A critical look at Seneca’s letters

Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, or Seneca, as he is commonly known, was a Roman statesman, tutor to Emperor Nero, stoic philosopher and playwright.

Seneca was born in Cordoba in Spain, about 4 BCE and raised in Rome, where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy. 

He died at the age of 69, in 65 CE. 

Throughout his lifetime, Seneca wrote innumerable letters both in private to his friends and in public as a statesman in the Roman Empire.

The collection of letters in his book, Seneca Letters from a Stoic, are selected from his private correspondence and are all related to principles of Stoic Philosophy. 

They were written later in his life during the time he spent in exile on his estate, outside of Rome.

While you may make a reference to, and quote, almost every sentence Seneca wrote, there is an additional line of interest in this book.

That is how often Seneca quotes Epicurus. 

The Stoics and the Epicureans were rival schools of philosophical thoughts.

Much is made of this rivalry although if both schools are studied carefully, one can see they have more in common than divides them. 

In letter XXXIII, Seneca’s reference to Epicurus mentions “… in spite of his long sleeves, … given to Persians as to people with a style of dress more suitable to action.”

This indicates that Stoics viewed Epicurus as Persian in style, given to luxury and comfort.

Seneca, however, quotes Epicurus directly in no less than 10 occasions and always favorably, showing great respect for the Samoan thinker. 

If Stoicism is analyzed against Epicureanism, one may find that semantics often make up the biggest difference.

Both concerned themselves with how to live a good life.

If semantics are eliminated and personal preferences in terms of definitions (how to define pleasure, pain, or the good life) ignored, the difference between the two comes down to public life. 

The Stoics favored public life and the responsibility that comes with it, while the Epicureans recommended that one should avoid public life. 

However, if you did get into public life, the Epicureans upheld virtue in the same manner as the Stoics.

The other matter they did not agree on was the belief in god or gods. 

However, that disagreement was 2,000 years ago, meaning it will take too much space here to compare their beliefs and bring their situation into the 21st century.

Seneca Letters from a Stoic is a book you should have in your private library.

You should use it as a reference book, read it again and again, not necessarily for its philosophy, but for the countless pieces of advice Seneca offers on all aspects of life.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1

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Mr. Thorgeirsson, a Columnist with The scholar Media Africa is based in Puerto Rico, USA. He is a coach in Personal Finance, with an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Inter Americana University, Puerto Rico. His contact: fflpr2019@gmail.com


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