- Series: The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 6, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 022652843X
- ISBN-13: 978-0226528434
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius (The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca) 1st Edition
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Far from an ancient curiosity, Seneca remains a wonderful go-to resource for tips on handling anxiety, coming to terms with death, living in the moment, avoiding hypocrisy, being a loyal friend, and many other exceedingly practical ethical topics—all with a smooth, conversational, and what I can only describe as a non-dogmatic-and-yet-firm tone. He touches lucidly and casually on many areas of philosophy that are still widely discussed today, such as free will and the usefulness (or not) of abstract ethical theory. The book is littered with quotes from famous Greek and Roman philosophers, including many Stoics, but also Epicureans, Aristoteleans, etc.
Since the book is such a delightful piece of literature, and since it is broken up into 124 short letters, it makes for perfect meditational reading. Personally, I use it as a secular alternative to spiritual devotionals. It is a book worth reading more than once.
On the translation: It is lovely, lucid and contemporary (2015), as 'Chicago Med Student' made clear in their review. There is a well-written preface on Seneca's works in general, with one of the easiest to comprehend summaries of Stoicism I have found, and there is a long introduction to the Letters in particular that will provide casual readers with all the historical context they need. Ample endnotes are provided for scholars and the curious alike.
On the book: The typography, cover, and rich blue dust cover are simply beautiful—the quality you should expect for the price. I own many translations of ancient philosophical works, and as an admitted bibliophile I have to say this is one of the most beautiful books in my library. Only Ian Johnson's The Mozi: A Complete Translation (Translations from the Asian Classics) compares.
Ita fac, mi Lucili; vindica te tibi; et tempus, quod adhuc aut auferebatur aut subripiebatur aut excidebat, collige et serva. Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt.
In the Loeb this is translated as: Continue to act thus, my dear Lucilius--set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands. Make yourself believe the truth of my words--that certain moments are torn from us, that some are gently removed, and that others glide beyond our reach.
A perfectly serviceable translation, the Loeb rendering is at times bit wordy and shows its age (translated in 1917). Some phrases are a bit heavy, such as "Make yourself believe the truth of my words", where what is being said is simply "Persuade yourself that it is as I write". I think the Graver/Long translation captures this somewhat better.
The Graver/Long translated the same passage as: Do that, dear Lucilius: assert your own freedom. Gather and guard the time that until now was being taken from you, or was stolen from you, of that slipped away. Convince yourself that what I write is true: some moments are snatched from us, some are filched, and some just vanish.
There are many other examples like this. The Loeb translation is generally accurate and basically captures the essence of what Seneca is saying, however there are many places where additional words are added in, either for some perceived need to fill out the meaning, or as rhetorical flourishes (e.g "Set yourself free for your own sake"). Where this translation improves is by modernizing the style of the work while managing to keep the translation accurate and faithful. The introduction provides a nice summary of Seneca's life, an overview of some pertinent Stoic themes, the social, historical, and philosophical context of his work, and a helpful discussion on the Teacher-Pupil relationship and how letters play a role in it.
Overall, despite the hefty price, this is a work worth reading if you enjoy Seneca and want to read him in an excellent contemporary translation.