Seneca – Letters from a Stoic (1-10)

divine retributionLetter 1 – On Saving Time

Recently we were in a bar, and he was telling me about this girl who seemed like she liked him, but wouldn’t let him ask her out, and puts him through all sorts of confusing games—they’re both PhDs working for maybe the best known company in the world and in their early 30s. My response was—doesn’t she know she’s dying? 

Why piss away your time on amusements unless you’re examining the hell out of them. Again, that’s the purpose of this blog in the first place, because too often I enjoy reading, and since I don’t think I should be spending time doing things just for the sake of relaxation, I began trying to examine them so at least I could look back and say ‘oh, right, I got something from that.’


“What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.”

One of the messages of this chapter is: stop procrastinating. You’re going to die.

Reminiscent of Franklin:

“I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss; I can give you the reasons why I am a poor man.”

Letter 2 – On Discursiveness in Reading

In short, a painful lesson for someone who keeps this blog, Seneca suggests—don’t read lots of different authors and works…just focus on a few, revisit them, and digest them fully.

Of course, returning to Letter 1, I procrastinate now that I’m married, and I haven’t finished a real book in many years, so perhaps it’s not really an issue for me.

Letter 4 – On the Terrors of Death


“It is not boyhood that still stays with us, but something worse,–boyishness. And this condition is all the more serious because we possess the authority of old age, together with the follies of boyhood, yea, even the follies of infancy. Boys fear trifles, children fear shadows, we fear both.”

Letter 5 – On the Philosopher’s Mean


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


“We do not adapt ourselves to the present, but send our thoughts a long way ahead. And so foresight, the noblest blessing of the human race, becomes perverted. Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past. Many of our blessings bring bane to us; for memory recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them. The present alone can make no man wretched.”

IX – On Philosophy and Friendship

“The Supreme Good calls for no practical aids from outside; it is developed at home, and arises entirely within itself.”

This is the concept that I’ve tried to follow more than any other I’ve learned, but likely not to the extent that I ought—because I try following it to a single end, and not as a continual end within itself.

X – On Living to Oneself

“’Know that thou art freed from all desires when thou hast reached such a point that thou prayest to God for nothing except what thou canst pray for openly.’ . . . ‘Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.’”

This calls to mind our thoughts on Yom Kippur—that we find repentance for our sins easier when we’re asking God for forgiveness than when we’re asking people for forgiveness. I don’t believe divine forgiveness is easily bestowed, which I can only assume means that I rarely deserve it because I don’t know how to repent, and also because I’m not sure which things I do are good and which are bad. One year I called an old roommate and apologized on his voicemail for letting the air out of all his tires and drawing a penis and writing DICK on his car with shaving cream to discolor the paint. Even now, I feel kinda proud that I went and did that, right? I mean, there was injustice to me, and I took it upon myself to exact retribution in some unequal fashion—which I couldn’t even convince him I did—but, bottom line is, I don’t feel badly enough. And why don’t I feel badly enough? Well, perhaps because somewhere inside me I don’t believe that God punishes the wicked. But I do believe this—don’t I? That in one’s own lifetime, you’ll be punished or rewarded as you deserve. I must not truly believe this if I take it upon myself though, right?

Well, for instance, let’s say the girl who lives downstairs is making the entire stairwell stink of her child’s feces. My retaliation is that I don’t mention ‘by the way—if your daughter grabs the bathroom sink, it’s going to tip, fall and crush her.’ The truth is that perhaps it’s better to just leave retribution to the divine, and then, in this situation, to paint the stairwell with ammonia on a daily basis until our eyeballs all melt.

It is so difficult to even try to be a good person. I need to try better.

One thought on “Seneca – Letters from a Stoic (1-10)

  1. Yea, that’s how our forefathers get to us; by passing and “enforcing” knowledge from the past, thereby causing a ‘disconnect’ in time.

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