On The Shortness of Life - Lucius Seneca. The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span. On the Shortness of Life LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA TRANSLATED BY GARETH D. WILLIAMS (i.i) Most of mankind, Paulinus, complains about natures. P E N G U I N BOOKS — GREAT IDEAS On the Shortness of Life Seneca. 5. BC- AD Seneca On the Shortness of Life TRANSLATED PENGDIN BY C. D. N.

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On the shortness of life by Seneca, translated by John W. Basore · Chapter I.→. De Brevitate Vitae—"On the Shortness of Life". Translated by. "On the Shortness of Life" is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher, to his friend Paulinus. The philosopher brings up many . On The Shortness Of Life. By Lucius Annaeus Seneca. NOTE: Seneca, a Spanish -born philosopher of Rome who lived in the first century A.D., was one of the.

And so, however short, it is amply sufficient; and for that reason, whenever his last day comes, the sage will not hesitate to go to his death with a sure step. Don't imagine that I mean only those lawyers who are driven out of the law court only when the watchdogs are finally let in for the night; or those patrons you see crushed either with impressive display in their own crowd of admirers or more contemptuously in someone else's crowd; or those clients whose duties summon them from their own houses in order to dash them against the doors of others; or those the praetor's spear keeps busy for disreputable gain which is someday bound to fester.

Do you call a man at leisure who arranges with meticulous attention to detail his Corinthian bronzes, which are made so expensive by the collect- ing mania of a few, and who spends most of the day on rusty strips of copper? Or a man who sits at a wrestling ring for — shame on us! Who separates the troops of his own well-oiled wrestlers into pairs of the same age and skin color? Who maintains a stable of the freshest athletes? How angry they get if the barber has been a little too careless, as if he were cutting a real mans hair!

How they flare up if anything is wrongly cut off their precious mane, if a hair lies out of place, or if everything doesn't fall back into its proper ringlets! Which of those people wouldn't rather have their country thrown into disarray than their hair?

Who isn't more concerned about keeping his head neat rather than safe? Who wouldn't rather be well groomed than well respected?

You call leisured these people who are kept busy between the comb and the mirror? The voice, whose best and simplest flow is naturally straightforward, they twist into sinuous turns of the most feeble crooning. Their fingers are always snapping in time to some song that they carry in their head, and when they've been asked to attend to serious and often even sorrowful matters, you can overhear them quietly humming a tune.

Theirs isn't leisure but idle occupation. I'd not class their banquets among leisurely pastimes, because I see how anxiously they arrange their silver plate, how carefully they gather up the tunics of their pretty boys-at-table, how they are on tenterhooks to see how the boar turns out from the cook, how quickly the smooth-skinned slaves hurry to discharge their duties at the given signal, how skillfully birds are carved into carefully shaped portions, and how attentively wretched little slave boys wipe away the spittle of drunks.

By these means they seek a reputation for refinement and sumptuous living, and their evils follow them into every corner of their lives to such an extent that they cannot eat or drink without ostentation.

It's hard for me to say whether I pity him more if he really didn't know as much or if he pretended not to know. They find certain vices pleasing as evidence of their prosper- ity: What folly to think that mime actors 18 feign many details in order to attack luxury!

Truth be told, they pass over more than they fabricate, and such a wealth of unbelievable vices has arisen in an age that has applied its fertile talents in this one direction that by now we can charge the mime actors with ignoring them. To imagine that there's anyone so ruined by pampering that he takes another's word as to whether he's seated!

He is sick or rather as good as dead; the truly leisured person is one who is also conscious of his own leisure. But a person who needs a guide to make him aware of his own bodily positions is only half-alive; how can he be in control of any of his time? People whose plea- sures put them to considerable work are not at leisure.

For instance, nobody will doubt that those who devote their time to useless lit- erary questions — Rome too now has a significant number of such people — are busily engaged in doing nothing. Only a few days ago I heard someone 20 mentioning which Roman general had been the first to do what: Duilius was the first to win a battle at sea, 21 Curius Dentarus the first to parade elephants in a triumph. Sulla was the first to display lions off the leash in the circus, 25 though as a general rule they were shown in chains, and that javelin throwers were supplied by king Bocchus 26 to dispatch them?

All right, let's allow that as well; but is any useful purpose re- ally served by knowing that Pompey was the first to put on a fight in the circus involving eighteen elephants, 27 with noncriminals arrayed against them in mock battle?

A leader of the state and a man of out- standing kindliness, as his reputation has it; among leaders of old, he thought it a memorable form of spectacle to destroy human beings in unheard-of fashion.

That's not enough. They're torn to pieces? Not enough: O what dark- ness great prosperity casts on our minds! He thought he was above the laws of nature when he was throwing so many hordes of human wretches to beasts born under a different sky, when he was arrang- ing war between such disparate creatures, when he was shedding so much blood before the eyes of the Roman people — people he'd later force to shed still more blood themselves.

But this same man was later taken in by Alexandrian treachery and offered himself to be run through by the meanest of his chattels; 28 then at last he recognized the empty boast that was his own surname. Whose passions will they hold in check? Whom will they make braver, or more just, or more generous of spirit? My friend Fabianus used to say that he sometimes won- dered whether it was better to apply oneself to no researches at all than to be embroiled in these.

For it's not just their own lifetime that they watch over carefully, but they annex every age to their own; all the years that have gone before are added to their own. Unless we prove most ungrateful, those most distinguished founders of hal- lowed thoughts came into being for us, and for us they prepared a way of living.

We are led by the work of others into the presence of the most beautiful treasures, which have been pulled from darkness and brought to light. From no age are we debarred, we have access to all; and if we want to transcend the narrow limitations of hu- man weakness by our expansiveness of mind, there is a great span of time for us to range over. How many who, after they've tortured them with the long wait, pretend to be in a hurry as they pass them by!

How many will avoid going out through a reception hall packed with clients and make their escape through a door that's hidden from view, as if it were not even cruder to deceive them than to refuse them admit- tance! How many, half- asleep and weighed down by the effects of yesterday's drinking, will yawn with utter disdain and address those wretched clients, who cut short their own sleep in order to wait on another's, by the right name only after it's been whispered to them a thousand times over by lips that hardly move!

But we can say as much of those who'll want to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and the other high priests of philosophical study, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their closest companions every day. None of these will ever be unavailable to you, none of these will fail to send his visitor off in a happier condition and more at ease with himself.

On the Shortness of Life (Penguin Great Ideas)

None will let anyone leave empty handed; they can be ap- proached by all mortals by night and by day. With none of them will conversation be dangerous, friendship life threatening, or cultivation of them ex- pensive.

From them you'll take whatever you wish; it will be no fault of theirs if you fail to take in the very fullest amount you have room for. He'll have friends whose advice he can seek on the greatest or least important matters, whom he can consult daily about himself, from whom he can hear the truth without insult and receive praise without fawning, and who will provide a model after which to fashion himself.

There are house- holds of the most distinguished intellects: This is the sole means of prolonging mortality, or rather of transforming it into immortality.

On the Shortness of Life: Book Summary, Key Lessons, and Best Quotes

Honors, monuments, all that ostentatious ambition has ordered by decree or erected in stone, are soon destroyed: But it cannot harm the works consecrated by wisdom: The next age and each one after that will only enhance the respect in which they are held, since envy focuses on what is close at hand, but we more freely admire things from a distance.

He alone is released from the limitations of the human race, and he is master of all ages as though a god. Some time has passed? He holds it in recollection. Time is upon us?

He uses it. Time is to come? This he anticipates. The combining of all times into one makes his life long. When they reach the end of it, they realize too late, poor wretches, that they've been busied for so long in doing nothing.

In their folly they are afflicted by fickle feel- ings that rush them into the very things they fear; they often pray for death precisely because they fear it. And so they move on to some other preoccupation and find all the intervening time burdensome, precisely as they do when a gladiato- rial show has been announced for a given day, or when the date of some other show or amusement is keenly awaited, and they want to skip over the days in between.

Any postponement of something they look forward to is long to them. Their days aren't long but hateful; yet, on the other hand, how short seem the nights that they spend cavorting with prostitutes or drinking!

All this inflaming of our worst passions amounts to nothing but enlisting the gods as setting a precedent for our vices, and giving a license for corruption that is justified by divine example. How can the nights that they pay for so dearly not seem so very short to these people? They lose the day in looking forward to the night, the night in fear of the dawn. This is because they don't rest on stable causes but are disrupted as frivo- lously as they are produced.

But what do you think their times are like when they are wretched even by their own admission, since even the joys which lift and transport them above their fellow men are by no means unmixed? To maintain prosperity we need fresh prosperity, and other prayers are to be offered instead of those that have already turned out well.

Everything that comes our way by chance is unsteady, and the hi'gher our fortunes rise, the more susceptible they are to falling. But what must inevitably collapse gives no one pleasure; and so the life of those who acquire through hard work what they must work harder to possess is necessarily very wretched, and not just very brief.

New preoccupations take the place of old, hope arouses new hope, ambition new ambition. They don't look for an end to their wretchedness, but change the cause of it. We've been tormented by our own public office? We spend more time on somebody else's. We've stopped toiling as candidates? We start canvassing for others. We've given up the vexation of being a prosecutor? We take on that of being a judge. A man stops being a judge? He starts presiding over a special commission.

A man's spent all his working life managing other people's property for a salary? He's diverted by looking after his own wealth. But discord among the citizens will bring trouble to their savior, and after he has scorned as a young man public honors rivaling those of the gods, in old age he'll eventually take pleasure in an ostentatiously defiant exile.

Reasons for anxiety will never be wanting, whether because of prosperity or wretchedness. Life will be driven on through one preoccupation after another; we shall always pray for leisure but never attain it. Consider how many waves you've endured and, on the one side, how many storms you've weathered in private and, on the other, how many you've brought on yourself in your public career.

Long enough has your virtue been demonstrated through toilsome and unceasing proofs; put to the test what it can achieve in leisure. The greater part of your life, and certainly the better part, has been given to the state: That's not to find peace of mind: You win affection in a post in which it is hard to avoid being hated.

Yet it is neverthe- less better — believe me — to know the balance sheet of one's own life than that of the public grain supply. And consider that you didn't make it your aim, with all your training in the liberal arts from the earliest age, for many thousands of grain measures to be safely entrusted to you; you'd shown promise of something greater and higher. There'll be no shortage of men of both scrupulous good character and dili- gent service. But slow-moving pack animals are far better suited to carrying heavy loads than thoroughbred horses; who ever hampered the fleetness of these well-bred creatures with a weighty burden?

Only recently, within those few days after Gaius Caesar died, he was still pained to the utmost if the dead have any consciousness because he saw that the Roman people survived him and still had enough rations for seven or at all events eight days; because he made his bridges of boats and played with the empire's resources, 46 we faced the worst kind of disaster even for people under siege: His imitation of a crazed foreign king of ill-fated arrogance almost came at the cost of mass destruction by starvation, and of the general catastrophe that follows famine.

With the greatest concealment they covered over such a great sickness lurking amid the state's innermost organs, and with good reason, to be sure. For certain complaints are to be treated without the patient's being aware of them; knowing about their dis- ease has caused many to die. Do you think it amounts to the same thing whether you're in charge of seeing that imported grain is transferred to the granaries undamaged by either the dishonesty or the carelessness of the trans- porters, that it doesn't absorb moisture and then get spoiled through heat, and that it corresponds to the declared weight and measure; or whether you occupy yourself with these hallowed and lofty studies, so as to learn the substance of god, his will, his general character, and his shape; what outcome awaits your soul; where nature lays us to rest upon release from our bodies; what it is that bears the weight of all the heaviest matter of this world in the center, suspends the light components above, carries fire to the highest part, and rouses the stars to their given changes of movement; and to learn other such matters in turn that are full of great wonders?

Now, while enthusiasm is still fresh, those with an active interest should progress to better things. In this mode of life much that is worth studying awaits you: Retrieved from " https: Hidden category: Works with non-existent author pages. Namespaces Page Discussion. Views Read Edit View history. Display Options. This page was last edited on 13 October , at They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted.

They have enriched lives—and destroyed them. Now, Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization, and helped make us who we are. Offering great literature in great packages at great prices, this series is ideal for those readers who want to explore and savor the Great Ideas that have shaped the world. The Stoic writings of the philosopher Seneca, who lived from c.

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He rose to prominence in Rome, pursuing a career in the courts and political life, for which he had been trained,… More about Seneca. Join Reader Rewards and earn your way to a free book! Join Reader Rewards and earn points when you download this book from your favorite retailer. Read An Excerpt. Costa By Seneca Translated by C. Costa Best Seller. Philosophy Category:Everything he said always reverted to this theme - his hope for leisure.

Audible book: But we can say as much of those who'll want to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and the other high priests of philosophical study, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their closest companions every day.

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And even if you cite the avaricious, the wrathful, and those who prosecute unjust hatreds and even unjust war, these too are more manly kinds of sin. Yet thanks to your vigorously inquiring mind you absorbed a lot considering the time you had available: For we are naturally disposed to admire more than anything else the man who shows fortitude in adversity.

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