Letters from Seneca to Lucilius

Previously published on Medium


 

I have always wanted to read these letters and I have actually found them more than a year ago but never got to finish reading it. So maybe an online public reading diary might be able to keep me accountable.

These letters are available on Wikisource or if you would prefer to read about some famous people’s notes on these, the free PDFs on Tim Ferriss’ blog are amazing.

I got this printed out and as I was starting to read it, I realised that I needed two different highlighters, because some lines are so cryptic that I have yet to decipher or comprehend the meaning behind it, these are my ‘To Ponder’s and also the golden words are ‘To Always Heed’s.

Of course, these are just based on myself and how well I relate myself to these words. You should read the original texts yourself and form your own experiences around these.

I would appreciate it if anyone could explain some of the quotes that I do not understand and also share with me what do you think about this.

May we all be better human beings.


 

Letter 1: On Saving Time

11/1/18

To always heed:

Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.

Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s.

While we are postponing, life speeds by.

Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time.

And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.

I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him.

To ponder:

The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.

…who understands that he is dying daily?

…the major portion of death has already passed.

 

Letter 2: On Discursiveness in Reading

12/1/18

To always heed:

…for such restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit.

Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten;

Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes…

Contented poverty is an honourable estate.

…but the man who craves more, that is poor.

Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough

To ponder:

When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

And in reading of many books is distraction.

…since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read.

 

Letter 3: On True and False Friendship

13/1/18

To always heed:

When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment.

…when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.

Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal.

It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one.

…you should rebuke these two kinds of men — both those who always lack repose, and those who are always in repose.

he who reposes should act and he who acts should take repose.

To ponder:

Why need I keep back any words in the presence of my friend?

Why should I not regard myself as alone when in his company?

And true repose does not consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation; that kind of repose is slackness and inertia.

“Some men shrink into dark corners, to such a degree that they see darkly by day.”

Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.

 

Letter 4: On the Terrors of Death

14/1/18

To always heed:

All you need to do is to advance; you will thus understand that some things are less to be dreaded, precisely because they inspire us with great fear.

But death must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away.

…for many men clutch and cling to life, even as those who are carried down a rushing stream clutch and cling to briars and sharp rocks.

…they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die.

No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him.

What matter, therefore, how powerful he be whom you fear, when every one possesses the power which inspires your fear?

He who has made a fair compact with poverty is rich.

To ponder:

…make all possible haste, so that you may have longer enjoyment of an improved mind, one that is at peace with itself.

Do you not suppose that virtue will be as efficacious as excessive fear?

No good thing renders its possessor happy, unless his mind is reconciled to the possibility of loss; nothing, however, is lost with less discomfort than that which, when lost, cannot be missed.

Take my word for it: since the day you were born you are being led thither.

 

Letter 5: On the Philosophers’ Mean

15/1/18

To always heed:

I warn you, however, not to act after the fashion of those who desire to be conspicuous rather than to improve, by doing things which will rouse comment as regards your dress or general way of living.

Philosophy calls for plain living, but not for penance; and we may perfectly well be plain and neat at the same time.

…let men find that we are unlike the common herd, if they look closely.

“Cease to hope, and you will cease to fear.” — Hecato

…fear follows hope.

The present alone can make no man wretched.

To ponder:

Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society.

He is a great man who uses earthenware dishes as if they were silver; but he is equally great who uses silver as if it were earthenware.

It is the sign of an unstable mind not to be able to endure riches.

And so foresight, the noblest blessing of the human race, becomes perverted.

Many of our blessings bring bane to us; for memory recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them.

 

Letter 6: On Sharing Knowledge

16/1/18

To always heed:

In certain cases sick men are congratulated because they themselves have perceived that they are sick.

…the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.

Therefore I summon you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.

To ponder:

Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself.

…men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears…

“What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.” — Hecato

 

Letter 7: On Crowds

17/1/18

To always heed:

Do you ask me what you should regard as especially to be avoided? I say, crowds…

I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings.

Even Socrates, Cato, and Laelius might have been shaken in their moral strength by a crowd that was unlike them…

You must either imitate or loathe the world.

You may say: “For what purpose did I learn all these things?” But you need not fear that you have wasted your efforts; it was for yourself that you learned them.

“I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all.”

Many men praise you; but have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are a person whom the many can understand?

To ponder:

“One man means as much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man.” — Democritus

 

Letter 8: On the Philosopher’s Seclusion

18/1/18

To always heed:

Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life — that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health.

Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.

“If you would enjoy real freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy.”

The good that could be given, can be removed.

To ponder:

Avoid whatever pleases the throng: avoid the gifts of Chance! Halt before every good which Chance brings to you, in a spirit of doubt and fear; for it is the dumb animals and fish that are deceived by tempting hopes.

Believe me, those who seem to be busied with nothing are busied with the greater tasks; they are dealing at the same time with things mortal and things immortal.

For the very service of Philosophy is freedom.

Still alien is whatever you have gained. By coveting.

What Chance has made yours is not really yours.

 

Letter 9: On Philosophy and Friendship

19/1/18

To always heed:

..our ideal wise man feels his troubles, but overcomes them; their wise man does not even feel them.

the wise man is self-suffcient, that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them.

…for the purpose of practicing friendship, in order that his noble qualities may not lie dormant.

A man will be attracted by some reward o ered in exchange for his friendship, if he be attracted by aught in friendship other than friendship itself.

…he deemed nothing that might be taken from him to be a good.

Do you understand now how much easier it is to conquer a whole tribe than to conquer one man?

“A man may rule the world and still be unhappy, if he does not feel that he is supremely happy.”

It matters not what one says, but what one feels; also, not how one feels on one particular day, but how one feels at all times.

To ponder:

“It is more pleasant to make than to keep a friend, as it is more pleasant to the artist to paint than to have finished painting.”

“nothing is needed by the fool, for he does not understand how to use anything, but he is in want of everything.”

For want implies a necessity, and nothing is necessary to the wise man.

 

Letter 10: On Living to Oneself

20/1/18

To ponder:

I know of no one with whom I should be willing to have you shared.

…the only benefit that solitude confers — the habit of trusting no man, and of fearing no witnesses — is lost to the fool; for he betrays himself.

I do not know any person with whom I should prefer you to associate rather than yourself.

 

Letter 11: On the Blush of Modesty

21/1/18

To always heed:

Whatever is assigned to us by the terms of our birth and the blend in our constitutions, will stick with us, no matter how hard or how long the soul may have tried to master itself.

(actresses & actors) cannot, however, muster a blush; for the blush cannot be prevented or acquired.

“Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he beheld them.”

We can get rid of most sins, if we have a witness who stands near us when we are likely to go wrong.

For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.

To ponder:

For by no wisdom can natural weaknesses of the body be removed.

Training and experience can never shake off this habit; nature exerts her own power and through such a weakness makes her presence known even to the strongest.

 

Letter 12: On Old Age

22/1/18

To always heed:

Moreover, no one is so old that it would be improper for him to hope for another day of existence.

And one day, mind you, is a stage on life’s journey.

When a man has said: “I have lived!”, every morning he arises he receives a bonus.

…may understand that the best ideas are common property.

To ponder:

Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline.

“One day is equal to every day.”

“It is wrong to live under constraint; but no man is constrained to live under constraint.”

 

Letter 13: On Groundless Fears

23/1/18

To always heed:

It is only in this way that the true spirit can be tested — the spirit that will never consent to come under the jurisdiction of things external to ourselves.

There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us…

What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes…

We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.

Put the question voluntarily to yourself: “Am I tormented without sufficient reason, am I morose, and do I convert what is not an evil into what is an evil?”

“How am I to know whether my sufferings are real or imaginary?”

Yes, my dear Lucilius; we agree too quickly with what people say.

For truth has its own definite boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty is delivered over to guesswork and the irresponsible license of a frightened mind.

You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things.

…it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what lengths he may go if he is angry.

And if fear wins a majority of the votes, incline in the other direction anyhow…

…we are frightened at uncertainties, just as if they were certain.

To ponder:

What shall you gain by doing this? Time.

Accordingly, weigh carefully your hopes as well as your fears, and whenever all the elements are in doubt, decide in your own favour; believe what you prefer.

“ The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.”

 

Letter 14: On the Reasons for Withdrawing from the World

24/1/18

To always heed:

I do not maintain that the body is not to be indulged at all; but I maintain that we must not be slaves to it.

We should cherish the body with the greatest care; but we should also be prepared, when reason, self-respect, and duty demand the sacrifice, to deliver it even to the flames.

Let us, therefore, see to it that we abstain from giving offence.

So the wise man will never provoke the anger of those in power; nay, he will even turn his course, precisely as he would turn from a storm if he were steering a ship.

…an important part of one’s safety lies in not seeking safety openly; for what one avoids, one condemns,

…we should have no cravings like theirs; for rivalry results in strife.

If you are empty-handed, the highwayman passes you by: even along an infested road, the poor may travel in peace.

…any other pursuit that claims the people’s attention, wins enemies for a man…

“He who needs riches least, enjoys riches most.”

No man, however, enjoys a blessing that brings anxiety…

He collects his accounts, he wears out the pavement in the forum, he turns over his ledger — in short, he ceases to be master and becomes a steward.

To ponder:

We should conduct ourselves not as if we ought to live for the body, but as if we could not live without it.

…of all the agencies which coerce and master our minds, the most effective are those which can make a display.

The power to inspire fear has caused many men to be in fear.

…it is as harmful to be scorned as to be admired.

The better man may win; but the winner is bound to be the worse man.

A soldier’s skill is not at fault if he receives the death-blow through his armour.

 

Letter 15: On Brawn and Brains

25/1/18

To always heed:

For although your heavy feeding produce good results and your sinews grow solid, you can never be a match, either in strength or in weight, for a rst-class bull.

These exercises are running, brandishing weights, and jumping…

But whatever you do, come back soon from body to mind.

For our purpose is, not to give the voice exercise, but to make it give us exercise.

“ The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future.”

…how pleasant it is to demand nothing, how noble it is to be contented and not to be dependent upon Fortune.

When you see many ahead of you, think how many are behind!

At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.

As to what the future’s uncertain lot has in store, why should I demand of Fortune that she give rather than demand of myself that I should not crave?

And why should l crave?

To ponder:

You need not scorn voice-culture; but I forbid you to practice raising and lowering your voice by scales and specific intonations.

…whenever your spirit’s impulse prompts you, raise a hubbub, now in louder now in milder tones, according as your voice, as well as your spirit…

Fix a limit which you will not even desire to pass, should you have the power.

Lo, today is the last; if not, it is near the last.

 

Letter 16: On Brawn and Brains

26/1/18

To always heed:

…no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom…

Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point.

When you are travelling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless.

…when you would know whether that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite point.

If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature.

To ponder:

Whatever is well said by anyone is mine.

“If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.”

 

Letter 17: On Philosophy and Riches

27/1/18

To always heed:

If any bond holds you back, untie it, or sever it.

Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom…

Study cannot be helpful unless you take pains to live simply; and living simply is voluntary poverty.

Is philosophy to be the last requisite in life — a sort of supplement? Nay

Wisdom offers wealth in ready money…

“ The acquisition of riches has been for many men, not an end, but a change, of troubles.”

For the fault is not in the wealth, but in the mind itself. That which had made poverty a burden to us, has made riches also a burden.

…one need not care whether the diseased mind is bestowed upon riches or upon poverty.

To ponder:

…if anything forbids you to live nobly, nothing forbids you to die nobly.

Will any man hesitate to endure poverty, in order that he may free his mind from madness?

…for if you have anything, how do you know that you have not too much already?

Change the age in which you live, and you have too much. But in every age, what is enough remains the same.

 

Letter 18: On Festivals and Fasting

28/1/18

To always heed:

It shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does…

For one may keep holiday without extravagance.

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress…

“Is this the condition that I feared?”

Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby.

…a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs.

There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day.

…let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard.

…this can be accomplished only by persuading yourself that you can live happily without it as well as with it, and by regarding riches always as likely to elude you.

“Ungoverned anger begets madness.”

Similarly with fire; it does not matter how great is the flame, but what it falls upon.

To ponder:

Therefore, what a noble soul must one have, to descend of one’s own free will to a diet which even those who have been sentenced to death have not to fear!

 

Letter 19: On Worldliness and Retirement

30/1/18

To always heed:

…so reckon up whether it is preferable to leave your own true self, or merely some of your belongings.

Would you rather be poor and sated, or rich and hungry?

“There’s thunder even on the loftiest peaks.”

…it is more important who receives a thing, than what it is he receives.

To ponder:

You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink.

A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy.

 

Letter 20: On Practising What You Preach

30/1/18

To always heed:

…test your progress, not by mere speech or writings, but by stoutness of heart and decrease of desire.

Prove your words by your deeds.

…philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak…

Poverty will keep for you your true and tried friends; you will be rid of the men who were not seeking you for yourself, but for something which you have.

…let your thoughts, your efforts, your desires, help to make you content with your own self…

No man is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us!

To ponder:

“May not a man, however, despise wealth when it lies in his very pocket?”

 

Letter 21: On the Renown which my Writings will bring You

31/1/18

To always heed:

Your greatest difficulty is with yourself; for you are your own stumbling-block.

You are better at approving the right course than at following it out.

“If you wish,” said he, “to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.”

 

Letter 22: On the Futility of Half-Way Measures

1/2/18

To always heed:

…when or how your plan is to be carried out — no one will advise at long range; we must take counsel in the presence of the actual situation.

…be content with the business into which you have lowered yourself, or, as you prefer to have people think, have tumbled.

…it means something to call a halt — even if one does not offer resistance — instead of pressing eagerly after favouring fortune.

No man is brave and earnest if he avoids danger, if his spirit does not grow with the very difficulty of his task.

…a good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy. Neither will he, as you imagine, become so involved in ambitious schemes that he will have continually to endure their ebb and flow.

No man can swim ashore and take his baggage with him.

“Everyone goes out of life just as if he had but lately entered it.”

To ponder:

But I likewise maintain that you should take a gentle path, that you may loosen rather than cut the knot which you have bungled so badly in tying — provided that if there shall be no other way of loosening it, you may actually cut it.

…there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery.

 

Letter 23: On the True Joy which comes from Philosophy

2/2/18

To always heed:

…cast aside and trample under foot all the things that glitter outwardly and are held out to you by another or as obtainable from another…

…rejoice only in that which comes from your own store.

We must make it our aim already to have lived long enough.

To ponder:

“They live ill who are always beginning to live.”

 

Letter 24: On Despising Death

5/2/18

To always heed:

For every day a little of our life is taken from us…

“It is absurd,” he says, “to run towards death because you are tired of life, when it is your manner of life that has made you run towards death.”

To ponder:

…the very day which we are now spending is shared between ourselves and death.

 

Letter 25: On Reformation

6/2/18

To always heed:

…for I do not love this one if I am unwilling to hurt his feelings.

You ought to make yourself of a different stamp from the multitude.

…for everyone is better off in the company of somebody or other — no matter who — than in his own company alone.

“The time when you should most of all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.” Yes, provided that you are a good, tranquil, and self-restrained man; otherwise, you had better withdraw into a crowd in order to get away from your self.

To ponder:

…you are engaged in making of yourself the sort of person in whose company you would not dare to sin.

 

Letter 26: On Old Age and Death

7/2/18

To always heed:

I am to pass judgment upon myself…

Put aside the opinion of the world; it is always wavering and always takes both sides.

This is what I mean: your debates and learned talks, your maxims gathered from the teachings of the wise, your cultured conversation — all these afford no proof of the real strength of your soul.

 

Letter 27: On Old Age and Death

11/2/18

To always heed:

…let your faults die before you die.

…so with guilty pleasures, regret remains even after the pleasures are over.

This matter cannot be delegated to someone else.

No man is able to borrow or buy a sound mind…

To ponder:

Count your years, and you will be ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in your boyhood days.

Depraved minds, however, are bought and sold every day.

“Real wealth is poverty adjusted to the law of Nature.”

 

Letter 28: On Travel as a Cure for Discontent

19/2/18 (yeap hit a hiatus last week)

To always heed:

Lands and cities are left astern, your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.

“The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation.”

At times be harsh with yourself.

 

Letter 29: On the Critical Condition of Marcellinus

20/2/18

To always heed:

…for one must not talk to a man unless he is willing to listen.

Do not count the number of those who inspire fear in you.

“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know, they do not approve, and what they approve, I do not know.”

However, what you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you.

To ponder:

That which takes effect by chance is not an art.

It takes trickery to win popular approval…

 

Letter 30: On Conquering the Conqueror

21/2/18

To always heed:

A great pilot can sail even when his canvas is rent…

For no great pain lasts long.

We do not fear death; we fear the thought of death

To ponder:

He who does not wish to die cannot have wished to live.

 

Letter 31: On Siren Songs

23/2/18

To always heed:

Be deaf to those who love you most of all; they pray for bad things with good intentions.

 

Letter 32: On Progress

24/2/18

To ponder:

Would you know what makes men greedy for the future? It is because no one has yet found himself.

 

Letter 33: On the Futility of Learning Maxims

27/2/18

To always heed:

A single tree is not remarkable if the whole forest rises to the same height.

Only the poor man counts his flock.

…give over hoping that you can skim, by means of epitomes, the wisdom of distinguished men. Look into their wisdom as a whole; study it as a whole.

Put forth something from your own stock.

Remembering is merely safeguarding something entrusted to the memory; knowing, however, means making everything your own…

Let there be a difference between yourself and your book!

Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides.

To ponder:

She is not a beautiful woman whose ankle or arm is praised, but she whose general appearance makes you forget to admire her single attributes.

…the truth will never be discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made.

 

Letter 34: On a Promising Pupil

28/2/18

To always heed:

You know what I mean by a goodman? One who is complete, finished — whom no constraint or need can render bad.

If a man’s acts are out of harmony, his soul is crooked.

 

Letter 35: On the Friendship of Kindred Minds

1/3/18

To always heed:

A friend loves you, of course; but one who loves you is not in every case your friend.

Friendship, accordingly, is always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm.

A shifting of the will indicates that the mind is at sea, heading in various directions, according to the course of the wind.

 

Letter 36: On the Value of Retirement

2/3/18

To always heed:

You will therefore be doing a thing most helpful to yourself if you make this friend of yours as good a man as possible…

To ponder:

In death there is nothing harmful; for there must exist something to which it is harmful.

…everything which seems to perish merely changes.

 

Letter 37: On Allegiance to Virtue

3/3/18

To always heed:

These passions, which are heavy taskmasters, sometimes ruling by turns, and sometimes together, can be banished from you by wisdom, which is the only real freedom.

There is but one path leading thither, and it is a straight path; you will not go astray.

…ask in a dazed way: “How did I get into this condition?”

To ponder:

put yourself under the control of reason; if reason becomes your ruler, you will become ruler over many.

You can show me no man who knows how he began to crave that which he craves.

 

Letter 38: On Quiet Conversation

5/3/18

To always heed:

Lectures prepared beforehand and spouted in the presence of a throng have in them more noise but less intimacy.

…for we do not need many words, but, rather, effective words.

To ponder:

…no one can give advice at the top of his lungs.

 

Letter 39: On Noble Aspirations

6/3/18

To always heed:

It is the quality of a great soul to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather than that which is too great.

…they even love their own ills, — and that is the worst ill of all!

Then it is that the height of unhappiness is reached, when men are not only attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things which once were vices have become habits.

To ponder:

…excessive productiveness does not bring fruit to ripeness.

Utility measures our needs; but by what standard can you check the superfluous?

 

Letter 40: On the Proper Style for a Philosopher’s Discourse

7/3/18

To always heed:

Remedies do not avail unless they remain in the system.

…this sort of speech contains a great deal of sheer emptiness; it has more sound than power.

…refuse to hear yourself speak.

For that heedless flow will carry with it many expressions which you would wish to criticize.

I bid you be slow of speech.

To ponder:

I suppose that certain styles of speech are more or less suitable to nations also…

 

Letter 41: On the God within Us

13/3/18

To always heed:

One which is resplendent with no external good, but only with its own.

A golden bit does not make a better horse.

Praise the quality in him which cannot be given or snatched away, that which is the peculiar property of the man.

…to live in accordance with his own nature.

To ponder:

For what is more foolish than to praise in a man the qualities which come from without?

And what is more insane than to marvel at characteristics which may at the next instant be passed on to someone else?

 

Letter 42: On Values

13/3/18

To always heed:

…greatness develops only at long intervals…

“But,” you say, “he thinks ill of evil men.” Well, so do evil men themselves…

These men simply lack the means whereby they may unfold their wickedness.

…we regard things as free gifts when they really cost us very dear.

Our stupidity may be clearly proved by the fact that we hold that “buying” refers only to the objects for which we pay cash…

…but we are eager to attain them at the cost of anxiety, of danger, and of lost honour, personal freedom, and time; so true it is that each man regards nothing as cheaper than himself.

Yes, it was a mere extra; you will live without it just as easily as you have lived before.

“Less influence.” Yes, and less envy.

…you will perceive that it is not the loss that troubles us with reference to these things, but a notion of loss.

He that owns himself has lost nothing.

To ponder:

…either there is nothing desirable in them, or the undesirable is preponderant.

we regard as free gifts the things for which we spend our very selves.

We should belong to ourselves, if only these things did not belong to us.

“You will have less money.” Yes, and less trouble.

 

Letter 43: On the Relativity of Fame

13/3/18

To always heed:

Now there is no reason why you should measure yourself according to this part of the world; have regard only to the place where you are dwelling.

For greatness is not absolute; comparison increases it or lessens it.

Do not, however, deem yourself truly happy until you nd that you can live before men’s eyes, until your walls protect but do not hide you;

although we are apt to believe that these walls surround us, not to enable us to live more safely, but that we may sin more secretly.

To ponder:

…if base, what matters it that no one knows them, as long as you yourself know them? How wretched you are if you despise such a witness!

 

Letter 44: On Philosophy and Pedigrees

16/4/18

woah horrible hiatus broken

To always heed:

But a noble mind is free to all men…

This is what happens when you hurry through a maze; the faster you go, the worse you are entangled.

To ponder:

“Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave has had kings among his ancestors.”

 

Letter 45: On Sophistical Argumentation

17/4/18

To always heed:

Your desire, however, that I should dispatch to you my own writings does not make me think myself learned, any more than a request for my picture would flatter my beauty.

Vices creep into our hearts under the name of virtues, rashness lurks beneath the appellation of bravery, moderation is called sluggishness, and the coward is regarded as prudent; there is great danger if we go astray in these matters. So stamp them with special labels.

Not to know them does no harm, and mastering them does no good.

…who sees no man with whom he wishes to change places…

whom Fortune when she hurls at him with all her might the deadliest missile in her armoury, may graze, though rarely, but never wound.

For if a thing be necessary, it does not follow that it is a good. Else we degrade the meaning of “good,” if we apply that name to bread and barley-porridge and other commodities without which we cannot live.

The good must in every case be necessary.

Shall you not rather transfer your efforts to making it clear to all men that the search for the superfluous means a great outlay of time, and that many have gone through life merely accumulating the instruments of life?

[on people who always look forward to morrow] …for such persons do not live, but are preparing to live.

…life finds us lingering and passes us by as if it belonged to another, and though it ends on the final day, it perishes every day.

To ponder:

Why, pray, do you discriminate between similar words, when nobody is ever deceived by them except during the discussion?

…who rates men only at their value as men…

…whom no violence can deprive of his possessions…

…who may be moved by force but never moved to distraction…

 

Letter 46: On A New Book by Lucillius

17/4/18

To ponder:

Lucky fellow, to offer a man no opportunity to tell you lies at such long range!

 

Letter 47: On Master and Slave

18/4/18

To always heed:

They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies.

It is just as possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to see in you a slave.

Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.

I propose to value them according to their character, and not according to their duties.

Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties.

Show me a man who is not a slave; one is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear.

No servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed.

That which annoys us does not necessarily injure us; but we are driven into wild rage by our luxurious lives, so that whatever does not answer our whims arouses our anger.

To ponder:

Good material often stands idle for want of an artist; make the experiment, and you will find it so.

They are not unaware that this is true, but by finding fault they seize upon opportunities to do harm; they insist that they have received injuries, in order that they may inflict them.

…but badness is fickle and frequently changing, not for the better, but for something different.

 

Letter 48: On Quibbling as Unworthy of the Philosopher

19/4/18

To always heed:

There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common.

Lo, Wisdom and Folly are taking opposite sides. Which shall I join?

Frankness, and simplicity beseem true goodness.

Even if there were many years left to you, you would have had to spend them frugally in order to have enough for the necessary things…

To ponder:

What among these games of yours banishes lust? Or controls it?

 

Letter 49: On the Shortness of Life

20/4/18

To always heed:

…yet this “moment ago” makes up a goodly share of our existence…

Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it…

…also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a man who has lived long to have lived too little.

It is not everywhere that death shows himself so near at hand; yet everywhere he is as near at hand.

At our birth nature made us teachable, and gave us reason, not perfect, but capable of being perfected.

The language of truth is simple. We should not, therefore, make that language intricate; since there is nothing less fitting for a soul of great endeavour than such crafty cleverness.

To ponder:

Why do you torment yourself and lose weight over some problem which it is more clever to have scorned than to solve?

 

Letter 50: On Our Blindness and Its Cure

20/4/18

To always heed:

…nobody understands that he is himself greedy, or that he is covetous.

The evil that afflicts us is not external, it is within us…

Virtue is according to nature; vice is opposed to it and hostile.

…it is characteristic of a weak and diseased mind to fear that which is unfamiliar.

…for just as soon as it is curing us it begins to give pleasure.

To ponder:

Learning virtue means unlearning vice.

 

Letter 51: On Baiae and Morals

21/4/18

To always heed:

We ought to select abodes which are wholesome not only for the body but also for the character.

To be conquered, in the first place, are pleasures, which, as you see, have carried off even the sternest characters.

…surrendering to pleasure means also surrendering to pain, surrendering to toil, surrendering to poverty.

And what is freedom, you ask? It means not being a slave to any circumstance, to any constraint, to any chance…

The spirit is weakened by surroundings that are too pleasant, and without a doubt one’s place of residence can contribute towards impairing its vigour.

The bravest soldier comes from rock-ribbed regions; but the town-bred and the home-bred are sluggish in action.

Being trained in a rugged country strengthens the character and fits it for great undertakings.

Vice, Lucilius, is what I wish you to proceed against, without limit and without end. For it has neither limit nor end.

If any vice rend your heart, cast it away from you; and if you cannot be rid of it in any other way, pluck out your heart also.

Above all, drive pleasures from your sight.

To ponder:

Perspiration should flow only after toil.

…it means compelling Fortune to enter the lists on equal terms.

When I have death in my own control, shall I take orders from her?

 

Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers

24/4/18

To always heed:

Nor need you despise a man who can gain salvation only with the assistance of another; the will to be saved means a great deal, too.

I should accordingly deem more fortunate the man who has never had any trouble with himself; but the other, I feel, has deserved better of himself, who has won a victory over the meanness of his own nature, and has not gently led himself, but has wrestled his way, to wisdom.

…you may go to the ancients; for they have the time to help you.

Choose as a guide one whom you will admire more when you see him act than when you hear him speak.

Why do you take pleasure in being praised by men whom you yourself cannot praise?

…you can gauge character by even the most trifling signs.

…you can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.

But, if you really understand, that is not praise; it is merely applause.

But let them be roused to the matter, and not to the style; otherwise, eloquence does them harm, making them enamoured of itself, and not of the subject.

To ponder:

None of our wishes is free, none is unqualified, none is lasting.

For what is baser than philosophy courting applause? Does the sick man praise the surgeon while he is operating?

Young men, indeed, must sometimes have free play to follow their impulses, but it should only be at times when they act from impulse, and when they cannot force themselves to be silent.

…what indulgences should be allowed to a speaker on a public occasion, and what should be allowed to the crowd itself in the presence of the speaker.

 

Letter 53: On the Faults of the Spirit

25/4/18

To always heed:

…only he who is awake can recount his dream, and similarly a confession of sin is a proof of sound mind.

What a wonderful privilege, to have the weaknesses of a man and the serenity of a god!

To ponder:

“I do not intend to accept the time which you have left over, but I shall allow you to keep what I myself shall leave.”

 

Letter 54: On Asthma and Death

26/4/18

To always heed:

It would be absurd to take delight in such supposed restoration to health, as it would be for a defendant to imagine that he had won his case when he had succeeded in postponing his trial.

Whatever condition existed before our birth, is death.

…the wise man does nothing unwillingly.

To ponder:

Death is non-existence, and I know already what that means.

…would you not say that one was the greatest of fools who believed that a lamp was worse off when it was extinguished than before it was lighted?

He escapes necessity, because he wills to do what necessity is about to force upon him.

 

Letter 55: On Viata’s Villa

14/5/18

To always heed:

…for Nature gave us legs with which to do our own walking, and eyes with which to do our own seeing.

…it makes a great deal of difference whether your life be one of leisure or one of idleness.

For the mass of mankind consider that a person is at leisure who has withdrawn from society, is free from care, self- sufficient, and lives for himself; but these privileges can be the reward only of the wise man. Does he who is a victim of anxiety know how to live for himself?

…this person is not living for himself he is living for his belly, his sleep, and his lust…

He who lives for no one does not necessarily live for himself.

The place where one lives, however, can contribute little towards tranquillity;

it is the mind which must make everything agreeable to itself.

To ponder:

And we ought to bear the absence of friends cheerfully, just because everyone is bound to be often absent from his friends even when they are present.

A friend should be retained in the spirit; such a friend can never be absent.

 

Letter 56: On Quiet and Study

16/5/18

To always heed:

For of what benefit is a quiet neighbourhood, if our emotions are in an uproar?

Real tranquillity is the state reached by an unperverted mind when it is relaxed.

You need not suppose that the soul is at peace when the body is still. Sometimes quiet means disquiet.

So with greed, ambition, and the other evils of the mind — you may be sure that they do most harm when they are hidden behind a pretence of soundness.

To ponder:

Words seem to distract me more than noises; for words demand attention, but noises merely fill the ears and beat upon them.

Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishes them; it merely changes the form of our worries.

 

Letter 57: On the Trials of Travel

18/5/18

To always heed:

For there are certain emotions, my dear Lucilius, which no courage can avoid…

…nothing can harm that which is everlasting.

To ponder:

…how foolish we are to fear certain objects to a greater or less degree, since all of them end in the same way.

…the soul, which is still subtler than fire, has a way of escape through any part of the body.

 

Letter 58: On Being

19/5/18

To always heed:

“that which exists”; either possesses, or lacks, substance.

“Certain things have mind, while others have only life.”

…when every instant means the death of our previous condition.

I try to extract and render useful some element from every field of thought, no matter how far removed it may be from philosophy.

…we crave them as if they were always to exist, or as if we were always to possess them.

There is a pleasure in being in one’s own company as long as possible, when a man has made himself worth enjoying.

…but if old age begins to shatter my mind, and to pull its various faculties to pieces, if it leaves me, not life, but only the breath of life…

I shall not lay violent hands upon myself just because I am in pain; for death under such circumstances is defeat.

He who dies just because he is in pain is a weakling, a coward; but he who lives merely to brave out this pain, is a fool.

To ponder:

But who can endure to be nice in the midst of poverty?

“We go down twice into the same river, and yet into a different river.”

For it makes a great deal of difference whether a man is lengthening his life or his death.

How much more cruel, then, do you suppose it really is to have lost a portion of your life, than to have lost your right to end that life?

Something I find funny:

For “man” comprises species: by nations — Greek, Roman, Parthian; by colours — white, black, yellow.


 

This post will be updated.


 

 

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