On the Shortness of Life
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On the Shortness of Life

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4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,588 ratings  ·  144 reviews
The Stoic writings of the philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into the art of living, the importance of reason and morality, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and timeless wisdom.

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves—and each other. They have inspired de...more
Paperback, Great Ideas, 112 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 56)
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Sara
It is amazing how something written so long ago can have such relevance today. I found this essay really inspiring.

here is a good quote:

"Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it...more
Kevin
Oct 26, 2007 Kevin rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Ancient Greco-Roman Stoic devotees or anyone else who thinks they might not live forever
This is a very short book, really a collection of three letters. The first one is primarily cautioning a friend about getting caught up in "life" - that is, the demands and expectations placed on us, and the forum for empty ambitions that the business of the world provides - to the detriment of our contentment or the long-term happiness. A classic analogy from this letter is that one who is old has not really necessarily lived long, any more than one who embarks on a ship and is tossed around on...more
Frankie
This is, so to speak, Seneca the Younger's greatest hits album. The first "On the Shortness of Life" is probably his most popular, but I prefer the last "On Tranquillity of Mind". I realize there has been some apprehension for Seneca because of his supposed dissipation and association with Nero. I simply don't believe these details are historically accurate. Not only is history written by the victors, and we all know of what distortions the Roman empire was capable, but being on the staff of a d...more
Rebecca Washecheck
I was wary of this, as a sexily recovered, retitled thing that looks like something you'd read on a train to look clever--but it really is a wholesome anthology of 3 essays and letters from the justly beloved Seneca.

Deeply satisfying and soothing advice, tremendously timeless (if you set aside issues like forums and slaves, or find a good metaphor to translate these), and as peaceful as watching The Frugal Gourmet was when I was tiny--I feel like Seneca is the sage parent we all wish we had, wh...more
Jeremy
Seneca - an important stoic - wrote 'on the shortness of life' in the first century A.D. Firstly I will outline what he says, then I'll briefly state my agreements and disagreements.

He comes down on the reader without restraint - time is the most precious thing we have, it is irreplaceable and priceless yet people just barter it away. When we squander our life away doing unimportant things we effectively shorten our life-span.
"The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of exis...more
Katty
As I was buying a Starbucks coffee one day, the cashier spotted me holding On the Shortness of Life and eagerly praised it. "It's like a balm for life," he claimed. "Perfect for anyone dealing with anxiety."

As someone who's in a long, tumultuous relationship with anxiety and is typically hell-bent on graduating from college, building a career, and attempting to win at life, Seneca's philosophy resonated with me. The crux of the argument is that we become overly preoccupied and waste too much ti...more
Ryan Holiday
As a general rule, avoid any translation of a classic work that comes up with its own new title. It normally means that the author is trying to appeal to contemporary readers more than the spirit of the original work. They'd rather have some catchy name than describe it as the anthology it actually is. This was the reason I was skeptical of reading On the Shortness of Life since Seneca wrote no such collection (it's the title of one of his essays) but I was thankfully proven wrong. Although ther...more
Alberto Jacobo Baruqui
No es breve la vida, nosotros la abreviamos.
Las ocupaciones inútiles, los vicios, el tiempo desperdiciado, las vanalidades laborales roban una parte del precioso tiempo del que contamos.
Aceptemos con buen ánimo todo lo que se ha de padecer por la constitución del universo; estamos sujetos a la obligación de soportar las condiciones de la vida mortal y no perturbarnos por lo que no esta en nuestro poder evitar...

Es el juicio y tesis de este filósofo Cordovés sobre la vida y la famosa frase " la...more
Michael William West
There's nothing I like more than charm. Some people I've met are averse to it, believing it the most heinous kind of insincerity and malicious Machiavellian emotional scheming. Either way I like to be charmed and Seneca knows just what to say: essentially that time doesn't really exist, sitting around reading all day is the greatest thing a human can do, and if it seems like everyone else in the world is completely stupid, it's because they actually are. I do think these Penguin Great Ideas seri...more
Fraser
Jan 02, 2010 Fraser added it
Ah, the stoics... I do love the Romans, regardless of their faults, and their equanimity is always reassuring. These three essays/letters by Seneca are the perfect sort of thing to read at the start of the New Year, pondering how it is that we can get the most satisfaction from the time we are given. Seneca's answer? Relax. Stop worrying so much about getting rich and famous and popular. Instead, do what you must - and then, philosophize. Humans have three times: the past, the present, and the f...more
Petr Herold
What a timeless book. Seneca's wisdom is incredibly relevant. No matter if he speaks of exile, friendship, greed and wealth, food or outlook on life, it's all mind-boggling how useful it seems even two thousand years later. It shows how we never change. Sure, our environment changes thanks to our ability to cumulate education and information, but we as humans, our minds, don't change. Humanity and its perks are still the same and probably always will be. Worth reading slowly and cautiously.
Isaac
Seneca is one of the greatest Roman stoic philosophers. This book is very readable and very profound. (Be careful —he may inspire you to get sell all your stuff and live a Spartan life (no pun intended)).

While the principles discussed are secular, the book reads more like easy-to-read scripture. I highly recommend to everyone who needs a solid grounding in reality, remembering what's most important.

Seneca makes a spirited attack on materialism and the pains that come with it. While I don't agree...more
Miguel Mayher
This is not a book to read once.

This is a book to have by your bedside. To peak at every day. To assimilate.

Seneca's words are like darts: precise, accurate, carefully thrown. The subject matter of his essay is inevitably timeless. Until we find a cure for mortality that is, but even then his advice is solid like a rock.

Buy today. Read it (it's very short!). And make it a practice to remind yourself of the wise words of this roman philosopher.

Your life will gain in depth and dignity.
Julio Escobar
Este libro antiquísimo, escrito por Séneca para Paulino, enfocado a la pérdida de tiempo y a lo efímero de nuestra vida, me lo molesto tanto porque cada capítulo me hacía sentir que algo estoy haciendo mal, me enfade con las reprimendas, me sentí estúpido por leerlo, pero sabía que sería peor no continuar...Lo irónico que Séneca critica a los previsores, pero en sí eso fue él al escribir el libro. ¿Puede haber algo más estúpido que la actitud de algunos,me refiero a esos hombres que presumen de...more
Gramarye
A very good introduction to the work of the Stoic writer Seneca the Younger -- though it would have benefitted from a brief biographical preface to provide a bit more information about the man.
Filipe
A fast read, that puts you in the mindset for something denser, bigger. Seneca proposes that leading a Stoic life should remedy some of our problems arising from daily affairs. While most of it remains true, you can't help but be forced to connect some of the examples to modern day's reality. I admit it didn't stop me from enjoying it to the last bit, though the smug sense of self-assurance I got from reading it might be problematic. You might want to get your teeth into A Guide to the Good Life...more
John
Wow, a recommendation from a friend that blew my hair back. Great book!
Joe Borgenicht
"You must realize that every moment of your live is unique and irreplaceable."
Jon
The greatest wealth is a poverty of desire....or something like that.
Linda
"So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return."

"…if you happen to live at a time when public life is hard to cope with, you will just have to claim more time for leisure and literary work, seek a safe harbour from time to time as if yo...more
Risko
Jul 11, 2013 Risko rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Having only recently started reading the works of ancient philosophers, I found this book surprisingly accessible and exceptionally relevant to our own time. There are a few things in here that might be disagreeable due to the era in which it was produced, such as the argument Seneca makes for devoting oneself to philosophy or "liberal studies" being the best way to achieve happiness. I'm not sure if a life consisting exclusively of contemplation about itself is the best way to go if you want to...more
Kgwhitehurst
The first letter does present stoicism as drugery. It's almost as bad as Marcus Aurelius's MEDITATIONS. The first letter really did make me wonder why these guys couldn't try harder to frame their thinking in more positive terms--like Epictetus did in THE ART OF LIVING or Virgil did or Pliny the Younger. Hell, even Cicero, that old blowhard, makes for less of a lecture. The first letter is really off-putting. I almost didn't finish the book b/c of the first letter.

Letters two and three are much...more
Josh
I'll shorten an already short essay. Want a longer life? Give up ambition and fear of the future, and start dwelling in the past and the study of philosophy. One thing bothers me about this though: is a longer life a better one? Seneca argues for a sedentary, laid-back, and anti-materialistic life, citing many sources of how those who devote their lives to moving up in the world generally end up hoping for a leisure that's always in the far future, never actually meeting up with their present. B...more
Ezuerpo
"Vi lida ingen brist på tid, vi slösa med den."

"Man lever såsom man aldrig skulle dö: aldrig tänker man på sin förgänglighet."

"Men konsten att leva måste man fortfara att lära sig hela livet igenom, och - vad som kanske kan synas underligare - man måste under hela livet lära sig konsten att dö."

"Ingen annan har levat för vår berömmelse."

"Jag kommer hem ärelystnare, flärdfullare, ja till och med grymmare och omänskligare, därför att jag suttit med en människomassa."

"Vid andra dödsfaror har man do...more
Emily
This past week, although fun, has been TOTALLY INSANE for me. What with driving up to the out-of-town wedding of some close friends, preparing for and attending an art opening showcasing my knitted work, getting to witness two amazing dance performances (one of them by ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov!), going with David on a fantastic professional photoshoot, and various dinners out with friends and family, I've barely had time to read at all, let alone write about my reading. In fact, in the...more
Aaron Terrazas
Profoundly insightful, if often elusive and auto-contradictory, commentary on purpose and meaning. Not all of it is realistic or applicably to modern life (no, Seneca, man cannot simply pursue his own pleasures -- we must, in the end, eat and pay rent) -- but it certainly provides useful guides.

Some top quotes:

"We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. ... Life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed,...more
Jess
Agree with so much of what Seneca has to say in this first piece; the part that seems underdeveloped is his criticism of public life and public service. He is spot-on when it comes to a person protecting her time and "organizing every day as though it were [her] last" but I think I disagree that this requires a withdrawal from public life. It reminds me of some of the lessons from that book, Cultivating Inner Peace. How do you maintain an inner sanctuary, stay connected to deeper meaning, allow...more
Fraser Kinnear
This book has three essays, the first of which is On The Shortness of Life. The middle essay is a letter to his mother essentially consoling her, and was the least interesting. The third essay is basically about stoicism and went on a bit too long, but had some gems for me criticizing people who collected book collections without reading them.

On The Shortness of Life is good, but I disagreed with a lot of his sentiment. Seneca seems to disregard a lot of productive uses of one's time (namely, ho...more
Robert Clay
A wisdom-packed little volume from the great Stoic, Seneca; contains 'On the Shortness of Life,' as well as 'Consolation to Helvia' (written to his mother about living at peace with fate) and 'On Tranquility of Mind.' A work both practical and profound, and so far-removed from the messages of our own dominant society.

'It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.'

'Why not turn from this brief and transient spell of time and give ourselves whole-heartedly to the past...more
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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...
Letters from a Stoic Medea Four Tragedies and Octavia The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters Phaedra

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“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 84 likes
“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.” 66 likes
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