Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger.

Letters from a Stoic, or to give it its proper Latin title, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, is a collection of letters written by Seneca the Younger to Lucilius Junior, the procurator of Sicily during the reign of Nero. All we know of Lucilius comes from Seneca's writings - these letters and the dedication of Naturales Quaestiones and an essay - De Providentia.

I loved these letters so much it is very hard to gather my thoughts, so rather than try and approach this from a more objective standpoint I'm going to indulge myself and just say how very good they are. In short though, these essays offer advice on how to be a Stoic - stoicism is a branch of philosophy that began in the early 3rd Century B.C. and is concerned with knowledge, self-control and strength of character as virtues that will protect individuals from immoral behaviour. By focusing on oneself one becomes free of the pressures of society for example and will embrace a path that will encourage self-improvement. He advises Lucilius on a wide range of topics - friendship, the absolute importance of learning and reading, and on dealing with suffering as well as the dangers of greed and avarice among other things.

They are eternally wise, beautiful, moving, and inspiring. Some of the letters are quite personal - Seneca, for example, suffered from asthma (as I do myself I was quite struck by that), which he writes about (referring to asthma attacks as 'rehearsals for death', which is the best description of an asthma attack I've ever come across). From the letters not only do we see the wisdom in Seneca but also the kindness - he seems like a good and kind man who was concerned with the welfare of others - he wished to help people by sharing his thoughts and philosophy and encouraging everyone to learn what it is to be virtuous and to understand the nature of life - that it is fleeting and will always involve some sort of suffering along the way. Understanding that and learning how to perceive it and deal with it is a key part of virtue, which is what will lead to happiness.

It is, in short, an incredible book and has so many brilliant things to say I'm currently overwhelmed by it. One day soon I'll re-read it and go into it in more depth. For now, how happy I am to have finally read it!

Comments

  1. Seneca's been on my tbr list for sixty years, but one day... i've read more about him than in him and he's always seemed like the epitome of sanity... too bad he had to relate to someone like Nero...

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    1. Do read more Seneca - that's my advice to everyone now! :)

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  2. I'm so glad that you read and enjoyed this. I've been practicing Stoicism for about two years, now, and am finding it helpful and inspiring. I've also been working on a couple of academic conference proposals about incorporating stoic practices in the college English classroom.

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    1. I do love Seneca and Stoicism is very interesting - can you recommend any more books on the subject?

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