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On the Shortness of Life (Penguin Great Ideas) 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 131 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143036326
ISBN-10: 0143036327
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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


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Great Ideas
  • Paperback: 105 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036326
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.3 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Mass Market 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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just started getting into reading philosophy and self help books. It's quite amazing how these people were so ahead of their time in terms of thinking. Seneca makes some great points. I like how he brings up the preoccupied people who are only concerned with the present, who don't realize how long they have until it's too late because they never realize how much time has passed and the uncertainty of the future. It's like pouring water in a cup with no bottom. How can you know how much water was poured when it isn't filling up but instead going right through the cup? At the same time, how do you know when the water will cease to flow? That's why it's so important to keep perspective of time. Don't just live in the moment. Understand the context of the moment. He stresses the importance of examining your past because it is solidified and unchangeable. There, you are able to observe those things you did well and those you didn't do well, so that you can make changes in the present to live a more productive and efficient life. He sums it up very astutely and simplistically with the little poem, "Life's finest day for wretched mortals here Is always first to flee."
I also liked the quote from page 27 when he says "we lose the day in waiting for the night and the night in fearing for the dawn." He is saying we are waiting for the perfect moment, or the moment of joy and pleasure. But in waiting we lose all the time preceding that moment. And as soon as the moment comes we fear it's end. It's a constant vicious cycle and we can never win.
Another great quote is on page 5 when he says "the greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. Very powerful insight.
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