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Excerpts from Letters from a Stoic - Seneca

  1. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 10: “Neither he nor Burrus appears to have held any standing legal or constitutional office that could be said to give them the authority they wielded during these years. Seneca, ‘the real master of the world’, seems simply to have been the moving force behind the throne. It is probably safe to say that Nero (unlike Aristotle’s celebrated pupil at a similar age, Alexander the Great) was still under the influence of a teacher undoubted personal charm, and was quite content to leave to him the direction of affairs in which he had little real interest. Once the young emperor began to listen to other advisers and increasingly to indulge his more violent and vindictive impulses this happy situation was doomed.” (From the self: Sun in Libra, when the ruler begins to counsel more than necessary, it begins to debilitate, the Self is not self-governed, rather influenced by external forces that misconstrue the reality).

  2. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 11: “The reply, if any, which Seneca gave to his attackers’ criticisms of his wealth, was probably that contained in an essay On the Happy Life sent to his brother Gallio. What counts, he says, is one’s attitude to wealth, which is the wise man’s servant and the fool’s master; he, like any good stoic, could lose all he had at any moment without being a bit less happy. This is the core long reply to the charge, which he states with complete frankness, that ‘philosophers do not practise what they preach’. His everyday life did not lend countenance to such attacks (we have at least his own accounts of his plain diet and lifelong teetotalism, his hard bed, cold baths and daily runs); on this occasion he had came to no harm from his enemies.”

  3. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 14: “Stoicism, for centuries the most influential philosophy in the Graeco-Roman world, had a long history before Seneca. Founded by Zeno (born of Phoenician descent in Cyprus c. 336/5 B.C.) who taught or lectured in a well-known stoa (a colonnade or porch) – hence the name – in Athens, it had been developed and modified by a succession of thinkers whose opinions on various logical, ethical or cosmological questions showed some fair divergences.”

  4. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 15: “In this way we shall arrive at the true end of man, happiness, through having attained one and only good thing in life, the ideal or goal called arete in Greek and in Latin virtus – for which the English word ‘virtue’ is so unsatisfactory a translation. This, the summum bonus or ‘supreme ideal’, is usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing). It enables a man to be ‘self-sufficient’, immune to suffering, superior to the wounds and upsets of life (often personalized as Fortuna, the goddess of fortune). Even a slave can thus armed can be called ‘free’, or indeed titled ‘a king’ since even a king cannot touch him.”

  5. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 16: “The duties it inculcated – courage and endurance, self-control and self-reliance, upright conduct and just dealing, simple and unluxurious habits, rationality, obedience to the state – were self-evident to many Romans, corresponding quite closely to the traditional idea of virtus.”

  6. Seneca – Letters from a Stoic, pg. 17: “The target it set seemed too high for ordinary men. It stifled and repressed to ordinary human emotions in striving after apatheia, immunity to feeling; Cato, the great Stoic saint, is reported to have expressed regret at having kissed his wife in a moment of danger. It held that in certain circumstances a man’s self-respect might invite, as an act of supreme nobil