19 September 2022

Seneca's "lessons for a happy life"

Selections from an essay at The Atlantic:
Lesson 1: I will look upon death or upon a comedy with the same expression of countenance.

Lesson 2: I will submit to labors, however great they may be, supporting the strength of my body by that of my mind.

Lesson 3: I will despise riches when I have them as much as when I have them not; if they be elsewhere I will not be more gloomy; if they sparkle around me I will not be more lively than I should otherwise be: Whether Fortune comes or goes I will take no notice of her.

Lesson 6: Whatever I may possess, I will neither hoard it greedily nor squander it recklessly.

Lesson 9: I will be agreeable with my friends, gentle and mild to my foes: I will grant pardon before I am asked for it, and will meet the wishes of honorable men halfway.

Lesson 11: Whenever either Nature demands my breath again, or reason bids me dismiss it, I will quit this life, calling all to witness that I have loved a good conscience, and good pursuits; that no one’s freedom, my own least of all, has been impaired through me.
The other lessons are at the link, each with salient commentary.  In all fairness it seems appropriate to append this observation from the Wikipedia entry:
Even with the admiration of an earlier group of intellectual stalwarts, Seneca has never been without his detractors. In his own time, he was accused of hypocrisy or, at least, a less than "Stoic" lifestyle. While banished to Corsica, he wrote a plea for restoration rather incompatible with his advocacy of a simple life and the acceptance of fate. In his Apocolocyntosis he ridiculed the behaviors and policies of Claudius, and flattered Nero—such as proclaiming that Nero would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor. The claims of Publius Suillius Rufus that Seneca acquired some "three hundred million sesterces" through Nero's favor are highly partisan, but they reflect the reality that Seneca was both powerful and wealthy. Robin Campbell, a translator of Seneca's letters, writes that the "stock criticism of Seneca right down the centuries [has been]...the apparent contrast between his philosophical teachings and his practice."


  1. Frankly his lessons as he writes them makes him sound like a bit of a wet blanket.

  2. I highly recommend “A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy”. It’s a great recitation of the history of stoic thought and philosophy and encapsulates it well into a life philosophy. It has carried me through a divorce with an abusive woman and many other difficult life changes. I have it on audible and regularly listen to it for a refresher. Thanks for your blog!

  3. "Whether Fortune comes or goes I will take no notice of her."
    C'mon, take no notice? I guess the man had never had to worry about his next meal or shelter in the future. Much easier to wax poetic about things that don't affect you.

    1. I hold no truck
      With Lady Luck;
      No more does she
      With me;
      Of what she sells
      I have no need,
      Thus pay we not
      The slightest heed
      Each other, not
      Be troubled for
      The endless dance
      Of chance.

  4. I understand the value in being a tough-guy, but to live without laughter is not to live at all.


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