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Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
One has to accept life on the same terms as the…crowds, or travel. Things will get thrown at you and things will hit you. Life’s no soft affair. It’s a long road you’ve started on: you can’t but expect to have slips and knocks and falls….Seneca, Letter CVII
Seneca’s letters are some of the most diverse and well written essays on the development of character that I’ve come across. I admit that I may be a little biased on this point as I’m coming from the perspective of an English Major, MBA graduate and a philosophy enthusiast—AKA nerd. However, at their core, the Stoic theme of self restraint and reliance are undying principles that have the power to enrich our lives in any century. This is the one book that never grows old and always has something powerful to say about the way we live.
I’m not saying that the material isn’t dated and that you won’t come across cultural norms and taboos that aren’t appropriate in the 21st century. This is a period piece and we need to be cognizant of that reality when we look to the author for ancient Roman insights. The lessons are just as applicable today even if the examples are no longer valid. Seneca lived in a different time, and we have to keep that in mind. We should ask ourselves if Seneca were with us today how would his advice and insights be utilized? What new examples would he come up with to share with us?
What I love about Seneca is that his writings can be envisioned as a personal discussion with you about life and the hardships we face. He’s always a firm voice of reason and gives us a new perspective on the ordinary. He really does have something to say on just about everything, and his letters cover a wide range of topics, but here are some highlights.
- Aging and Mortality
- Drunkenness and Overindulgence
- Keeping up with the Joneses
- Knowledge vs. Wisdom
- Luxury and Vanity
- Overcoming Difficulty
- Planning for the Unexpected
Really, the best feature of Seneca’s letters are that you can read a new one each night and get a pocket sized dose of daily inspiration to help you live your best life. Every letter is only a few pages long and allows you to access new insights daily. Occasionally, he may begin to ramble, but often that can make you laugh as he catches himself in the letter and apologizes for his loss of precision. It’s as close as you can get to talking with a Roman or a Stoic. Bottomline—Add this one to your shelf and keep it handy for some light reading when life looks a little dreary.