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Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

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4.35  ·  Rating details ·  22,729 ratings  ·  1,062 reviews
The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE) recorded his moral philosophy and reflections on life as a highly original kind of correspondence. Letters on Ethics includes vivid descriptions of town and country life in Nero’s Italy, discussions of poetry and oratory, and philosophical training for Seneca’s friend Lucilius. This volume, the first complete English ...more
Hardcover, 604 pages
Published November 20th 2015 by University of Chicago Press (first published 64)
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Ci I found the tone of Seneca's letters far more personable and persuasive than Meditations, entirely because of the nature of letter-writing. Yet I thin…moreI found the tone of Seneca's letters far more personable and persuasive than Meditations, entirely because of the nature of letter-writing. Yet I think Meditations' austerity and honesty are incomparable considering the fact that Marcus Aurelius had only himself as the reader. Meditations is a self-examination and self-exhortation, while Seneca's letters are Advices to a Friend. (less)
Jaidyn Most books that feature the letters of Senca are selections. The Penguin Classics "Letters from a Stoic" has approximately 40 of them, the Oxford Worl…moreMost books that feature the letters of Senca are selections. The Penguin Classics "Letters from a Stoic" has approximately 40 of them, the Oxford World Classics "Selected Letters" has about 80. (less)

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Glenn Russell
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


These letters of Roman philosopher Seneca are a treasure chest for anybody wishing to incorporate philosophic wisdom into their day-to-day living. By way of example, below are a few Seneca gems along with my brief comments:

“Each day acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well. After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested throughout the day.” -------- I’m completely with Seneca on this point. I approach the study of philos
...more
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Roy Lotz
Philosophy is good advice; and no one can give advice at the top of his lungs.

One of the most persistent criticisms made of modern philosophy is that it isn’t useful. The critics have a point. Modern philosophy largely concerns itself with a variety of theoretical problems. Even though many of these problems do have practical ramifications, many do not; and regardless, the debates can often get so technical, so heated, and so abstract, that it is difficult to see modern philosophy as the pat
...more
João Fernandes
I have to admit, I started this book with some hesitations.

I had read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (easily one of my favourite books) and Epictetus' Discourses, the other two big pillars of Stoic philosophy. I also knew, from gossip girl Suetonius, how Seneca was a Stoic more in name than in practice.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, the ruler of the known world , and yet he embraced the Stoic ideals like no other, feeling repulsion for his own political power and trying to rule Rome in a
...more
Erick
This book was quite good. One would think that a collection of letters would have much material that is of little utility to those outside the correspondents, but that isn't the case.
Seneca was a notable later Stoic. Very little of the first generation of Stoics survive, and we are left with mainly later Stoics like Epictetus, Rufus and Seneca; some may also include Marcus Aurelius to that list as well. Seneca was probably not the typical Stoic; indeed, he actually quotes Epicurus more times in
...more
Parthiban Sekar

No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing. No value should be set on it: it’s something we share with dumb animals – the minutest, most insignificance creatures scutter after it. Glory’s an empty changeable thing, as fickle as the weather. Poverty’s no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination. Superstition is an idiotic heresy: it fears those it should
...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
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.
Simon Ri
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In his book concering the time he spent in Auschwitz famous austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl came to the conclusion that when you're no longer able to change the situation you find yourself in, you are challenged to change yourself. Being a best-selling book this ethos dawned the rebirth of stoicism for a society which is desperately longing for a way to cope with all cruelties life serves up. Seneca provided the philosophical foundations and Frankl knew how to transpose them when being faced ...more
booklady
People have the wrong idea about Stoics, the ones with a capital ‘S’, the philosophical ones, not those folks who go around making everyone uncomfortable because nothing bothers them—which is what I used to think being a stoic was all about. It isn’t.

In Seven Deadly Sins, author, Kevin Vost, recommends Seneca as an excellent guide for living a good life, free from these deadly vices. I agree with him. In the second letter, for example, he hit on one of my weaknesses, my gluttonous reading. Okay
...more
Simon Robs
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This epistolary glimpse into Roman life between a retiring and reflecting upper echelon diplomat Seneca and a presumably peer and friend lays out in didactic form the tenants of Stoic philosophy as held by those among that elite school of thought. Seneca's tone indicates he's the elder more learned communicant proffering wisdom earned through experience as one in near proximity to both power and servanthood/slavery. He trots out all the main themes and ties them into regular day examples of how ...more
Cody
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full review to come!
Shyam
I felt sad when I finished reading Seneca's final letter. I was saying goodbye to a very dear friend who I not only felt that I had come to know intimately over the past weeks, but to someone whose philosophies resonated with my own on various topics, and also at the most fundamental levels.

__________
Seneca's letters are, in my opinion, not only an essential work of Ethics, but an essential work in themselves.

I also think that they epitomise the Stoic doctrine. They are more expansive than Marcu
...more
Graychin
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s an interesting exercise to read Seneca’s letters and Homer’s Iliad at the same time: you get a sense for how arbitrary our categories are. Both of these ostensibly belong to “classical literature,” though eight hundred years separate them. Seneca and we are divided by a gulf of history more than twice that deep, but his world and our own have so much more in common with one another than either shares with the Achaean armies camped on the beach at Troy. Again and again, while marking up my c ...more
Kevin Baird
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Philipp
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Ransom Mowris
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: already-read
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
Maria
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
Ah, Philosophy... The Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva of mankind. Redeemer of humanity, slaughterer of comfortable existences; it can either save or destroy a man, but it can hardly leave him untouched.

Five stars not because I find all or most of the ideas in this book brilliant, but for how much it got me thinking, for the dialogues I established with it (having me break my no-writing-on-books rule), for its beauty and for my love for it.
Michael
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Andrecrabtree
Apparently I'm a Stoic always was one. That's about all I picked up from this book. I thought to myself "what better way to learn more about Stoicism than to read from the original texts." Well that was an error. All I get is a long rambling collection of letters. Most of the time I'm not entirely sure what Seneca's point is. Sometimes it's all to obvious and he doesn't need to go on and on. But that's what you get with a collection of letters and not a book. It's inherent in the structure. Well ...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. ...more
Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer
It’s a book about philosophy but in the end it’s a teacher about life. It shows how you should life to be happy and it feels like the best life advice giver I’ve read - just in more well-chosen words.
Bill Burris
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like any book written 2000 years ago, it has some strange ideas about how the world works. Seneca is a must read if you are interested in the history of philosophy, or Stoicism.

There are many philosophers to read before Seneca, but I was interested in Stoicism, so I jumped ahead in my reading list.
Mahmoud Awad
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Stoics were an interesting bunch. While at times it could seem that they were on something, it's important to admit that they were also onto something.

It's difficult to try to review this without mentioning Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and I'm sure some grad student out there has tried to draw up an exhaustive comparison between the two. The two works are different in style as a result of the different nature of the two authors-one an emperor and the other the tutor for the emperor Nero, w
...more
Alien B
I expected more from Seneca. I love stoicism and hoped to get into it further but found Seneca's letters to be superficial. There are some solid ideas at the heart of the writing but they are diluted by the list of metaphors Seneca spews.

"Food that is vomited up as soon as it is eaten is not assimilated into the body and does not do one any good; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent changes of treatment; a wound will not heal over if it is being made the subject of experiments with diffe
...more
Franta
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wisdom worth returning to regularly.

"When time is so scarce what madness it is to learn superfluous things!"

The gist of Seneca is to avoid superfluous things and behavior, thus to live in accordance with nature and its laws. Which is one of the key principles of Chinese taoists as well.

Also, life is short so it is good to think about death.
Every single day.


"If you wished to be loved, love."
"True happiness is... to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future."
"The bravest sight
...more
Ann Spivack
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jacob Hurley
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman-literature
Did not expect much but was instead given a very restrained set of letters giving well written advice about remaining calm and rational, accepting fate, etc. He also spends a lot of time talking about the proper approach to philosophy - that it must have some ethical/spiritual use, an approach he also extends to literature in one of the later letters. This is actually a rather useful and insightful book, which I did not expect from the sort of mysticism image i had of stoicism. Well recommended
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Being Good: The Moral Epistles: 124 Letters to Lucilius 1 5 Feb 18, 2020 08:35PM  

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2,177 followers
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca, in Portuguese Séneca (PT) or Sêneca (BR); 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 la ...more

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