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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A VERY MODERN VERY OLD AND SAGE STOIC,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)This book is the fundamental vademecum for every day life. No person that I know has left this book suffer the dust and the quiet tranquillity that any other philosophy book enjoy in a library. This letters contain all the wisdom and the poise to enable any inquisitive soul to aquire selfcontrol, to endure with dignity the burdens of misfortune, to take success and fame with humbleness and cynicism, to prepare with serenity to die. Finally, to consider the end of life with the detachment of someone who has used well a precious object, without contracting the disease of jealousy.
This is a very easily readable book, and it was written by Seneca in the last four years of his life (62-65 A.D.). In my opinion is the masterpiece of his moral philosophy.
Seneca's literary style was criticized by his contemporaries for its fragmentary and non-classic hues, and it is truly very modern. Caligula defined it as "sand without lime". St. Augustine in his City of God, in a reference to his contradictions, criticized the fact that this man who almost achieved real freedom through philosophy, pursued what he criticized, did what he loathed and inculpated what he adored. AND WHAT DOES MODERN MAN DO? Maybe we must admit that Seneca lived a life full of contradictions, triumphs and failures but he never truly believed in the roles that he had to play and he was always ready to detach himself from material things, devoid of illusions but also of bitterness.
That is why his work has survived the ages and has been celebrated for his modernity. I would say that his teachings are atemporal, and this is the best tribute to him. Maybe this is why
his letters were the bedside book of Montaigne. And mine.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secular wisdom for today,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)Freethinkers, Deists, Humanists and others who have thrown off the yoke of theism & dogma will find much food for thought here. Especially new freethinkers who are still being warned by well intentioned "true believers" that an ethical, moral life is only possible with a personal deity. Lookng back to the classical pagan world of stoicism, we find Seneca, a philosopher that continues to illuminate the world with insights into conducting ones life according to reason and the affirmation to all that life has to offer without resorting to false piety and religious apologetics. These are views from the real world.
Of interest to anyone examining the classical world of ancient Rome will discover, the intellectuals of the time possessed both a religion and a philosophy to guide their lives. Religion was merely the outward exoteric public display of sentiment (much like our calendar holidays today) and then there was your philosophy, the inner esoteric moral compass that guided deep seated morality and ethical choices. Which can result in a well lived life of fullfillment & happiness. Qualities all too often absent from modern life. Especially for those still trying to juggle and make sense of repressive monotheisms. Read Seneca & celebrate life's rich offerings.
5.0 out of 5 stars timeless practial advice,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)Seneca is one of many of the ancient classical writers that present timeless wisdom that is applicable to any age or geographical situation. His work speaks about honor and principle under both difficult situations and under the everyday questions of living that we all face. There is a lot of timeless advice about what it means to carry oneself in a principled manner and not be subject to the whims and fancies of ego and the materiality that have existed in all times, not just our own. Seneca is one of the classic writers that have stood the test of time. His work is still around and popular for a reason. There is much sound advice and material that provokes thought on a personal level. It also speaks to the eternal values that not only made ancient Rome one of the most influential and formative precursors of western culture but have shaped and formed the thought and political structures of modern society. It is ancient in origin, but it is modern in much of its message. Read Seneca, it will show you how the essentials of people never really change. We still have the same concerns on a personal level, only the scenery and the accoutrements have changed.
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Advice On Living Well,
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This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)This book is a very thought-provoking and enjoyable to read. Seneca pours over all kinds of different situations, that people manage to get themselves into. He looks at society, and attempts to guide his friend through the difficult conditions. Sure there are a few subject areas, that only apply to the Roman time frame. However, for the most part this book offers timeless advice on all sorts of social situations. There is even some advice on how to handle the month long December holiday celebrations. At the time the holiday was called Saturnalia instead of Christmas. In fact most of the material comes across, as if it was written in 2011.
Seneca is a Stoic Philosopher, but do not feel you need a background in philosophy to appreciate the book. The content is very straight forward, and there is a great flow to the book.
I give this book very high marks, and my highest recommendation.
5.0 out of 5 stars As relevant today as it was in Seneca's time,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)A book to be read and reread. Every page has a wise tone and each letter/essay addresses a specific challenge that people must face in every age. So much of Seneca's ideas have been referenced and incorporated into subsequent works through the ages that the original has a familiar and accessable quality. Excellent bedside or airplane reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Lesson For All Ages!,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)Probably the best manual on how to live well that I have ever read. As informative today as the day it was written. this book is a series of letters written by Seneca to a dear friend. It offers practical advice on the art of living well as well as dealing with loss, fear of death, surviving sickness (Seneca suffered from severe asthma)and friendship. It should be required reading for all High School students.
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine balance between idealism and pragmatism.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)In this great book Seneca answers several of the questions we face in todays world. His answers seem to be as revelant today as they were in the 4th Century B.C. The reviews on the back cover are perfectly accurate in suggesting the Seneca can be credited with "... spiritualizing and humanising..." a system that can be sometimes viewed as harsh. A must read, to help resolve some of the inevitable conflicts that modern man/society are faced with.
5.0 out of 5 stars Common Sense, Roman Decadence, and the Meaning of Life,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)The first time I read this book I was amazed and excited, and entering middle age. Seneca's thoughts on the human condition seemed like they could have been written today. Except for some dated Roman references, here is a man trying to define how to live, in what we today would call "the secular society." The series of letters reads like a personal guidebook to ethics. It still speaks to us across the centuries. Seneca was priveleged, ego centric, and all too aware of the fleeting nature of life. He was also a tutor of Nero, a dramatist, philosopher, slave owner, etc. But his essay-like letters - by turns glib and medatative - reveal a man struggling to make sense of a world of power, wealth and abundance, oestensibly ruled by reason, suffused with uncertainty and enveloped in paganism. He was also no doubt polishing his image for future generations. Nonetheless, he talks of god and spirituality, and the early Christians were said to have valued his wisdom. I've read this two or three times. Each time I've given it away to a friend. Once you read it, you'll go back to it again and again. His maxims are famous. His commonsense advice still rings true.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes, yes...sometimes, no...,
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)That title perhaps sounds like "hot" and "cold" running
Seneca -- but it is rather a personal guide to how I believe
one should approach Seneca and his advice in these "Moral
My own interest in wanting to know more about him and to
read about him came from two sources -- one of them was
the several mentions of him by Herman Melville in his
works -- and the other was the suggestion in the Oxford
World's Classics edition of Petronius' SATYRICON that
Trimalchio and those of his sort as depicted by Petronius
might be based on the types of individuals pointed out
by Seneca in his letters (p. xxix).
In the first chapter of MOBY-DICK, Ishmael (the narrator)
talks about how he goes to sea -- and how he is able to
bear it. He says: "No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple
sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the fore-
castle, aloft there to the royal mast-head. True, they
rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to
spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And, at first
this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's
sense of honor.... The transition is a keen one, I assure
you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong
decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin
and bear it. But even this wears off in time."
According to the Introduction in this edition by Penguin
Classics (translated and with an Introduction by Robin
Campbell), there were 124 letters written to Lucilius
Junior, "a native of Pompeii, a hard-working higher civil
servant (procurator in Sicily at the time) who appears to
have dabbled in literature and philosophy." (p. 12)
There appear to be 42 of the letters included in this
edition. The negative, here, is that the letters are
numbered with Roman numerals, and there is no subtitle or
parenthetical information before the letters to tell what
the subject matter is. One has to "know" the letters by
tradition and familiarity in order to know which number to
go to in order to find Seneca's views and advice on certain
The translator (Robin Campbell) gives his justification
for the selection of the particular letters in his
"Introduction." He says, "It may be asked what criteria
have been applied in deciding which letters should be
included or omitted. The first has been their interest --
as they set out a philosophy and contribute to a picture
of a man and of his time. The second has been the avoidance
of undue repetition of particular themes or topics of a
moralist who tends towards repetitiveness." (p.28)
The exasperation with Seneca comes with his dual
nature -- he is both "social man," and "thinking (principled)
man." And occasionally he recognizes that those two things
may be in conflict, and may be cause for making choices --
but he also tries to be "practical" in his view of man's
being also a social being, and thus having to have contact
and social interaction with others of his species. Sometimes
his advice on this latter course seems temporizing, tedious,
and questionable. Here is the Seneca who is the temporizer,
the go-along-to-get-along dissembler. He quite rightly tells
his reader not to merely ape the outward disdain of
conventional dress and manners simply to get attention, trying
to convince others of his "better" nature. Perhaps he should
have stopped here, and told his reader that reform of the
self was what he should aim at -- but there seemed to be
the tutor or teacher in Seneca, so he seemed prone to think
he had a mission to reform others as well. "The very name
of philosophy, however modest the manner in which it is
pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the
reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves
from the conventions of society. Inwardly everything
should be different, but our outward face should conform
with the crowd [unh-hunh; strangely this does not synch
with what he says later about how one's individual
attitudes and values can be warped and worsened by
mere association of time with the crowd and its
amusements!]. * * * Let our aim be a way of life not
diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the
mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very
people whose reform we desire; we shall make them,
moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear
they may have to imitate us in everything. The first
thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of fellow-
ship, of belonging to mankind and being members of a
community; being different will mean the abandoning of
that manifesto." [Letter V, p. 37.] It is no wonder
that Melville moved away from Seneca after MOBY-DICK,
especially after the crowd (the reading public and the
critics) had rejected him. There was too much of
the alienated, wounded, grieving loner in Melville,
anyway, to feel totally comfortable with someone like
Seneca and his moral/worldly dichotomy.
The letters that appealed the most to me were the
ones concerning "reading" and "the effect of crowds."
Here is some of Seneca's advice on reading: "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. To be everywhere is
to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life travelling
abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find
hospitality but no real friendships. The same must needs
be the case with people who never set about acquiring
an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer,
but skip from one to another, paying flying visits to
them all." [Letter II, p. 33]
And here is his observation about the effect of
"going along with the crowd." "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 or bedaubed
all unawares with it. * * * But nothing is as ruinous
to the character as sitting away one's time at a show --
for it is then, through the medium of entertainment, that
vices creep into one with more than usual ease. 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 crueller and less humane through having
been in contanct with human beings. * * * When a mind is
impressionalbe and has none too firm a hold on what is
right, it must be rescued from the crowd: it is so easy
for it to go over to the majority. * * * such is the
measure of the inability of any of us, even as we perfect
our personality's adjustment, to withstand the onset of
vices when they come with such a mighty following."
[Letter VII, pp. 41-42.]
Read for yourself -- decide for youself how large or
small a "decoction of Seneca" is salutary for the soul --
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Christians as well.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic (Paperback)Stoicism is a great learning tool in helping to understand the early Christian Church. Scholars say that it was the 'bridge' that allowed a smoother transition between Paganism and Christianity during the time of the Roman Empire.
Of course, there are some elements in Stoicism that are not compatible with Christian teachings. The way I got around this was by putting 'post-it notes' on four of the letters, that mentions ending your life short, so that I know which ones to skip as I read this most eloquent book over and over again. The remaining 40+ letters are great, and I don't find much that is nefarious about them.
The book also mentions about a relationship between St.Paul and Seneca, and although many moderns think it never happened, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. In Philippians 4:22, it says this: "All the saints send you greetings, especially those that belong to Caesar's household." (NIV) This letter was written during the time that St.Peter was in Rome, between 44 AD and 64-67 AD. If anyone says that 'Caesar's Household' had nothing to do with a great lecturer and tutor on ethics like 'Lucius Seneca the younger', than they are mad. People just do not want to believe in such a relationship because they hate the legacy of Christianity. Notice that I didn't even mention the letters between them that historians say came to light in the 3rd century AD. Petrach, I think, re-discovered Cicero's 900 letters around the time of the 'Humanist' movement (1345), so why couldn't a great fire in Rome and the horrible persecution of many countless Christians bring those letters into hiding until the 3rd century? Plus, Seneca, in his 41st letter to Lucilius, talks about the 'Holy Spirit', which Robin Campbell failed to translate accurately (although the rest of his translation is superb)but can be found in the Loeb Classical Library version of Seneca's letters.
When all is said and done, I have to say that this is a great book for all peoples and shouldn't be considered one book for any one particular group of persons. To improve yourself in ethics or eloquence, this book is a great tool.
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Penguin Classics Letters From A Stoic by Seneca (Paperback - Aug. 30 2004)
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