Now, lo and behold, Campania, and especially Naples and your beloved Pompeii, struck me, when I viewed them, with a wonderfully fresh sense of longing for you. You stand in full view before my eyes. I am on the point of parting from you. I see you choking down your tears and resisting without success the emotions that well up at the very moment when you try to check them. I seem to have lost you but a moment ago. It was but a moment ago that I sat, as a lad, in the school of the philosopher Sotion, but a moment ago that I began to plead in the courts, but a moment ago that I lost the desire to plead, but a moment ago that I lost the ability.
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This banner text can have markup. Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. And its not just the masses and the unthinking crowd that complain at what they per- ceive as this universal evil; the same feeling draws complaints even from men of distinction. Hence that famous dictum of the greatest of physicians: "Life is short, art long.
Life is long enough, and it's been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested. But when life is squandered through soft and careless living, and when it's spent on no worthwhile pursuit, death finally presses and we realize that the life which we didn't notice passing has passed away. Just as impressive and princely wealth is squandered in an instant when it passes into the hands of a poor manager, but wealth however modest grows through careful deployment if it is entrusted to a responsible guardian, just so our lifetime offers ample scope to the person who maps it out well.
It has acted generously: life, if you know how to use it, is long. But one person's held in the grip of voracious avarice, another by the kind of diligence that bus- ies itself with pointless enterprises. This one's sodden with wine, another slack with idleness. This one's tired out by his political ambi- tion, which always hangs on the judgment of others, while another's passionate desire for trading drives him headlong over every land and every sea in hope of profit.
A passion for soldiering torments some men, who are always either bent on inflicting dangers on oth- ers or worried about danger to themselves. Some are worn down by the voluntary enslavement of thankless attendance on the great.
Many who have no consistent goal in life are thrown from one new design to another by a fickleness that is shifting, never settled and ever dissatisfied with itself. Some have no goal at all toward which to steer their course, but death takes them by surprise as they gape and yawn.
I cannot therefore doubt the truth of that seemingly oracular utterance of the greatest of poets: "Scant is the part of life in which we live. It's never possible for their victims to return to their true selves. If by chance they ever find some respite, they still roll restlessly, just like the deep sea, which still swells even after the wind has settled; they never find full relaxation from their desires. Look at those whose prosperity draws crowds: they are choked by their own goods.
How many have found their wealth a burden! How many are drained of their blood by their eloquence and their daily preoccupa- tion with showing off their abilities! How many are sickly pale from their incessant pleasures! How many are left with no freedom from the multitude of their besieging clients! In short, look over all of them from lowest to highest: this person summons counsel to plead his case, another answers the call; this one stands trial, another acts for the defense, another presides as judge; no one acts as his own champion, but each is wasted for another's sake.
Ask about those in- fluential citizens whose names are studiously memorized, and you'll see that the following distinctions tell them apart: the first cultivates a second, the second a third; no one is his own man. Dare anyone complain about another's arrogance when he himself never has time to spare for himself? Yet the great man has occasionally, albeit with a disdainful expression, condescended to look on you, whoever you are; he has deigned to listen to your words, he has allowed you to walk at his side.
But you never thought fit to look on yourself or to listen to yourself. And so you've no reason to expect a return from anyone for those attentions of yours, since you offered them not because you wanted another's company but because you were incapable of com- muning with yourself.
No one lets anyone seize his estates, and if a trivial dispute arises about boundary lines, there's a rush to stones and arms; but people let others trespass on their existence — or rather, they go so far as to invite in those who'll take possession of their lives.
You'll find no one willing to distribute his money; but to how many people each of us shares out his life! Men are thrifty in guarding their private property, but as soon as it comes to wasting time, they are most extravagant with the one com- modity for which it's respectable to be greedy. Cal- culate how much of your time has been taken up by a moneylender, how much by a mistress, how much by a patron, how much by a cli- ent, how much in arguing with your wife, in punishing your slaves, in running about the city on social duties.
Add to your calculations the illnesses that we've inflicted on ourselves, and also the time that has lain idle: you'll see that you've fewer years than you count. You'll come to realize that you're dying before your time. Your sort live as if you're going to live forever, your own human frailty never enters your head, you don't keep an eye on how much time has passed already.
You waste time as if it comes from a source full to overflowing, when all the while that very day which is given over to someone or something may be your last.
You're like ordinary mortals in fearing everything, you're like immortals in coveting everything. Who will allow those arrangements of yours to proceed according to plan? Are you not ashamed to keep for yourself only the remnants of your existence, and to allocate to philosophical thought only that portion of time which can't be applied to any business? How late it is to begin living just when life must come to an end!
What foolish obliviousness to our mortality to put off wise plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to want to begin life from a point that few have reached!
They sometimes long to step down from that pin- nacle of theirs, if they can safely do so; for even without any external disturbance or shock, fortune crashes down on itself under its own weight.
Every conversation of his kept coming back to this theme, that he was hoping for leisure; he would relieve his toils with this sweet, even if illusory, consolation, the thought that one day he would live for himself.
Yet my deep desire for that time, which I have long prayed for, has led me to anticipate something of its delight by the pleasure of words, since the joy of that reality is still slow in coming. He who saw that the world depended on him and him alone, who determined the fortunes of individuals and nations, he was happiest in looking forward to that day on which he would lay aside his greatness.
Driven by war through Macedonia, Sicily, Egypt, Syria, and Asia and almost every known land, he turned his armies to foreign wars when they were weary of slaughtering Romans. While he was pacifying the Alps and subjugating enemies embedded in the heart of the peace- ful empire, and while he was extending its boundaries beyond the Rhine and Euphrates and Danube, in the city itself Murena, Caepio, Lepidus, Egnatius, and others were whetting their swords against him.
That is why Augustus prayed for leisure, and why he found relief from his labors in hoping for it and thinking of it; this was the prayer of the man who could grant the prayers of other men.
He was neither at ease in prosperity nor capable of withstanding adversity; how many times does he curse that very consulship of his, 8 which he had extolled not without rea- son but without ceasing!
I'm linger- ing in my Tusculan estate, half-free. But needless to say, the sage will never resort to such an abject term. He will never be half-free but will always enjoy complete and unalloyed liberty.
Not subject to any constraints, he will be his own master and tower above all others. For what can there be above the man who rises above fortune? But he could see no clear way out for his policies, which he was unable to carry through and which, once started, it was no longer an option to abandon.
He is said to have cursed the life of constant activity that he'd led from its very beginnings, saying that he was the only person who had never had a holiday even as a boy. While he was still a ward and had yet to assume the adult toga, he ventured to plead before juries on behalf of defendants and to exert his special influence in the courts — to such effect, in fact, that it's generally ac- cepted that he captured several verdicts against the odds.
You might have known that such premature presumptuousness would lead to disaster both for him and for the state. And so it was too late when he began complaining that he'd never had a holiday, since he'd been a trouble- maker and a burden to the forum from his boyhood. It is unclear whether he died by his own hand. He fell suddenly from a wound to the groin; some doubted whether his death was self-inflicted, no one that it was timely.
Yet by these complaints they changed neither themselves nor anyone else; for after the outburst, their feelings re- verted to their normal state. To be sure, this span of time, which good management prolongs even though it naturally hurries on, must in your case escape you quickly; for you fail to seize it and hold it back, and you do nothing to delay that speediest of all things, but you allow it to pass as if it were some- thing overabundant that we can get back again.
Other people, even if the semblance of glory that grips them is false, nevertheless go astray in respectable fashion. You can cite for me people who are greedy, those quick to anger, or people who busy themselves with unjust hatreds or wars; but all of them sin in a more manly fashion.
It is those abandoned to the belly and lust who bear the stain of dishonor. Nothing is less characteristic of a man preoccupied than living: there is no knowledge that is harder to acquire.
Instruc- tors of other disciplines are two a penny; indeed, mere boys have been seen to master some of these disciplines so thoroughly that they could even be masters in the classroom. But learning how to live takes a whole lifetime, and — you'll perhaps be more surprised at this — it takes a whole lifetime to learn how to die. Nevertheless, the majority of them depart from life admit- ting that they did not yet have such knowledge — still less have those others attained it.
Accordingly, such a person's life is extremely long because he's kept available for himself the whole of whatever amount of time he had. None of it lay fallow and uncultivated, and none of it was under another's control; for being a most careful guardian of his time, he found nothing worth exchanging for it.
And so that man had enough time; but those deprived of much of their life by the public have necessarily had too little. Certainly you'll hear many of those burdened by their great prosperity occasionally cry out amid their hordes of clients or their pleadings of cases or their other respectable forms of wretchedness: "I've no chance to live. All those who engage you in their business disengage you from yourself. How many days did that defendant of yours take from you?
How many that candidate? Or that old lady, wearied as she is by burying her heirs? Or that character who feigns illness to excite the greed of legacy hunters?
Or that powerful friend who holds on to you not for true friendship but for show? Check off, I say, and review the days of your life: you'll see that very few of them, and those the worthless ones, have stayed in your possession. Now he says: "When will I be free of them? For what new kind of pleasure is there that any hour can now bring? Everything has been experienced, everything enjoyed to the full. For the rest, fortune may make arrangements as it wishes; his life has already reached safety.
Addition can be made to this life, but nothing taken away from it — and addition made in the way that a man who is already satisfied and full takes a portion of food which he doesn't crave and yet has room for.
For suppose you thought that a person had sailed far who'd been caught in a savage storm as soon as he left harbor, and after being carried in this direction and that, was driven in circles over the same course by alternations of the winds raging from different quarters: he didn't have a long voyage, but he was long tossed about.
Both sides focus on the object of the request, and neither side on time itself; it is requested as if it were nothing, granted as if it were nothing.
People trifle with the most precious commodity of all; and it escapes their notice because its an im- material thing that doesn't appear to the eyes, and for that reason it's valued very cheaply — or rather, it has practically no value at all. But no one values time: all use it more than lavishly, as if it cost noth- ing. But if mortal danger threatens them, you'll see the same people clasping their doctors' knees; if they fear a capital charge, you'll see them ready to spend all they have to stay alive.
So great is the conflict in their feelings. And yet it's easy to manage an amount, how- ever small, which is clearly defined; we have to be more careful in conserving an amount that may give out at any time.
They habitually say to those they love most intensely that they are ready to give them some of their own years. And they do give them without knowing it; but they give in such a way that, without adding to the years of their loved ones, they subtract from themselves. But this very point, namely, whether they are depriving themselves, eludes them, and so they can bear the loss of what goes unnoticed in the losing. Life will follow the path on which it began, and it will neither reverse nor halt its course.
It will cause no commotion at all, it will call no attention to its own swiftness.
On the Shortness of Life: Book Summary, Key Lessons, and Best Quotes
This banner text can have markup. Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. And its not just the masses and the unthinking crowd that complain at what they per- ceive as this universal evil; the same feeling draws complaints even from men of distinction. Hence that famous dictum of the greatest of physicians: "Life is short, art long. Life is long enough, and it's been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested.
Reason and Meaning
In his moral essay, On the Shortness of Life , Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and playwright, offers us an urgent reminder on the non-renewability of our most important resource: our time. It is a required reading for anyone who wishes to live to their full potential, and it is a manifesto on how to get back control of your life and live it to the fullest. Seneca urges us to examine the problems that result in life seeming to pass by too quickly, such as ambition, giving all our time to others, and engaging in vice. He argues that we have truly lived only a short time because our lives were filled with business and stress.
On the Shortness of Life
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Letter 49: On the Shortness of Life
The philosopher brings up many Stoic principles on the nature of time , namely that people waste much of it in meaningless pursuits. According to the essay, nature gives people enough time to do what is really important and the individual must allot it properly. In general, time is best used by living in the present moment in pursuit of the intentional, purposeful life. Similar ideas can be found in Seneca's treatise De Otio On Leisure and discussion of these themes can often be found in his Letters to Lucilius letter 49, , etc.