On the Shortness of Life – Seneca

The writings of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into stoicism, morality and the importance of reason, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and wisdom.

Picking this book was entirely thanks to a video by PewDiePie, who, in between his usual meme and gaming content enjoys indulging in books, and particularly those of a philosophical nature. This time he explored Stoicism.  Being at a loose end for a book, and not having a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to hand, this slim tome was the next best thing.

Of the three essays on offer, those being On the Shortness of LifeConsolation to Helvia, and On Tranquillity of Mind, the first was my favourite, mainly because of all the famous Roman military and political figures that have become familiar over many books about that empire. The message of bettering oneself is always one that resonates strongly as well and writing that encourages reading is already preaching to the converted.

Each essay is written to a particular person, the first to Paulinus talks of spending time fruitfully in the timeless pursuit of wisdom through philosophy, the second consoles his mother on his exile to Corsica, and the final essay is written in letter form to Serenus, in which he offers advice on how to achieve a peaceful mind with moderation and self-control.

Simply written and extremely worthwhile, this slight book – barely over one hundred pages – holds the attention, it gives the reader a chance to slow down and contemplate how life is lived and the state of our relationships with others. The themes are timeless, and that makes this a worthy addition to any library, and this a worthy edition in my library.

More importantly it asks the question how could we better live our lives?  On the Shortness of Life, is not a ‘life changing’ book but it is pleasantly thought provoking, and unlike these  modern self-help books, it has, and will, continue to stand the test of time, and so far that’s two thousand years and counting.

8 Replies to “On the Shortness of Life – Seneca”

  1. If you’d like to read a serious book with a soupcon (not a soup can, I can’t make the cedilla on my email) of humor and man-of-the-worldliness about it, try “Augustine’s Confessions.” I only read part of it, but it was quite entertaining. I think it’s right up your alley, and I’d like to see your review of same book.

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    1. I have a copy of the Confessions, although its at the back of the shelf (my books are double layered at the moment) and I am to lazy to rearrange until I read the majority of the books at the front. I have beeb reading a lot of books with Christianity involved of late so will give it sufficient time to settle before I attack that one.

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  2. Thank you for making me laugh with this: “writing that encourages reading is already preaching to the converted.” I’ve been thinking of delving into philosophy and it’s a plus that this is a short one (since life is short).

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    1. This is a good start, if you fancy something more broad, Sophies World by Jostein Gaarder is a good overview wrapped around a story about a young girl discovering the subject and is a good read. It may also gives you an idea about where you want to begin your pursuits.

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  3. I have Marcus Aurelius’ book and it’s good. These writings wouldn’t have lasted this long if they hadn’t contained useful advice and things to think about. I must look out for Seneca.

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    1. Apologies for the last comment I wrote you, for some reason I assumed you were commenting on this book and not the Yourcenar. The copy I got was one of those Penguin ideas books so it should be your local Waterstones (when it opens), although its much more preferable to find a copy in an independent bookshop of course. My appetite for Seneca is not yet sated so I shall also be looking out for more.

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      1. I did wonder but often make similar mistakes myself. I knew all would become clear eventually 🙂 I like the Penguin ideas sets. They have introduced me to quite a few authors I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of trying.

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        1. They are handy for dabbling in an author to see if they are suitable… mainly though I’m in it for the lovely covers that they have on many of them, although not this one.

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