Nicholas's Reviews > Letters from a Stoic

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
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's review
Apr 03, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: philosophy, lifestyle
Read in January, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Perfect stoicism. Its only taint is that Seneca was the biggest hypocrite in history. The idea is the same as any stoicism. What you cannot control you should not worry about. And that which you can control (your actions) should reflect a perfect virtue. There is nothing else.

This book just makes you think so much about who you are and the actions you take in life. It tells you how to be a man.


"Refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement, by doing certain things which are calculated to give rise to comment on your appearance or way of living generally. Avoid shabby attire, long hair, an unkempt beard, an outspoken dislike of silverware, sleeping on the ground and all other misguided means to self-advertisement."

"Inwardly everything should be different but out outward face should conform with the crowd."

"Personal converse, though, and daily intimacy with someone will be of more benefit to you than any discourse. You should really be here and on the spot, firstly because people believe their eyes rather more than their ears, and secondly because the road is a long one if one proceeds by way of precepts but short and effectual if by way of personal example. Cleanthes would never have been the image of Zeno if he had merely heard him lecture; he lived with him, studied his private life, watched him to see if he lived in accordance with his own principle."

"The many speak highly of you, but have you really and grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand? Your merits should not be outward facing."

"If you wish to be loved, love."

"The supreme ideal does not call for any external aids. It is homegrown, wholly self-developed. Once it starts looking outside itself for any part of itself it is on the way to being dominated by fortune."

"So choose yourself a Cato - or if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won't make the crooked straight."

"Yes, all your debates and learned conferences, your scholarly talk and collection of maxims from the teachings of philosophers, ate in no way indicative of genuine spiritual strength. Bold words come even from the timidest."

"How can you wonder that your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You hare saddled with the very thing that drove you away."

"I do not recommend a stormy life and plunge straight into the breakers, waging a spirited struggle against worldly obstacles every day of their lives. The wise man will put up with these things, not go out of his way to meet them; he will prefer a state of peace to a state of war. It does not profit a man much to have managed to discard his own failings if he must ever be at loggerheads with other people's."

"Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources."

"Bold in attack, as nature meant him to be, in all his unkempt beauty, a beast whose glory it is that none can look on him without fear, he stands higher in people's eyes than the other, docile, gold-leaf coated creature."

"No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own."

"Treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your own superiors. And whenever it strikes you how much power you have over your slave, lit it also strike you that your own master has just as much power over you."

"Show me a man who isn't a slave; one is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear."

"Have them respect you rather than fear you."

"Let a man retire and the common crowd will think of him as leading a life apart, free of all cares, self-contented, living for himself, when in fact not one of these blessings can be won by anyone other than the philosopher. He alone knows how to live for himself: he is the one, in fact, who knows the fundamental thing, how to live. The person who has run away from the world and his fellow-men, whose exile is doe to the unsuccessful outcome of his own desires, who is unable to endure the sight of others more fortunate, who has taken to some place of hiding in his alarm like a timid, inert animal, he is not 'living for himself', but for his belly and his sleep and his passions - in utter degradation, in other words. The fact that a person is living for nobody does not automatically mean that he is living for himself."

"So it is with the love of money, the love of power and the other maladies that affect the minds of men - you may be sure that it is when they abate and give every appearance of being cured that they are at their most dangerous."

"Pick out any one of your 'successful' men, with all they train or carry about with them, and you will have a picture of the man 'in fear for this companion and this load'."

"Thinking of departed friends is to me something sweet and mellow. For when I had them with me it was with the feeling that I was going to lose them, and now that I have lost them I keep the feeling that I have them with me still."

"Let us meet with bravery whatever may befall us. Let us never feel a shudder at the though of being wounded or of being made a prisoner, or of the poverty of persecution. What is death? Either a transition or an end. I am not afraid of coming to an end, this being the same as never having begun, nor of transition, for I shall never be in confinement quite so cramped anywhere anywhere else as I am here."

"No one is so ignorant as not to know that some day he must die. Nevertheless when death draws near he turns, wailing and trembling, looking for a way out. Wouldn't you think a man an utter fool if he burst into tears because he didn't live a thousand years ago? A man is as much a fool for shedding tears because he isn't going to be alive a thousand yeas from now. There's no difference between the one and the other - you didn't exist and you won't exist - you've no concern with either period. This is the moment you've been pitched into - supposing you were to make it longer how long would you make it? What's the point of tears? What's the point of prayers? You're only wasting your breath."

"You want to live - but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying - and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really and different from being dead?"

"War and the battle-front are not the only sphere in which proof is to be had of a spirited and fearless character: a person's bravery is no less evident under the bed-clothes."

"We haven't the time to spare to hear whether it was between Italy and Sicily that he ran into a storm or somewhere outside the area of the world we know - wanderings as extensive as his could never in face have taken place inside so limited an area - when every day we're running into our own storms, spiritual storms, and driven by vie into all the troubles that Ulysses ever knew."

"For men in a state of freedom had thatch for their shelter, while slaves dwells beneath marble and gold."

"He has taught us not just to recognize but to obey the gods, and to accept all that happens exactly as if it were an order from above. He has told us not to listen to false opinions, and has weighed and valued everything against standards which are true. He has condemned pleasure an inseparable element of which is subsequent regret, has commended the good things which will always satisfy, and for all to see has made the man who had no need of lick the luckiest man of all, and the man who is master of himself the master of all."

"In the ashes all men are leveled. We're born unequal, we die equal."

"There's nothing in all this that's evil, insupportable or even hard."

"The good man should go on living as long as he ought to, not just as long as he likes."

"The man who spends his time choosing one resort after another in a hunt for peace and quiet, will in every place he visits find something to prevent him from relaxing."

"So long, in fact as you remain in ignorance of what to aim at and what to avoid, what is essential and what is superfluous, what is upright or honorable conduct and what is not, it will not be traveling but drifting."

"For the only safe harbor in this life's tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without sulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us."

"Things will get thrown at you and things will hit you. Life's no soft affair. It's a long road you've started on: you can't but expect to have slips and knocks and falls, and get tired, and openly wish - a lie - for death."

"What we hear the philosophers saying and what we find in their writings should be applied in our pursuit of the happy life. We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching, and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application - not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphor and figures of speech - and learn them so well that words become works."

"No man's good by accident. Virtue has to be learned. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing...Glory's an empty, changeable thing...Poverty's no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil...Superstition is an idiotic heresy."
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