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Monday, June 23, 2008

first encounter with Seneca

Something Hadot wrote in What is Ancient Philosophy? drew me to Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65). The Loeb version of his moral essays makes abundantly clear in the introduction that Seneca was a hypocrite (for some contrast check out Wikipedia's take on his reputation). From the cover:
Wealthy, he preached indifference to wealth; evader of pain and death, he preached scorn of both; and there were other contrasts between practice and principle.

In any case, I really like On the Shortness of Life:
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. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death's final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

But Fabianus, who was not one of today's academic philosophers but the true old-fashioned sort, used to say that we must attack the passions by brute force and not by logic; that the enemy's line must be turned by a strong attack and not by pinpricks; for vices have to be crushed rather than picked at. Still, in order that the people concerned be censured for their own individual faults, they must be taught and not just given up for lost.

The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
He ends up advocating the philosophical life as the only life worth living (and he blasts everything else, big surprise) but he makes a number of more broadly applicable insights along the way. He especially keeps reiterating that time is our most valuable possession.

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