- 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: 4.3 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 (183 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It (Penguin Great Ideas) 1st Edition
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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.
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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.
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Top customer reviews
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. It's like we're waiting and waiting and hoping whatever we want comes our way, but in doing that, we lose the time at hand. Plus, waiting and hoping something works out is putting your money on the future which is uncertain. That's why expecting something to happen is not enough, because you're betting on luck instead of making it happen through the action you take. As Abraham Lincoln said, "the best way to predict the future is to create it."
There are many great quotes but the last one I will share is on page 56 when he says "No man is despised by another unless he is first despised by himself. An object and debased mind is susceptible to such insult; but if a man stirs himself to face the worst of disasters and defeats the evils which overwhelm others, then he wears those very sorrows like a sacred badge. For we are naturally disposed to admire more than anything else the man who shows fortitude in adversity." I think what he's basically saying is that you need to love yourself before anyone else can love you. People will show you the amount of love in proportion to the amount of love you give yourself. The two quotes that come to mind that relate are "those who stand for nothing will fall for anything" and "if there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do no harm." If you conquer the worst of your fears, the same fears that destroys others, then you will take pride in the very thing that you feared, and people will admire and respect that you had the guts to face it, instead of chastising and scorning you. So you should feel no shame in your problems for they are the very thing that will earn you the admiration of others if you are able to conquer them, but more importantly, it will strengthen you and help you grow as a person. His other quote that piggy backs off that is "If a great man falls and remains great as he lies, people no more despise him than they stamp on a fallen temple, which the devout still warship as much as when it was standing." In other words, it's not about what happens to you or how you fall, but about how your react and carry yourself, and your character, that will resonate with others. Anyway these are just some examples of the bits of wisdom Seneca offers. Overall, there is some timeless wisdom in his essay and I believe it is worth your time to read it.
Seneca, being one of the better known philosophers at the time, delves into our thoughts as well as others thoughts from across the generations. Even though his musings were made back in the early 1st century, he still had valid points. My favorite take-away from this book: "People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy." He does what any good philosopher is supposed to do: make you think. How quick are we to dismiss someone who is asking us for $100, while we will gladly give away an afternoon at an event that we did not want to attend?
We all have birth certificates, so we know how long we have existed, but how much of that time is actually spent living? Also, if we knew what the other end was, our death date, how differently would we live? If we knew that we only had 50,000 hours left on earth, how stingy would we be with our time?
I reread this book all the time.
I’m not a big reader, but I’d recommend this book to anyone who would listen.