • Philosophy As a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault
  • The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura
  • Early Greek Philosophy
  • The Enneads
  • Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger
  • Conversations of Socrates
  • Theaetetus
  • Maxims
  • Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge
  • The World as Will and Representation, Vol 2
  • Leibniz: Philosophical Essays
  • The Agricola and the Germania
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca) (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, he may...more
More about Seneca...
On the Shortness of Life Medea Four Tragedies and Octavia The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters Phaedra

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“Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones.” 40 likes
“But when you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.” 22 likes
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