Seneca on Sunday — on ripe fruit

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Still Life With Skull, by Paul Cezanne. Image courtesy of WikiArt

Epistle XII. On Old Age

Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming at its close; the last drink delights the toper,– the glass which souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness. Each pleasure reserves to the end the greatest delights which it contains. Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline… Or else the very fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place the pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out one’s appetites, and to have done with them! “But,” you say, “it is a nuisance to be looking death in the face!” Death, however, should be looked in the face by young and old alike. We are not summoned according to our rating on the censor’s list. Moreover, no one is so old that it would be improper for him to hope for another day of existence. And one day, mind you, is a stage on life’s journey.

Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

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Seneca on Saturday: so many books, so little time

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger in Cordoba, Spain, by Amadeo Ruiz Olmos

Lord Macaulay once said that Seneca the Younger was easily quotable, but reading him straight through would be like “dining on nothing but anchovy sauce.” I agree! Thus I present some of the condensed wit and wisdom of Seneca, every Saturday.

 

Select one thought for the day

The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company. Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same must hold true for men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner. …

Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read. … Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. This is my own custom; from the many things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself.

EPISTLE II. On Discursiveness in Reading
Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Seneca on Saturday — nothing is ours except time

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger,

Statue of Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger in Cordoba, Spain, by Amadeo Ruiz Olmos

Lord Macaulay once said that Seneca the Younger was easily quotable, but reading him straight through would be like “dining on nothing but anchovy sauce.”

I agree! Thus I present some of the condensed wit and wisdom of Seneca, every Saturday.

EPISTLE I. On Saving Time

… Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years lie behind us are in death’s hands.

Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing: hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be! They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity,–time! And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.

Seneca Epistles 1-65, Translation by Richard Gummere. Loeb Classical Library.

Photo credit: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.