- 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 (158 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It (Penguin Great Ideas) 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
The role and image of the US President
Learn about the image of the president with these resoures from Cambridge. See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
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.
That quote talks about language and the difficulty he has writing when he considers the posterity of his words. When his thoughts become too grand, Senca's friend is saying, he starts to change: his words change to match the ideas, and then his personality changes. Then he's a different person: he's a creation of the rhetoric of whatever ideas he was pursuing: "Then it is that I forget my principle of restraint, and I am carried too far aloft by voice no longer my own." His chief problem, then, is that he's not himself.
Speech giving means speech giving, but it's also is a metaphor for living. In life, this getting carried away translates to, as Seneca responds, "melancholy and mourning and a thousand vacillations of a wavering mind, buoyed up by the birth of hope and sickened by the death of it." Seneca's advice: "So what you need is not these more radical remedies...but the final treatment, confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours...." In other words, Senca is saying: You have to know yourself, and hold on to yourself.
This book is full of life changing advice, but that section resonates with me because it touches on something my dad warned me of before he passed away. 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. Such thinking will change the way I dress and speak and present myself, until one day I think of money before people, and work for my resume. When I was a child, and even when I was in university, he used to warn me, "Don't let others confuse you."
Seneca wasn't one for five year plans, life goals, or thinking about how people will remember him at his funeral. He certainly wasn't Generation Y. About such people, Seneca writes, "Can anything be more idiotic than certain people who boast of their foresight? They keep themselves officiously preoccupied in order to improve their lives; they spend their lives in organizing their lives. They direct their purposes with an eye to a distant future." These people are "idiotic," because, according to Seneca, they miss the point of life, which is to live, not to plan to live.
"Do you think," Seneca asks, that any wise man can be affected by disgrace, one who relies entirely on himself and holds aloof from common beliefs?" That's a serious question. To politicians, celebrities, and those seeking venture capital, the answer is yes. Such people rely on consensus and opinion and fitting into a mold. Most of society does. And that's too bad, because anybody who does so, no matter how long she lives, will have a short life.
If you're new to Seneca, I would suggest starting with essays from this volume: Seneca: Moral and Political Essays (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). You can get a used copy of a well-edited volume of some of Seneca's best essays, including the ones I mention as well as "On Mercy [Clemency]" and others. So for a few more buck you can get quite a few better essays, in my opinion.
Book nerd sidenote: the paper used for this book is great quality! I highlight the hell out of books, and nothing bleeds through -- which is good, bc you'll want to mark it up.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
my go-to book to gift
a stoic philosopher's writings on life and time.