On the Shortness of Life – Seneca

On the shortness of life came across to me as a recommendation from the book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. I wanted to read Seneca for a long time so I decided to start with this one. This is a very small book with 105 pages, but it carries the best content that I read this year.

This book is divided into three parts. First one is the essay “On the shortness of life”. Seneca shares his views on how to live a life to the fullest. You cannot expect any sugar coated words from a stoic so you might feel sometimes that the words are hitting you very hard. But towards the end you will realise how relevant his ideas are even today. This is my favourite essay in this book.

The second part is Seneca addressing his mother on the occasion of his exile. In “Consolation to Helvia” he refers to his exile as a benefit not a punishment. This is historically an interesting essay, you will understand the attitude of society towards women in that era. For me this essay was not as interesting as the other two because It had many references to other stories and events happened in that era.

“On Tranquility of Mind” is Seneca responding to his friend Serenus’s letter. Serenus seeking Seneca’s advice on how to cure him of anxiety, worry and disgust with life. Seneca talks about self-knowledge, ordering priorities, public service and mastering fear in this part.

Here is few of my favourite quotes from this book.

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

“The pain of a wound is the same in the largest and the smallest bodies. Plucking out hair hurts bald people just as much as those with hair.”

“They loose the day in waiting for the night, and the night in fearing the dawn.”

“No man has been shattered by the blows of fortune unless he was first deceived by her favours.”

“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.”

“And so there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles, he has not lived long – he has existed long. For what if you should think that man had had a long voyage who had been caught by a fierce storm as soon as he left harbour, and, swept hither and thither by a succession of winds that raged from different quarters, had been driven in a circle around the same course? Not much voyaging did he have, but much tossing about.”

“The evil of taking our cue from others has become so deeply ingrained that even the most basic feeling, grief, degenerates into imitation”

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it’s been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested.”

“What does it matter what ground I stand on.”

“I shall never ashamed to go to a bad author for a good quotation.”