Blog Post: Wisdom of Seneca

Linda Elder
May 24, 2020 • 47d ago
Wisdom of Seneca

{"ops":[{"insert":"Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4-65) apparently wrote extensively during his lifetime. But little remains of his writings. The best-known works that have made it to us through history are his 124 letters to Lucilius (circa 64), which are early essays on how to live according to Stoic principles. It is from these letters that the following excerpts are drawn. Seneca opens his second letter with a focus on the importance of reading and rereading the works of distinguished authors, in seeking wisdom. He says:\n\n “you should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind (p. 33)… so always read well – tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before (p.34)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nWe need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything is if you saw what we were doing… misty are greatly diminished if a witness is always standing near in tending doers. The personality should be provided with somewhat it can root beer, someone whose influence can make even it’s private, inner life more pure. Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presents that even when he is in their thoughts!.. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words… have won your approval… there is a neat, in my view, for someone as a standard against which are characters can measure themselves (56)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n… no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom,… the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings of wisdom makes life bearable. Yet this conviction, clear as it is, needs to be strengthened and given deeper roots through daily reflections; making Noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already. You have to persevere and fortify your pertinent acid until the will to good becomes a disposition to good (p. 63)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nSeneca encourages people to think philosophically, and by that he means living the examined life in the way Socrates advised, and developing good character:\n\n“…you’ve no grounds for forming a ready, hasty belief in yourself. Carry out a searching analysis and close scrutiny of yourself in all sorts of different lights. Consider above all else whether you’ve advanced in philosophy or just in actual years… Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature… it moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry (pp. 63-64)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nA good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nA sound mind can neither be bought nor borrowed. And if it were for sale, I doubt whether it would find a buyer. And yet unsound ones are being purchased every day (p. 75)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nSeneca stresses the importance of carefully choosing who one associates with, pointing out how the majority of people can lead you to wrong thinking and wrong living. (These points are perhaps particularly helpful now when we are told to stay away from large groups to avoid exposure to the COVID19 virus):\n\n“you asked me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd. It is something to which you cannot entrust yourself yet without risk. I at any rate am ready to confess my own frailty in this respect. I never come back home with quite the same moral character I went out with; something or other becomes unsettled where I had achieved internal peace…Associating with people in large numbers is actually harmful: there is not one of them that will not make some vice or other attractive to us, or leave us carrying the imprint of it… and inevitably enough, the larger the size of the crowd we mingle with, the greater the danger… what do you take me to mean? That I go home more selfish, more self-seeking, and more self-indulgent? Yes, and what is more, a person crueler and less humane to having been in contact with human beings… A Socrates…might have been shaken in his principles by a multitude of people different from himself: such is the measure of the inability of any of us, even as we perfect our personality’s adjustment, to withstand the onset of devices when they come with such a mighty following… you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who are capable of improving… The many speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand? (pp. 41-44)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nAway with the world’s opinion of you–it’s always unsettled and divided (p. 71)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nSeneca speaks of developing the inner self:\n\nSuch is more or less the way of the wise man: he retires to his inner self, is his own company… Natural promptings (not thoughts of any advantage to himself) compel him towards friendship. We are born with a sense of the pleasantness of friendship just as of other things… The wise man, nevertheless, unequalled though he is in his devotion to his friends, though regarding them as being no less important and frequently more important than his own self, will still consider what is valuable in life to be something wholly confined to his inner self (p. 52)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nSeneca points out the problem of seeking after wealth and he argues for simple, frugal living. He says:\n\nSet aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it… endure this for three or four days at a time, sometimes more, so that it is a genuine trial and not an amusement (67)... There is no reason, mind you, why you should suppose yourself to be performing a considerable feet in doing this–you will only be doing something done by thousands upon thousands of slaves and paupers (p. 68)…[Regarding possessions]… I am not, mind you, against you’re possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without trimmers; and this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without them, and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing (p 69)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nAll quotes are taken from:"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":" Letters From a Stoic by Seneca. "},{"insert":"(NY: Penguin Books, 2004).\n"}]}

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