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on 4 December 2002
A review by Luciano Lupini. This book is the fundamental vademecum for every day life. No person that I know has left this book suffer the dust and the quiet tranquillity that any other philosophy book enjoy in a library. This letters contain all the wisdom and the poise to enable any inquisitive soul to aquire selfcontrol, to endure with dignity the burdens of misfortune, to take success and fame with humbleness and cynicism, to prepare with serenity to die. Finally, to consider the end of life with the detachment of someone who has used well a precious object, without contracting the disease of jealousy.
This is a very easily readable book, and it was written by Seneca in the last four years of his life (62-65 A.D.). In my opinion is the masterpiece of his moral philosophy.
Seneca's literary style was criticized by his contemporaries for its fragmentary and non-classic hues, and it is truly very modern. Caligula defined it as "sand without lime". St. Augustine in his City of God, in a reference to his contradictions, criticized the fact that this man who almost achieved real freedom through philosophy, pursued what he criticized, did what he loathed and inculpated what he adored. AND WHAT DOES MODERN MAN DO? Maybe we must admit that Seneca lived a life full of contradictions, triumphs and failures but he never truly believed in the roles that he had to play and he was always ready to detach himself from material things, devoid of illusions but also of bitterness.
That is why his work has survived the ages and has been celebrated for his modernity. I would say that his teachings are atemporal, and this is the best tribute to him. Maybe this is why
his letters were the bedside book of Montaigne. And mine.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 April 2015
I think this is an excellent book but I also like these Penguin pocket hardbacks and hope it is a range they plan to expand upon, the volumes are small enough for a large coat pocket or the side pocket of some cargo pants, there is attached to the spine a ribbon book mark and the binding is good, it holds fast and provides a sturdy book but is not stiff and there is no difficulty with the pages turning.

This edition has a great introduction which provides biographical information at the writer and some comment and context to the work itself, including suggestion that while Seneca was a great writer and very wise in print he was not always the best at applying his own philosophy in his own life, although as the author states in the introduction he succeeded in humanising what had been and can be otherwise a very harsh philosophy (indeed another stoic's shame at shedding a tear at bereavement gets a mention in contrast). Like I mentioned in a review of another from this series, I get the feeling having read the book and then reading the introduction once more than it would have been a better idea to have read the book itself first and then read the introduction. I do share the view expressed in the introduction that Seneca probably did compose the letters with a thought that they would be published or collected, the detail in the introduction supports this alone but reading the letters I cant help but believe they are second or third drafts as opposed to spontaneous single compositions.

The letters themselves are not long, it would be possible to choose to read one each day like those treasury books which are divide so as to permit a different reading for each day of a year or seasons of a year. Each letter is full of fantastic, quotable sentences and paragraphs and Seneca further to this also includes details of some reading he has done and what he has found quotable in them, kind of in a "thought for the day" fashion. I particularly liked his reference in one of the earlier letters about reading Epicurus, as a "reconnaissance" of the rival camp rather than a "desertion" of his own.

There is great wisdom and thinking in each letter and they are as entertaining as they are enlightening, while this book would appeal to fans of Seneca's other books, Penguin has printed in their great ideas series a small book including an essay on the shortness of life (a life well lived is long, whatever its length may be being the main conclusion), readers interested in Stoicism or philosophy, it should prove just as accessible and interesting to a general reader too.
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on 6 October 2000
I am privileged to be the first review of one of the true greats of philisophical inquiry.
Seneca lived during dangerous times and had to play a careful balancing act to even survive in the age when families of the Roman aristocracy were being decimated by various capricious Emperors.
He was also the main tutor to the young Emperor Nero . And though he initialy tried to avoid this erroneous task , he eventually did indeed end up trying to keep the reigns on the megalomaniac that was the young Nero.
Seneca's philosophy as espoused in this book is gentle yet firm .Above all , I feel he re-itterates the fact , that it is not good enough for a philosopher to talk about philosophy , he must live it as well.
Read this book and get some idea of the great man .
And then find out how his life ended.
It is humbling.
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on 22 April 2011
There must be something about the way Latin is structured that causes it to be easy and straightforward when written down. Seneca's Letters From a Stoic are a case in point and these missives to a young follower are a model of simplicity, clarity and good writing; they are also a master lesson in political and ideological trimming.

Seneca was a follower of the cult of stoicism first put forward by Zeno in 300 BC (Seneca was living nearly 300 years later between 4 BC and 65 AD). Roman stoicism was a three bladed philosophy. The first part was logic, which here essentially means looking at the universe and paying attention to what you see and taking conclusions from it. The second leg was physics, which has nothing to do with our modern concept but was more like the idea of the force in Star Wars - in other words that there is a real force of nature that human beings can make use of in their daily lives. Thirdly, there was ethics, which to the Stoics meant that the prime aim of human life was happiness and that the way of achieving this objective was to live in accordance with nature or the ethical force.

To many Stoics these threefold principles meant living a simple, almost monastic, life. But Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome and, from his position as tutor to the emperor Nero, effectively ran the Roman Empire for a period of some five years. He was thus a real-world politician and there are certainly records of him being complicit in acts and foul deeds that would be difficult to reconcile with a traditional view of the stoic philosophy.

What comes across in these letters is precisely this ambiguity in Seneca's make-up. He is an intelligent man able to reduce complex ideas to simple themes but is also vain it is clear that he intends these letters to be published and that only his side will matter. There is never any mention of the name or any other personal details of his co- respondent.

Seneca knows how to spin an argument his way and he finds it entirely justifiable, for example, that someone should be both rich and stoic, provided that they are not showy about their wealth. But ultimately his spinning is rather too transparent - for example he becomes a vegetarian for many years as a matter of principle but instantly surrenders this when his father warns him that the emperor believes vegetarianism is an act of rebellion against the Empire.

Whilst perhaps Seneca's philosophy is somewhat wonky, the reader is left with a fascinating insight into the Roman way of life, sometimes in minute detail, for example what happens at the Roman baths, and also into the thinking process of a master politician.

Ultimately Seneca's trimming did him no good and Nero ordered him to commit suicide, which he willingly did.
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2003
Letters from a Stoic is classic text in the same way as Sun Tzu's the Art of War, the knowledge imparted is timeless. I would recommend this a must read for anyone finding their way in the world and looking for something to set their values by
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'Letters From a Stoic' translates and collects forty of the one hundred and twenty-four letters written by Seneca to his friend Lucilius (Epistulae morales ad Lucilium) around 64-65 AD. The translator, Robin Campbell, notes in his introduction that these polished letters were probably intended for publication from the beginning, and often resemble what we would now call short essays rather than a casual exchange of news. Seneca was in his sixties at the time of writing and was shortly to be required by Nero to commit suicide. This book reproduces in an appendix the account of that death given by Tacitus.

This is an intelligent selection from the Letters that gives the modern reader an interesting and almost painless introduction to the world of Rome in the first century AD, with many sidelights on daily life, and to the practical Stoicism of which Seneca was an influential advocate. Seneca was an independent and humane thinker, whose surviving writings were influential in Europe well into the seventeenth century. He had been at the centre of events long enough to know how imperial Rome worked, but was far from uncritical of its values: the letters that deal with the 'entertainments' of the arena and advocate humane treatment of slaves are in advance of their times.

Recommended particularly for readers looking for an accessible way into the literature of classical Rome. The translation dates from 1969, with minor revisions in 2004, and is very readable.
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on 29 March 2016
There are very few thoughts, if any, that have not been thought before. And when it comes to thoughts about life and how to live it Seneca's letters are indispensable reading. Good hardcover, convenient size.
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on 12 October 2014
As someone interested in stoicism I felt it paled in comparison to the Discourses by Epictetus (or the Enchiridion - a shorter book by the same author). But its a much, much easier read, probably the easiest to get into of the classics I've read so far - surprisingly easy actually, it doesn't feel like an ancient book. Its still has some very useful ideas and some of the things he mentions in passing are quite fascinating as they give small glimpses into the society he lived in. I'd recommend it but I'd strongly urge anyone interested in Stoicism to also read Epictetus works.
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on 19 June 2016
This comment is not about the content of the book. It is most likely brilliant based on my experience on the other Stoic writings I have read. Unfortunately, the book has a problem, which is quite common nowadays: It is printed in very small font and the line spacing is very narrow. I have a good eyesight, but this kind of printing is simply unpleasant to read for anyone. I hope there would be some standard describing the typesetting and printing quality of books. Or is my only option to start using Kindle?
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on 28 January 2014
We may think ourselves more evolved or civilised than those who lived over 2000 years ago but Seneca provides wisdom that is as relevant now as t was then. A very easy to read book that throws up the origins of a lot of our commonly held beliefs about how to tackle the joys and difficulties of life.
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