Timeless wisdom

Have you ever heard of Seneca? I discovered him because I had seen a few quotes while reading minimalism writings that were followed by his name. At first, I didn’t realize it was a name. One day I decided to finally look it up. Turns out he really was a person. According to Amazon:
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, statesman, philosopher, advocate and man of letters, was born at Cordoba in Spain around 4 BC. He rose to prominence in Rome, pursuing a career in the courts and political life, for which he had been trained, while also acquiring celebrity as an author of tragedies and essays. Falling foul of successive emperors (Caligula in AD 39 and Claudius in AD 41), he spent eight years in exile, allegedly for an affair with Caligula’s sister. Recalled in AD 49, he was made praetor and was appointed tutor to the boy who was to become, in AD 54, the emperor Nero. On Nero’s succession, Seneca acted for some eight years as an unofficial chief minister. The early part of this reign was remembered as a period of sound government, for which the main credit seems due to Seneca. His control over Nero declined as enemies turned the emperor against him with representations that his popularity made him a danger, or with accusations of immorality or excessive wealth. Retiring from public life he devoted his last three years to philosophy and writing, particularly the Letters to Lucilius. In AD 65 following the discovery of a plot against the emperor, in which he was thought to be implicated, he and many others were compelled by Nero to commit suicide. His fame as an essayist and dramatist lasted until two or three centuries ago, when he passed into literary oblivion, from which the twentieth century has seen a considerable recovery.
Quite the life, no?

Lately, I’ve been struggling emotionally. I won’t go into what’s been bothering me as I would like to keep these matters private. But one of the things that has been helping me through it has been reading Letters from a Stoic. These writings don't necessarily address what I've been struggling with, but I find them helpful nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s the wisdom I find in these writings or if it’s the tone, but they soothe me.

Here are some passages that stood out. They're all separate quotes:
"Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands."
"They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can be easily 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!"
"I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him."
"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."
"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor."
"Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough."
"Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die."
"That which is enough is ready to our hands."
"Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past."
"Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort."
"... our ideal wise man feels his troubles, but overcomes them..."
"In this sense the wise man is self-sufficient, that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I say "can", I mean this: he endures the loss of a friend with equanimity."
"Unblest is he who thinks himself unblest." [sic]
"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."
Those are not the only passages I've highlighted, and I'm just 7% through the book.

Obviously, I’m not reading these letters in their original language (which I assume must have been Latin). And I know that translations are not always accurate. Nevertheless, there is wisdom in what I’m reading and it’s helping me. Maybe someday I’ll learn Latin (I’ve been wanting to for years), until then this will have to do.

I told someone that I was reading this book looking for wisdom, the person asked how can any of it be applicable to today. Well, based on the passages I've quoted above, do you not think that these writings are absolutely relevant? Most wisdom, I believe, is applicable to any time.


  1. I've enjoyed reading your posts. I read them ALL this week. I too have been simplifying for the past few years and have read some of the same books you did. My clothes are sorted and some of the 'stuff' has been cleared away, but there is so much more to do. Your path seems so focused and organized. You are making real changes. I'm impressed. I look forward to following along as you continue your journey. It sounds so interesting and fun (although I can tell you have challenges too). Keep on going. You're doing great.
    P.S.One of my biggest challenges is figuring out how to get my husband on-board with owning 'less' stuff. I'm hoping to figure it out before we retire and want to down-size in about 6 yrs.

    1. Hi Beth! Thank you for you comment! I'm glad you're enjoying my writing. It indeed has been interesting and fun, I've been learning a lot about myself and about different things. And yes, I've had (and I'm sure I will continue to have) challenges. Such is life. And I want to make sure that it comes through in my writing. I want people to know that I struggle too. I'm a genuine person and that's why I feel I must write about the good as well as the bad.

      I'm single, so I don't have a husband to convince to join me on the journey. However, I've read that the best way to convince someone is to be a good example. If you're living it and he sees how much you benefit, maybe he'll join you. And apparently that goes for anything - healthy eating, exercising, and I'm sure whatever other aspect of a lifestyle you're trying to lead. That's what I'm trying to do with my teen. (Because my nagging her into cleaning her room sure doesn't work...) :)

      Oh! And I had a little peek at your blog and read your Konmari post. Good on you! Your dresser drawers and closets are looking fabulously organized!

    2. I may still have my latin books from university, cuz I'm not a minimalist - if so, they're yours. Another common sense series of books I've always enjoyed (not nearly as esoteric as Seneca but insightful nonetheless) are the "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - and it's all small stuff" series. Little snippets of common sense that we all know but always helpful to hear again! Written in plain language :) I used to leave bookmarked copies on my mens' pillows (hint hint)


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