This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by Seneca. Details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.
It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour’s property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? 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.
– Letters to Lucilius, 2, trans. R. M. Gummere
Only the wise man is pleased with his own. Folly is ever troubled with weariness of itself.
– Letters to Lucilius, 9, trans. R. M. Gummere
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. And I myself believe that the period which stands, so to speak, on the edge of the roof, possesses pleasures of its own. Or else the very fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place of the pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out one’s appetites, and to have done with them!
– Letters to Lucilius, 12, trans. R. M. Gummere
Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits.
– Letters to Lucilius, 16, trans. R. M. Gummere
He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery; he is above any external power, or, at any rate, he is beyond it. What terrors have prisons and bonds and bars for him? His way out is clear. There is only one chain which binds us to life, and that is the love of life. The chain may not be cast off, but it may be rubbed away, so that, when necessity shall demand, nothing may retard or hinder us from being ready to do at once that which at some time we are bound to do.
– Letters to Lucilius, 26, trans. R. M. Gummere
On guilty pleasures:
Just as crimes, even if they have not been detected when they were committed, do not allow anxiety to end with them; so with guilty pleasures, regret remains even after the pleasures are over. They are not substantial, they are not trustworthy; even if they do not harm us, they are fleeting. Cast about rather for some good which will abide.
– Letters to Lucilius, 27, trans. R. M. Gummere
It is one thing to remember, another to know. Remembering is merely safeguarding something entrusted to the memory; knowing, however, means making everything your own; it means not depending upon the copy and not all the time glancing back at the master.
– Letters to Lucilius, 33, trans. R. M. Gummere
On human nature:
Suppose that he has a retinue of comely slaves and a beautiful house, that his farm is large and large his income; none of these things is in the man himself; they are all on the outside. Praise the quality in him which cannot be given or snatched away, that which is the peculiar property of the man. Do you ask what this is? It is soul, and reason brought to perfection in the soul. For man is a reasoning animal. Therefore, man’s highest good is attained, if he has fulfilled the good for which nature designed him at birth. And what is it which this reason demands of him? The easiest thing in the world, – to live in accordance with his own nature.
– Letters to Lucilius, 41, trans. R. M. Gummere
On good character:
This, among other things, is a mark of good character: it forms its own judgments and abides by them; but badness is fickle and frequently changing, not for the better, but for something different.
– Letters to Lucilius, 47, trans. R. M. Gummere
What is death? It is either the end, or a process of change. I have no fear of ceasing to exist; it is the same as not having begun. Nor do I shrink from changing into another state, because I shall, under no conditions, be as cramped as I am now.
– Letters to Lucilius, 65, trans. R. M. Gummere
I regard this body as nothing but a chain which manacles my freedom. Therefore, I offer it as a sort of buffer to fortune, and shall allow no wound to penetrate through to my soul. For my body is the only part of me which can suffer injury. In this dwelling, which is exposed to peril, my soul lives free. Never shall this flesh drive me to feel fear or to assume any pretence that is unworthy of a good man. Never shall I lie in order to honour this petty body. When it seems proper, I shall sever my connexion with it. And at present, while we are bound together, our alliance shall nevertheless not be one of equality; the soul shall bring all quarrels before its own tribunal. To despise our bodies is sure freedom.
– Letters to Lucilius, 65, trans. R. M. Gummere
It is with life as it is with a play, – it matters not how long the action is spun out, but how good the acting is. It makes no difference at what point you stop. Stop whenever you choose; only see to it that the closing period is well turned.
– Letters to Lucilius, 77, trans. R. M. Gummere
Hence you see why “liberal studies” are so called; it is because they are studies worthy of a free-born gentleman. But there is only one really liberal study, – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled. All other studies are puny and puerile.
– Letters to Lucilius, 88, trans. R. M. Gummere
What madness it is to be afraid of disrepute in the judgment of the disreputable!
– Letters to Lucilius, 91, trans. R. M. Gummere
He who is feared, fears also; no one has been able to arouse terror and live in peace of mind.
– Letters to Lucilius, 105, trans. R. M. Gummere
The greatest remedy for anger is delay: beg anger to grant you this at the first, not in order that it may pardon the offence, but that it may form a right judgment about it :- if it delays, it will come to an end. Do not attempt to quell it all at once, for its first impulses are fierce; by plucking away its parts we shall remove the whole.
– On Anger, II, 29, trans. Aubrey Stewart
It is a mistake to imagine that slavery pervades a man’s whole being; the better part of him is exempt from it: the body indeed is subjected and in the power of a master, but the mind is independent, and indeed is so free and wild, that it cannot be restrained even by this prison of the body, wherein it is confined, from following its own impulses, dealing with gigantic designs, and soaring into the infinite, accompanied by all the host of heaven.
– On Benefits, III, 20, trans. Aubrey Stewart
No great genius has ever been without a touch of insanity.
– On Peace of Mind, XVII, trans. Aubrey Stewart
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