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Letters from a Stoic

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4.32  ·  Rating details ·  16,021 ratings  ·  689 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 philosophy which Seneca professed in his writings, later supported by Marcus Aurelius, provided Rome with a passable bridge to Christianity. Seneca's major contribution to St ...more
Paperback, Penguin Classics, 256 pages
Published August 26th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 65)
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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…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…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


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
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 path
...more
João Fernandes
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 acc
...more
Parthiban Sekar
May 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing

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 Robs
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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
Kevin Baird
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Graychin
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Ransom Mowris
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Nick
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Maria
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
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
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.
Shya̋m
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
Mahmoud Awad
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Franta
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Chuck Rylant
Jul 24, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Ann Spivack
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Cooper Cooper
Aug 01, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Michael Huang
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tobuy
Stoics saw the world as one single great community and all men are brothers. A man should live in conformity with divine will which means 1, not only question convention and training the self to do without all except necessities, but developing inborn gift of reason which marks us off as different from the animal world; 2, resigning himself completely and uncomplainingly to whatever fate may send him.

The ideal or goal of stoicism is called arete in Greek, virtus in Latin, and virtue is an unsati
...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A lucid, compelling translation brings Seneca's matter of fact, dignified take on Stoicism to the forefront. Sometimes Seneca gets lost in his own words, simply restating the same proposition in varying terms, but the crispness of the translation keeps the tedium at a minimum. Apart from his philosophical meditations there are also insights into life in Nero's times, everything from agricultural methods to fads at banquets. There are clear points of divergence between my own worldview and Seneca ...more
Joe
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don't think I'd recommend this edition. With the lack of important letters and headers for each letter the reader does not get the full effect of Seneca. However, reading the unabridged 124 letters is where to go. This is where you'll find how great Seneca is: his full thoughts, not cut up and diluted.
Morgane
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
✿ Eva ✿
Thanks to these letters, I officially own a certificate that I took latin classes!
Also very interesting views on life and how to lead a fulfilling life.
Kevin Cole
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
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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
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” 277 likes
“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” 235 likes
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