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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Great Ideas
  • Paperback: 105 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036326
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.4 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

On the Shortness of Life

Most human beings, Paulinus,* complain about the meanness of nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, and because this spell of time that has been given to us rushes by so swiftly and rapidly that with very few exceptions life ceases for the rest of us just when we are getting ready for it. Nor is it just the man in the street and the unthinking mass of people who groan over this - as they see it - universal evil: the same feeling lies behind complaints from even distinguished men. Hence the dictum of the greatest of doctors:† 'Life is short, art is long.' Hence too the grievance, most improper to a wise man, which Aristotle expressed when he was taking nature to task for indulging animals with such long existences that they can live through five or ten human lifetimes, while a far shorter limit is set for men who are born to a great and extensive destiny. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.

* A friend of Seneca’s.
† Hippocrates


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

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I have purchased multiple copies of this book and need to buy another one because I just gave away my last copy.
Theresa
This little book contains three writings from the classic Roman Philosopher Seneca who lived from about 5 B.C. to 65 A.D. and was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul.
Steve Burns
He told me to not let myself become too ambitious, because it will make me susceptible to, as he always put it, hocus pocus thinking.
W. Hamilton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on November 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Seneca's brand of Stoicism emphasized the philosophy by which his reader might face life's setbacks. In particular he considered it important to confront the fact of one's own mortality. The discussion of how to approach death dominates this book, which is a series of letters to relatives and friends. Seneca himself was ordered to commit suicide by the Emperor Nero, and did so in A.D. 65.

This book also elucidates the author's pet peeves, many of which sound quite modern:

* Men who comb their few strands of hair forward in an effort to hide their baldness

* Historians who memorize obscure dates and battles in an effort to appear knowledgeable

* Collectors and hobbyists of any sort

* Sports fans (men who sit at "a wrestling ring...keenly following the bouts between boys")

* Men who pretend they're younger than they are

* Lunatic poets who prose on about love

* The current mode of dance (mincing and wriggling)

There is very little talk about love or mitigating the pain of death through love. In fact, Seneca recommends that we detach ourselves from strenuous goal-seeking, repeated indulgence in sport and play, or overindulgence in anything.

Everything in moderation.

Yet his wife did commit suicide with Seneca. Was that out of love or fear?

This small book (106 pages) gives its reader a window into the life and customs of the Roman Empire as seen through the clear gaze of one of its eminent philosophers.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steve Burns TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
This little book contains three writings from the classic Roman Philosopher Seneca who lived from about 5 B.C. to 65 A.D. and was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul. (There are even letters supposedly between the two, which were proven to be ancient forgeries, See: Lost Books of the Bible).
The three writings contained in this work are:
On the shortness of life.
Consolation to Helvia.
On the tranquility of mind.

In these writings the great philosopher warns of the dangers of materialism and how it leads to unhappiness. Life will be miserable for those who acquire through great toil what they must keep by greater toil. The wealthy are no more happy than the poor, for most worry about losing what they have. The author advises not getting to attached to money, public office, or influence because fortune can reclaim them. He suggests to love frugality and the pursuit of learning, study history and philosophy. Be careful what you exchange your time for, life goes by quickly. The ideal amount of money never falls with in the range of poverty or far exceeds it. He believes that people can be happy in simplicity and contemplation. He advises leading a balanced life and beware of fame, power, and responsibilty becasue most that are in high places became trapped and unhappy dreaming of freedom and peace. This was a delightful book and an excellent translation. If you love philosphy I highly recommend adding this little book to your collection. Spend your time wisely it will go by very quickly.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jamie Anderson on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
For my mother's fifty-fifth birthday, I gave her a copy of this book. Even I, at sixteen, was completely changed by Seneca's powerful and timeless ideals in this book- these are essays for all ages, all eras, all people. Although Seneca wrote in the beginning of the "common era," his description of a world where people search fruitlessly for happiness through materialism and waiting for the future rings truer than ever in our postmodern age. His ideas for remedying our distress, through accepting each minute of life as it comes and concentrating completely on our present task, are no less than transforming.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on September 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
I disagree with the former reviewer that this is not a wise purchase. These texts are available online if you know how to find them, so part of buying a book these days is the having of a crafted object upon which to enjoy that text. In this regard, this 100 page book has the title nicely embossed into it's paper cover and its art is simple, classic. The paper inside is an off white that has obviously been carefully chosen. Best of all, the type is very crisp and clear and easy to read. When I buy a book I am most concerned with the quality of the type because, in my opinion, muddy text is distracting.

I would agree that it is not a definitive reference, but I enjoy soaking in a few gems from many writers on many subjects, and for this reason I am glad that these little great ideas books are being published.

I have not seen the other volume that was aforementioned by the previous reviewer and therefore cannot compare its qualities.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alex Drysdale on August 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
I know the title sounds too good to be true and I'm sure is not typical of the average reader's results but for me it truly did change the way I looked at life. I'm sure it was a combination of many thing that have been happening recently with the more people I've met and books I've read but this specific piece was the tipping point for me to really change the way I look at materialism and my time. It was the spark that caused me to quit a 6 figure job and pursue higher goals and more fulfilling work. I am now much more satisfied with life and have actually passed where I was in life held down by trading my time for money to pay the mortgage... a never ending helpless cycle.

Thanks Seneca
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