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Letters from a Stoic (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 30, 1969


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 30, 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442106
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Latin (translation)

About the Author

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, statesman, philosopher, advocate and man of letters, was born at Cordoba in Spain around 4 BC. He rose to prominence in Rome, pursuing a career in the courts and political life, for which he had been trained, while also acquiring celebrity as an author of tragedies and essays. Falling foul of successive emperors (Caligula in AD 39 and Claudius in AD 41), he spent eight years in exile, allegedly for an affair with Caligula’s sister. Recalled in AD 49, he was made praetor and was appointed tutor to the boy who was to become, in AD 54, the emperor Nero. On Nero’s succession, Seneca acted for some eight years as an unofficial chief minister. The early part of this reign was remembered as a period of sound government, for which the main credit seems due to Seneca. His control over Nero declined as enemies turned the emperor against him with representations that his popularity made him a danger, or with accusations of immorality or excessive wealth. Retiring from public life he devoted his last three years to philosophy and writing, particularly the Letters to Lucilius. In AD 65 following the discovery of a plot against the emperor, in which he was thought to be implicated, he and many others were compelled by Nero to commit suicide. His fame as an essayist and dramatist lasted until two or three centuries ago, when he passed into literary oblivion, from which the twentieth century has seen a considerable recovery.

More About the Author

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, statesman, philosopher, advocate and man of letters, was born in Spain around 4BC. He rose to prominence at Rome, pursuing a double career in the courts and political life, until Claudius sent him into exile exile on the island of Corsica for eight years. Recalled in AD49, he was appointed tutor to the boy who was to become, in AD54, the emperor Nero. Seneca acted for eight years as Nero's unofficial chief minister until Nero too turned against him and he retired from public life to devote himself to philosophy and writing. In AD65, following the discovery of a plot against the emperor, he and many others were compelled by Nero to commit suicide.

Customer Reviews

A book to be read and reread.
R. J. Marsella
I have read this book only two "letters" a day within the past month; one in the morning before work and one in the evening before bed.
ZSky
Which can result in a well lived life of fullfillment & happiness.
Mark Newbold

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

170 of 174 people found the following review helpful By jroszak@kqed.org on July 28, 1999
Format: 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.
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177 of 184 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on August 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This will not be a review about Seneca. I suppose I will attempt that one day once I manage to go thru my library's Loeb Classical Library edition of Seneca's Epistles.
The purpose of this review is to bellyache about the Penguin Classics' edition of this work. I come not to criticize this translation. I have no Latin. For all I know it is brilliant.
What I am here to criticize is the decision to edit Seneca's work all to Tartarus and back. There are 124 Letters in Seneca's Epistles. Campbell gives you 40. Or just over 32%! Campbell's criteria as to which letters to present is a personal one. He evaluated their interest and whether or not they were repetitive. His is admittedly charming in his own defense on this issue. He quotes Roger L'Estrange (another anthologist of Seneca's) from 1673 to the effect that anyone who complains about the selection is an unmannerly guest who eats at his host's table and then critiques the meal. I embrace this description. I may well use The Unmannerly Guest as my nom de plume for my reviews from now on.
Here is my problem. All too often the editors or translators of the Penguin Classic editions decide that they know better than the ancient author what is valuable about the work for today's reader. Their Plutarch is one such travesty. Their edition of Polybius is another. What makes it more confusing is they can get it right sometime, as with their edition of Livy.
I think they are really missing their chance here. The Penguin Classics series is the perfect publishing series for modern and complete editions of ancient authors presented in their original form as much as is possible.
Let us look at how personal Campbell's choice is. I happen to be reading The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection by Gretchen Reydams-Schils.
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72 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Martin H. Dickinson on February 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Stoicism has been much misunderstood, and the adjective "stoic," which loosely can be taken to mean bearing up under duress, is partly correct but does not do justice to one of the world's great philosophies. This Penguin volume presents a great selection from the letters of Seneca, which hits all the high points of the philosophy and captures Seneca's remarkable personality, which has made him a hit with the cognoscenti for 2,000 years. Few perhaps realize that the Stoics postulated a great commonwealth governed by law, or that they idealized democracy. Seneca mentions Solon the lawgiver as the creator of democracy and refers numerous times to the Roman Stoic saint, Cato, who strove mightily (and unsuccessfully) to preserve the Roman Republic.

Seneca, like other Stoics, has a doctrine of nature that is remarkably close to that of Emerson or modern American environmentalists. The wise man (sapiens) will never be bored when contemplating the simple things of nature. The natural beauty of the countryside and the healthful action of the waves can have a calming effect (although there's a memorable passage in which a storm causes terrible sea sickness). He also believed in the simple and strenuous life and the avoidance of luxury and decadence, and there are numerous passages in these letters to his disciple, Lucilius, which decry the ostentatious, self indulgent practices of his contemporaries. These are sentiments and ideas adopted by many in the modern world, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Seneca has no patience for philosophy as a word game or a practice of engaging in hair-splitting arguments for their own sake. He rather sees it as a practice or way of life that all those who seek the good should investigate and adopt.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Luciano Lupini on March 1, 2002
Format: 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.
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