Seneca the Younger

Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist (c. 4 BCE–65 CE)

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – A.D. 65), often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger, was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist. He was the son of Seneca the Elder.

Time discovers truth.


  • We put down mad dogs; we kill the wild, untamed ox; we use the knife on sick sheep to stop their infecting the flock; we destroy abnormal offspring at birth; children, too, if they are born weak or deformed, we drown. Yet this is not the work of anger, but of reason – to separate the sound from the worthless.
The spirit in which a thing is given determines that in which the debt is acknowledged...


English translations of quotes in this section by Frank Justus Miller, Ph.D. except as otherwise noted

Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules)

  • Quaeris Alcidae parem? Nemo est nisi ipse.
    • Do you seek Alcides' equal? None is, except himself.
      • line 84; (Juno)
  • rursus prosperum ac felix scelus virtus vocatur; sontibus parent boni, ius est in armis, opprimit leges timor.
    • Once again prosperous and successful crime goes by the name of virtue; good men obey the bad, might is right and fear oppresses law.
      • lines 251-253; (Amphitryon)
    • Alternate translation: Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: Might makes right. (translator unknown).
  • inveniet viam aut faciet.
    • He [Hercules] will find a way — or make one.
      • line 276; (Amphitryon)
    • In this line, Seneca adapts a well-known saying "Inveniam viam aut faciam" (commonly attributed to the Carthaginian general Hannibal) for use in his drama
  • Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit ; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest ; quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit.
    • Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.
      • lines 325-328; (Megara).
  • qui genus iactat suum, aliena laudat.
    • Who vaunts his race, lauds what belongs to others.
      • lines 340-341; (Lycus).
    • Alternate translation: He who boasts of his descent, praises the deeds of another (translator unknown).
  • ars prima regni est posse invidiam pati.
    • 'Tis the first art of kings, the power to suffer hate.
      • line 353; (Lycus)
    • Alternate translation: To be able to endure odium is the first art to be learned by those who aspire to power (translator unknown).
  • arma non servant modum; nec temperari facile nec reprimi potest stricti ensis ira; bella delectat cruor.
    • Arms observe no bounds; nor can the wrath of the sword, once drawn, be easily checked or stayed; war delights in blood.
      • lines 403-405; (Lycus).
  • quaeritur belli exitus, non causa.
    • Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.
      • line 407; (Lycus).
  • Cogi qui potest nescit mori.
    • Who can be forced has not learned how to die.
      • line 426; (Megara).
    • Alternate translation: Who can be compelled does not know how to die.
  • quae fuit durum pati, meminisse dulce est.
    • Things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall.
      • lines 656-657; (Amphitryon)
    • Alternate translation: Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember. (translator unknown).

Troades (The Trojan Women)

  • Qui non vetat peccare cum possit, iubet.
    • He who, when he may, forbids not sin, commands it.
      • line 291; (Agamemnon)
    • Alternate translation: He who does not prevent a crime, when he can, encourages it. (translator unknown).
  • Mortem misericors saepe pro vita dabit.
    • Mercy oft doth offer death, not life.
      • line 329; (Pyrrhus)
    • Alternate translation: Mercy often means giving death, not life. (trans. Emily Wilson)
  • Pyrrhus: Lex nulla capto parcit aut poenam impedit.
    Agamemnon: Quod non vetat lex, hoc vetat fieri pudor.
    Pyr: Quodcumque libuit facere victori licet.
    Agam.: Minimum decet libere cui multum licet.
    • Pyrrhus: No law the wretched captive's life doth spare.
      Agamemnon: What law forbids not, let this shame forbid.
      Pyrrhus: 'Tis victor's right to do whate'er he will.
      Pyrrhus: Then should he will the least who most can do.
      • lines 333-336
    • Alternate translation:
      Pyrrhus: No law demands mercy to prisoners
      Agamemnon: Though the law forbids it not, yet decency forbids it.
      Pyrrhus: The victor is at liberty to do whatever he likes.
      Agamemnon: To whom much is allowed, it is least suitable to act wantonly.
  • Levis est dolor qui capere consilium potest.
    • Small the grief is that can counsel take.
      • Line 155; (Medea)
  • Qui nil potest sperare, desperate nihil.
    • The man who hopes for naught at least has naught to fear.
      • Line 163; (Medea)
    • Who can hope for nothing should despair of nothing. (trans. A. J. Boyle)
  • Iniqua nunquam regna perpetuo manent.
    • Unrighteous sovereignty has never long endured.
      • Line 196; (Medea)
    • Alternate translations: Unjust dominion cannot be eternal.
    • Alternate translation: Authority founded on injustice is never of long duration.
  • Cui prodest scelus, is fecit.
    • Who by sin advantage gains commits the sin.
      • Lines 500-501; (Medea)
    • Alternate translation: Who profits by a sin has done the sin.
    • Alternate translation: He who profits by crime commits it.
  • Curae leues locuntur, ingentes stupent.
    • Light cares speak out, the weighty have no words.
      • line 607; (Phaedra) [1]
    • Alternate translation: We give voice to our trivial cares, but suffer enormities in silence
  • scelere velandum est scelus.
    • Sin must be hid by sin.
      • line 721; (Nurse)
    • Alternate translation: One crime has to be concealed by another.
  • Mens impudicam facere, non casus, solet.
    • Not circumstance but will can make impure.
      • line 735; (Nurse)
    • Alternate translation: Impurity is caused by attitude, not events. (trans. Emily Wilson)


  • mens regnum bona possidet.
    • Tis the upright mind that holds true sovereignty.
      • line 380; (Chorus)
    • Alternate translation: A good mind possesses a kingdom. (translator unknown).
  • Illi mors gravis incubat
    Qui notus nimis omnibus
    Ignotus moritur sibi
    • On him does death lie heavily, who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown.
      • lines 401-403; (Chorus).
    • Alternate translation: Death weighs on him who is known to all, but dies unknown to himself. (The Philisophical Life by James Miller).
  • peior est bello timor ipse belli.
    • Worse than war is the very fear of war.
      • line 572 (Chorus).

Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius)

The best ideas are common property.
Full Latin texts at The Latin Library (link below) : Loeb Classical Library translations at Wikisource
English translations of quotes in this section by Richard Mott Gummere except as otherwise noted

Letter I: On Saving Time

  • Quem mihi dabis qui aliquod pretium tempori ponat, qui diem aestimet, qui intellegat se cotidie mori?
    • What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?
  • In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus: magna pars eius iam praeterit; quidquid aetatis retro est mors tenet.
    • For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands.
  • Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by.
  • Tanta stultitia mortalium est.
    • What fools these mortals be!
  • Sera parsimonia in fundo est.
    • It is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask.
      • Line 5
    • This quote is often directly attributed to Seneca, but he is referring to lines 368-369 of Works and Days by the Greek poet Hesiod : Take your fill when the cask is first opened and when it is nearly spent, but midways be sparing: it is poor saving when you come to the lees. (translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White)
    • Alternate translation: Thrift comes too late when you find it at the bottom of your purse. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: It is too late to be thrifty when the bottom has been reached. (translator unknown).

Letter II: On discursiveness in reading

  • 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.
  • Nusquam est qui ubique est. Vitam in peregrinatione exigentibus hoc evenit, ut multa hospitia habeant, nullas amicitias.
    • Who is everywhere is nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
      • Line 2.
  • Non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.
    • It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.
      • Line 6.

Letter III: On true and false friendship

  • Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria sed exagitatae mentis concursatio.
    • For love of bustle is not industry – it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.
      • Line 5.

Letter IV: On the terrors of death

  • Nulli potest secura vita contingere qui de producenda nimis cogitat.
    • No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it.
      • Line 4.
  • 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.
  • No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him.

Letter V: On the Philosopher’s Mean

  • I commend you and rejoice in the fact that you are persistent in your studies, and that, putting all else aside, you make it each day your endeavour to become a better man.

Letter VI: On precepts and exemplars

  • Plus tamen tibi et viva vox et convictus quam oratio proderit; in rem praesentem venias oportet, primum quia homines amplius oculis quam auribus credunt, deinde quia longum iter est per praecepta, breve et efficax per exempla.
    • Of course, however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word. You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.
      • Line 5.
    • Alternate translation: Teaching by precept is a long road, but short and beneficial is the way by example.
  • “What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.” That was indeed a great benefit; such a person can never be alone. You may be sure that such a man is a friend to all mankind.
    • Seneca is quoting Hecato.

Letter VII: On crowds

  • But both courses are to be avoided; you should not copy the bad simply because they are many, nor should you hate the many because they are unlike you.
  • Recede in te ipse quantum potes; cum his versare qui te meliorem facturi sunt, illos admitte quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines dum docent discunt.
    • Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.
      • Line 8.

Letter X: On living to oneself

  • sic vive cum hominibus tamquam deus videat, si loquere cum deo tamquam homines audiant.
    • Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.
      • Line 5.

Letter XII: On old age

  • sciant quae optima sunt esse communia.
    • The best ideas are common property.
      • Line 11.

Letter XIII: On Groundless Fears

  • ... the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.
  • Let another say. “Perhaps the worst will not happen.” You yourself must say. “Well, what if it does happen? Let us see who wins! Perhaps it happens for my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit upon my life.”
  • Socrates was ennobled by the hemlock draught. Wrench from Cato's hand his sword, the vindicator of liberty, and you deprive him of the greatest share of his glory.
  • Plura sunt, Lucili, quae nos terrent quam quae premunt, et saepius opinione quam re laboramus.
    • There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

Letter XV

  • Mos antiquis fuit, usque ad meam servatus aetatem, primis epistulae verbis adicere 'si vales bene est, ego valeo'. Recte nos dicimus 'si philosopharis, bene est'. Valere enim hoc demum est. Sine hoc aeger est animus.
    • The old Romans had a custom which survived even into my lifetime. They would add to the opening words of a letter: "If you are well, it is well; I also am well." Persons like ourselves would do well to say. "If you are studying philosophy, it is well." For this is just what "being well" means. Without philosophy the mind is sickly.

Letter XVII: On Philosophy and Riches

  • There is no reason why poverty should call us away from philosophy—no, nor even actual want. For when hastening after wisdom, we must endure even hunger. Men have endured hunger when their towns were besieged, and what other reward for their endurance did they obtain than that they did not fall under the conqueror’s power? How much greater is the promise of the prize of everlasting liberty, and the assurance that we need fear neither God nor man! Even though we starve, we must reach that goal.
  • Armies have endured all manner of want, have lived on roots, and have resisted hunger by means of food too revolting to mention. All this they have suffered to gain a kingdom, and—what is more marvellous—to gain a kingdom that will be another’s. Will any man hesitate to endure poverty, in order that he may free his mind from madness?

Letter XVIII: On Festivals and Fasting

  • If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.

Letter XIX: On worldliness and retirement

  • Leve aes alienum debitorem facit, grave inimicum.
    • A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy.
      • Line 11.

Letter XX: On practicing what you preach

  • Prove your words by your deeds.
  • quid est sapienta? semper idem velle atque idem nolle.
    • What is wisdom? Always desiring the same things, and always refusing the same things.
      • Line 5
    • Here, Seneca uses the same observation that Sallust made regarding friendship (in his historical account of the Catilinarian conspiracy, Bellum Catilinae[XX.4]) to define wisdom.
  • Press on, therefore, as you have begun; perhaps you will be led to perfection, or to a point which you alone understand is still short of perfection.

Letter XXII: On the futility of half-way measures

  • Nemo quam bene vivat sed quam diu curat, cum omnibus possit contingere ut bene vivant, ut diu nulli.
    • Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long.
      • Line 17.

Letter XXIV: On despising death

  • It is indeed foolish to be unhappy now because you may be unhappy at some future time.
  • You will thus understand that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived.
  • Mucius put his hand into the fire. It is painful to be burned; but how much more painful to inflict such suffering upon oneself!
  • [Mucius] might have accomplished something more successful in that camp, but never anything more brave.
  • It was a great deed to conquer Carthage, but a greater deed to conquer death.
  • Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem.
    • Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.
      • Line 12
    • Alternate translation: You will understand that there is nothing dreadful in this except fear itself. (translator unknown).

Letter XXV: On Reformation

  • I may become a poor man; I shall then be one among many. I may be exiled; I shall then regard myself as born in the place to which I shall be sent. They may put me in chains. What then? Am I free from bonds now? Behold this clogging burden of a body, to which nature has fettered me! “I shall die,” you say; you mean to say “I shall cease to run the risk of sickness; I shall cease to run the risk of imprisonment; I shall cease to run the risk of death.”
  • I do not know whether I shall make progress; but I should prefer to lack success rather than to lack faith.

Letter XXVI: On Old Age and Death

  • You do not know where death awaits you; so be ready for it everywhere.

Letter XXVII

  • 'Tu me' inquis 'mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?' Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico.
    • "What," say you, "are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?" No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.
  • Sola virtus praestat gaudium perpetuum, securum; etiam si quid obstat, nubium modo intervenit, quae infra feruntur nec umquam diem vincunt.
    • Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy; even if some obstacle arise, it is but like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.

Letter XXVIII: On travel as a cure for discontent

  • You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.
  • You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.
  • Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult.
    • If one doesn't know his mistakes, he won't want to correct them.
      • Line 9

Letter XXX: On conquering the conqueror

  • Magnus gubernator et scisso navigat velo.
    • A great pilot can sail even when his canvas is rent.
      • Line 3.
  • He who does not wish to die cannot have wished to live.

Letter XXXI: On Siren Songs

  • I forbid you to be cast down or depressed. It is not enough if you do not shrink from work; ask for it.

Letter XXXII: On Progress

  • Would you know what makes men greedy for the future? It is because no one has yet found himself.


  • Ideo pueris et sententias ediscendas damus et has quas Graeci chrias vocant, quia complecti illas puerilis animus potest, qui plus adhuc non capit. Certi profectus viro captare flosculos turpe est et fulcire se notissimis ac paucissimis vocibus et memoria stare: sibi iam innitatur. Dicat ista, non teneat; turpe est enim seni aut prospicienti senectutem ex commentario sapere. 'Hoc Zenon dixit': tu quid? 'Hoc Cleanthes': tu quid? Quousque sub alio moveris? impera et dic quod memoriae tradatur, aliquid et de tuo profer.
    • That is why we give to children a proverb, or that which the Greeks call Chreia, to be learned by heart; that sort of thing can be comprehended by the young mind, which cannot as yet hold more. For a man, however, whose progress is definite, to chase after choice extracts and to prop his weakness by the best known and the briefest sayings and to depend upon his memory, is disgraceful; it is time for him to lean on himself. He should make such maxims and not memorize them. For it is disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old age, to have a note-book knowledge. "This is what Zeno said." But what have you yourself said? "This is the opinion of Cleanthes." But what is your own opinion? How long shall you march under another man's orders? Take command, and utter some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something from your own stock.
  • Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit.
    • Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.
  • Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est.
    • What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.

Letter XXXV

  • Amicitia semper prodest, amor aliquando etiam nocet
    • Friendship is always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm

Letter XXXVII: On Allegiance to Virtue

  • You must die erect and unyielding.
  • It is disgraceful, instead of proceeding ahead, to be carried along, and then suddenly, amid the whirlpool of events, to ask in a dazed way: “How did I get into this condition?”

Letter XXXIX: On Noble Aspirations

  • It is the quality of a great soul to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather than that which is too great.
  • Then it is that the height of unhappiness is reached, when men are not only attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things which once were vices have become habits.

Letter XLI: On the god within us

  • Facis rem optimam et tibi salutarem, si, ut scribis, perseveras ire ad bonam mentem, quam stultum est optare, cum possis a te impetrare. Non sunt ad caelum elevandae inarms nee exorandus aedituus, ut nos ad aurem simulacri, quasi magis exaudiri possimus, admittat; Prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est. Ita dico, Lucili: sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque nostrorum observator et custos...
    • You are doing an excellent thing, one which will be wholesome for you, if, as you write me, you are persisting in your effort to attain sound understanding; it is foolish to pray for this when you can acquire it from yourself. We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven, or to beg the keeper of a temple to let us approach his idol's ear, as if in this way our prayers were more likely to be heard. A god is near you, with you, and in you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: there sits a holy spirit within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our a guardian.
  • Non faciunt meliorem equum aurei freni.
    • A golden bit does not make a better horse.
  • If you see a man who is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm, who looks down upon men from a higher plane, and views the gods on a footing of equality, will not a feeling of reverence for him steal over you, will you not say: “This quality is too great and too lofty to be regarded as resembling this petty body in which it dwells? A divine power has descended upon that man.”
  • No man ought to glory except in that which is his own.
  • Rationale enim animal est homo.
    • Man is a reasoning animal.

Letter XLII: On Values

  • Very often the things that cost nothing cost us the most heavily; I can show you many objects the quest and acquisition of which have wrested freedom from our hands.
  • “You will have less money.” Yes, and less trouble. “Less influence.” Yes, and less envy.
  • He that owns himself has lost nothing. But how few men are blessed with ownership of self!

Letter XLIII: On the relativity of fame

  • Is qui scit plurimum, rumor.
    • That most knowing of persons – gossip.
      • Line 1.

Letter XLV: On sophistical argumentation

It is quality rather than quantity that matters.
  • Non refert quam multos sed quam bonos habeas.
    • It is quality rather than quantity that matters.
      • Line 1
  • At any rate, if you wish to sift doubtful meanings of this kind, teach us that the happy man is not he whom the crowd deems happy, namely, he into whose coffers mighty sums have flowed, but he whose possessions are all in his soul, who is upright and exalted, who spurns inconstancy, who sees no man with whom he wishes to change places, who rates men only at their value as men, who takes Nature for his teacher, conforming to her laws and living as she commands, whom no violence can deprive of his possessions, who turns evil into good, is unerring in judgment, unshaken, unafraid, who may be moved by force but never moved to distraction, whom Fortune when she hurls at him with all her might the deadliest missile in her armoury, may graze, though rarely, but never wound.

Letter XLVII: On master and slave

  • “They are slaves,” people declare. Nay, rather they are men. “Slaves!” No, comrades. “Slaves!” No, they are unpretentious friends. “Slaves!” No, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike.
  • Vis tu cogitare istum quem servum tuum vocas ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum.
    • Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives and dies. It is just as possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to see in you a slave.
      • Line 10.
  • sic cum inferiore vivas quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere.
    • Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.
      • Line 11
    • This can be related to other expressions on the ethics of reciprocity, often referred to as the variants of the Golden Rule.
  • I propose to value them according to their character, and not according to their duties. Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties.
  • “He is a slave.” His soul, however, may be that of a freeman. “He is a slave.” But shall that stand in his way? Show me a man who is not a slave; one is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear.

Letter XLVII: On master and slave

  • Would you really know what philosophy offers to humanity? Philosophy offers counsel.

Letter XLIX: On the Shortness of Life

  • Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a man who has lived long to have lived too little. Say to me when I lie down to sleep: “You may not wake again!” And when I have waked: “You may not go to sleep again!” Say to me when I go forth from my house: “You may not return!” And when I return: “You may never go forth again!”

Letter L: On Our Blindness and Its Cure

  • For what else are you busied with except improving yourself every day, laying aside some error, and coming to understand that the faults which you attribute to circumstances are in yourself?

Letter LI: On Baiae and Morals

  • And what is freedom, you ask? It means not being a slave to any circumstance, to any constraint, to any chance; it means compelling Fortune to enter the lists on equal terms.
  • Would not anyone who is a man have his slumbers broken by a war-trumpet rather than by a chorus of serenaders?

Letter LII: On choosing our teachers

  • qualis quisque sit scies, si quemadmodum laudet, quemadmodum laudetur aspexeris.
    • You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.
      • Line 12.

Letter LV: On Vatia’s Villa

  • Our luxuries have condemned us to weakness; we have ceased to be able to do that which we have long declined to do.

Letter LVI: On quiet and study

  • numquam vacat lascivire districtis, nihilque tam certum est quam otii vitia negotio discuti.
    • The much occupied man has no time for wantonness, and it is an obvious commonplace that the evils of leisure can be shaken off by hard work.
      • Line 9
    • Alternate translation: Nothing is so certain as that the evils of idleness can be shaken off by hard work. (translator unknown).

Letter LVIII: On Being

  • We are weak, watery beings standing in the midst of unrealities; therefore let us turn our minds to the things that are everlasting.

Letter LIX: On Pleasure and Joy

  • But the wise man is fortified against all inroads; he is alert; he will not retreat before the attack of poverty, or of sorrow, or of disgrace, or of pain. He will walk undaunted both against them and among them.
  • The wise man is joyful, happy and calm, unshaken, he lives on a plane with the gods.
  • That which Fortune has not given, she cannot take away.

Letter LXI: On meeting death cheerfully

  • I am endeavouring to live every day as if it were a complete life.
  • Ante senectutem curavi ut bene viverem, in senectute ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori.
    • Before I became old I tried to live well; now that I am old, I shall try to die well; but dying well means dying gladly.
      • Line 2.

Letter LXII

  • Brevissima ad divitias per contemptum divitiarum via est.
    • The shortest way to wealth is through the contempt of wealth.

Letter LXIII

  • Fortune has taken away, but Fortune has given.
  • Let us greedily enjoy our friends, because we do not know how long this privilege will be ours.
  • Nulla res citius in odium venit quam dolor, qui recens consolatorem invenit et aliquos ad se adducit, inveteratus vero deridetur, nec inmerito.
    • Translation: Nothing becomes so offensive so quickly as grief. When fresh it finds someone to console it, but when it becomes chronic, it is ridiculed and rightly.
    • Line 13.
  • Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.
  • Not lost, but gone before.
    • Line 16.

Letter LXV: On the first cause

All art is but imitation of nature.
  • Omnis ars naturae imitatio est.

Letter LXVI: On Various Aspects of Virtue

  • Great also are the souls of the defenders—men who know that, as long as the path to death lies open, the blockade is not complete, men who breathe their last in the arms of liberty.
  • Allow me, excellent Lucilius, to utter a still bolder word: if any goods could be greater than others, I should prefer those which seem harsh to those which are mild and alluring, and should pronounce them greater. For it is more of an accomplishment to break one’s way through difficulties than to keep joy within bounds.
  • There stood Mucius, despising the enemy and despising the fire, and watched his hand as it dripped blood over the fire on his enemy’s altar, until Porsenna, envying the fame of the hero whose punishment he was advocating, ordered the fire to be removed against the will of the victim.
  • I cannot help believing that Mucius was all the more lucky because he manipulated the flames as calmly as if he were holding out his hand to the manipulator. He had wiped out all his previous mistakes; he finished the war unarmed and maimed; and with that stump of a hand he conquered two kings.

Letter LXVII: On Ill-Health and Endurance of Suffering

  • I should prefer to be free from torture; but if the time comes when it must be endured, I shall desire that I may conduct myself therein with bravery, honour, and courage. Of course I prefer that war should not occur; but if war does occur, I shall desire that I may nobly endure the wounds, the starvation, and all that the exigency of war brings. Nor am I so mad as to crave illness; but if I must suffer illness, I shall desire that I may do nothing which shows lack of restraint, and nothing that is unmanly. The conclusion is, not that hardships are desirable, but that virtue is desirable, which enables us patiently to endure hardships.
  • Now a life of honour includes various kinds of conduct; it may include the chest in which Regulus was confined, or the wound of Cato which was torn open by Cato’s own hand, or the exile of Rutilius, or the cup of poison which removed Socrates from gaol to heaven.
  • Clothe yourself with a hero’s courage, and withdraw for a little space from the opinions of the common man. Form a proper conception of the image of virtue, a thing of exceeding beauty and grandeur; this image is not to be worshipped by us with incense or garlands, but with sweat and blood.
  • “I should prefer that Fortune keep me in her camp rather than in the lap of luxury. If I am tortured, but bear it bravely, all is well; if I die, but die bravely, it is also well.”
  • Why should I not regard this as desirable—not because the fire, burns me, but because it does not overcome me?

Letter LXX: On the proper time to slip the cable

  • Sapiens vivit quantum debet, non quantum potest.
    • The wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can.
      • Line 4.

Letter LXXI: On the supreme good

  • errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est.
    • Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.
      • Line 3
    • Alternate translation: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. (translator unknown).
  • These actions are not essentially difficult; it is we ourselves that are soft and flabby.
  • He knows his own strength; he knows that he was born to carry burdens.
  • Do you ask me whom I have conquered? Neither the Persians, nor the far-off Medes, nor any warlike race that lies beyond the Dahae; not these, but greed, ambition, and the fear of death that has conquered the conquerors of the world.

Letter LXXIV: On Virtue as a Refuge From Worldly Distractions

  • But no wall can be erected against Fortune which she cannot take by storm; let us strengthen our inner defences. If the inner part be safe, man can be attacked, but never captured.

Letter LXXVI: On Learning Wisdom in Old Age

  • But the wise man knows that all things are in store for him. Whatever happens, he says: “I knew it.”
  • Tamdiu, discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas.
    • As long as you live, keep learning how to live.

Letter LXXVII: On Taking One’s Own Life

  • Would you not think him an utter fool who wept because he was not alive a thousand years ago? And is he not just as much of a fool who weeps because he will not be alive a thousand years from now? It is all the same; you will not be, and you were not. Neither of these periods of time belongs to you.
  • So near at hand is freedom, and is anyone still a slave?
  • What else is there which you would regret to have taken from you? Friends? But who can be a friend to you? Country? What? Do you think enough of your country to be late to dinner? The light of the sun? You would extinguish it, if you could; for what have you ever done that was fit to be seen in the light?

Letter LXXVIII: On the Healing Power of the Mind

  • Aliquando enim et vivere fortiter facere est
    • For sometimes it is an act of bravery even to live.
      • Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, transl. Richard M. Grummere, 1920 ed., Epistle LXXVIII, pp. 181-182
  • There is no sorrow in the world, when we have escaped from the fear of death.
  • You will die, not because you are ill, but because you are alive; even when you have been cured, thesame end awaits you; when you have recovered, it will be not death, but ill health, that you have escaped.
  • No man can suffer both severely and for a long time; Nature, who loves us most tenderly, has so constituted us as to make pain either endurable or short.
  • “It is nothing—a trifling matter at most; keep a stout heart and it will soon cease”; then in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer.
  • Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all—the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.
  • Is it for this purpose that we are strong—that we may have light burdens to bear?
  • Meanwhile, hold fast to this thought, and grip it close: yield not to adversity; trust not to prosperity; keep before your eyes the full scope of Fortune’s power, as if she would surely do whatever is in her power to do.

Letter LXXXI: On benefits

  • Eo animo quidque debetur quo datur, nec quantum sit sed a quali profectum voluntate perpenditur.
    • Our feeling about every obligation depends in each case upon the spirit in which the benefit is conferred; we weigh not the bulk of the gift, but the quality of the good-will which prompted it.
      • Line 6
    • Alternate translation: The spirit in which a thing is given determines that in which the debt is acknowledged; it's the intention, not the face-value of the gift, that's weighed. (translator unknown).
  • Quemadmodum Attalus noster dicere solebat, 'malitia ipsa maximam partem veneni sui bibit'. Illud venenum quod serpentes in alienam perniciem proferunt, sine sua continent, non est huic simile: hoc habentibus pessimum est.
    • My master Attalus used to say: "Evil herself drinks the largest portion of her own poison." The poison which serpents carry for the destruction of others, and secrete without harm to themselves, is not like this poison; for this sort is ruinous to the possessor.
      • Line 22

Letter LXXXII: On the Natural Fear of Death


Letter LXXXIII: On Drunkenness

  • Nihil aliud esse ebrietatem quam voluntariam insaniam.
    • Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness.
      • Line 18.

Letter LXXXIV: On gathering ideas

  • Confragosa in fastigium dignitatis via est.
    • It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.
      • Line 13
It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.

Letter LXXXV: On Some Vain Syllogisms

  • But he has no fear; unconquered he looks down from a lofty height upon his sufferings.
  • Thus no fortune, no external circumstance, can shut off the wise man from action. For the very thing which engages his attention prevents him from attending to other things. He is ready for either outcome: if it brings goods, he controls them; if evils, he conquers them.
  • So the wise man will develop virtue, if he may, in the midst of wealth, or, if not, in poverty; if possible, in his own country—if not, in exile; if possible, as a commander—if not, as a common soldier; if possible, in sound health—if not, enfeebled. Whatever fortune he finds, he will accomplish therefrom something noteworthy.

Letter LXXXVII: Some arguments in favor of the simple life

  • quemadmodum gladius neminem occidit: occidentis telum est.
    • A sword by itself does not slay; it is merely the weapon used by the slayer.
      • Line 30
    • Seneca is here describing arguments used by 'certain men,' not stating his own opinion.
    • Alternate translation: A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. (translator unknown).

Letter LXXXVIII: On liberal and vocational studies

It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.
  • Satius est supervacua scire quam nihil.
    • It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.
      • Line 45.
  • Quemadmodum perniciosior est hostis fugientibus, sic omne fortuitum incommodum magis instat cedenti et averso.
    • Just as an enemy is more dangerous to a retreating army, so every trouble that fortune brings attacks us all the harder if we yield and turn our backs.

Letter XC: On the Part Played by Philosophy in the Progress of Man

  • A thatched roof once covered free men; under marble and gold dwells slavery.

Letter XCI: On the Lesson to be Drawn From the Burning of Lyons

  • Alexander, king of Macedon, began to study geometry; unhappy man, because he would thereby learn how puny was that earth of which he had seized but a fraction! Unhappy man, I repeat, because he was bound to understand that he was bearing a false title. For who can be “great” in that which is puny?
  • Imagine that nature is saying to us: “Those things of which you complain are the same for all. I cannot give anything easier to any man, but whoever wishes will make things easier for himself.” In what way? By equanimity. You must suffer pain, and thirst, and hunger, and old age too, if a longer stay among men shall be granted you; you must be sick, and you must suffer loss and death.

Letter XCII: On the Happy Life

  • That man, I declare, is happy whom nothing makes less strong than he is; he keeps to the heights, leaning upon none but himself; for one who sustains himself by any prop may fall.
  • Nemo liber est qui corpori servit.
    • For no man is free who is a slave to his body.

Letter XCV: On the usefulness of basic principles

  • postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris.
    • Don't ask for what you'll wish you hadn't got.
      • Line 1
    • Seneca himself states that he is quoting a 'common saying' here.
    • Alternate translation: Do not ask for what you will wish you had not got. (translator unknown).
  • Saepe aliud volumus, aliud optamus, et verum ne dis quidem dicimus.
    • We often want one thing and pray for another, not telling the truth even to the gods.
      • Line 2.
  • Non privatim solum sed publice furimus. Homicidia conpescimus et singulas caedes: quid bella et occisarum gentium gloriosum scelus? Non avaritia, non crudelitas modum novit. Et ista quamdiu furtim et a singulis fiunt minus noxia minusque monstrosa sunt: ex senatus consultis plebisque scitis saeva exercentur et publice iubentur vetata privatim. Quae clam commissa capite luerent, tum quia paludati fecere laudamus. Non pudet homines, mitissimum genus, gaudere sanguine alterno et bella gerere gerendaque liberis tradere, cum inter se etiam mutis ac feris pax sit. Adversus tam potentem explicitumque late furorem operosior philosophia facta est et tantum sibi virium sumpsit quantum iis adversus quae parabatur acceserat.
    • We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples? There are no limits to our greed, none to our cruelty. And as long as such crimes are committed by stealth and by individuals, they are less harmful and less portentous; but cruelties are practised in accordance with acts of senate and popular assembly, and the public is bidden to do that which is forbidden to the individual. Deeds that would be punished by loss of life when committed in secret, are praised by us because uniformed generals have carried them out. Man, naturally the gentlest class of being, is not ashamed to revel in the blood of others, to wage war, and to entrust the waging of war to his sons, when even dumb beasts and wild beasts keep the peace with one another. Against this overmastering and widespread madness philosophy has become a matter of greater effort, and has taken on strength in proportion to the strength which is gained by the opposition forces.
      • Lines 30-32.
  • As our acts and our thoughts are, so will our lives be.

Letter XCVI

  • Atqui vivere, Lucili, militare est.
    • And yet life, Lucilius, is really a battle.
  • For this reason those who are tossed about at sea, who proceed uphill and downhill over toilsome crags and heights, who go on campaigns that bring the greatest danger, are heroes and front-rank fighters; but persons who live in rotten luxury and ease while others toil, are mere turtle-doves safe only because men despise them.

Letter XCVIII: On the Fickleness of Fortune

  • “All the Good of mortals is mortal.”
  • “Of all these experiences that seem so frightful, none is insuperable. Separate trials have been over- come by many: fire by Mucius, crucifixion by Regulus, poison by Socrates, exile by Rutilius, and a sword-inflicted death by Cato; therefore, let us also overcome something.”
  • Pain he endures, death he awaits.

Letter XCIX: On Consolation to the Bereaved

  • Whoever complains about the death of anyone, is complaining that he was a man. Everyone is bound by the same terms: he who is privileged to be born, is destined to die.
  • Accept in an unruffled spirit that which is inevitable.

Letter CI: On the Futility of Planning Ahead

  • But how foolish it is to set out one’s life, when one is not even owner of the morrow!
  • Therefore, my dear Lucilius, begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.
  • The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live. And often this living nobly means that you cannot live long.

Letter CIV: On Care of Health and Peace of Mind

Hope not without despair, despair not without hope.
“New friends, however, will not be the same.” No, nor will you yourself remain the same; you change with every day and every hour.
Our lack of confidence is not the result of difficulty. The difficulty comes from our lack of confidence.
  • Socrates is reported to have replied, when a certain person complained of having received no benefit from his travels: “It serves you right! You travelled in your own company!”
  • What profit is there in crossing the sea and in going from one city to another? If you would escape your troubles, you need not another place but another personality. Perhaps you have reached Athens, or perhaps Rhodes; choose any state you fancy, how does it matter what its character may be? You will be bringing to it your own.
  • “New friends, however, will not be the same.” No, nor will you yourself remain the same; you change with every day and every hour.
  • Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe.
    • If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.
      • Line 12
    • Alternate translation: Hope not without despair, despair not without hope. (translated by Zachariah Rush).
  • Or, if you enjoy living with Greeks also, spend your time with Socrates and with Zeno: the former will show you how to die if it be necessary; the latter how to die before it is necessary. Live with Chrysippus, with Posidonius: they will make you acquainted with things earthly and things heavenly; they will bid you work hard over something more than neat turns of language and phrases mouthed forth for the entertainment of listeners; they will bid you be stout of heart and rise superior to threats. The only harbour safe from the seething storms of this life is scorn of the future, a firm stand, a readiness to receive Fortune’s missiles full in the breast, neither skulking nor turning the back.
  • This spirit thrusts itself forward, confident of commendation and esteem. It is superior to all, monarch of all it surveys; hence it should be subservient to nothing, finding no task too heavy, and nothing strong enough to weigh down the shoulders of a man.
  • At quanto ego de illis melius existimo! ipsi quoque haec possunt facere, sed nolunt. Denique quem umquam ista destituere temptantem? cui non faciliora apparuere in actu? Non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus difficilia sunt.
    • But how much more highly do I think of these men! They can do these things, but decline to do them. To whom that ever tried have these tasks proved false? To what man did they not seem easier in the doing? Our lack of confidence is not the result of difficulty. The difficulty comes from our lack of confidence.
    • Also translated as: It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, but because we do not dare, things are difficult.
      • Verse 26
  • He maintained this attitude up to the very end, and no man ever saw Socrates too much elated or too much depressed. Amid all the disturbance of Fortune, he was undisturbed.
  • Do you desire another case? Take that of the younger Marcus Cato, with whom Fortune dealt in a more hostile and more persistent fashion. But he withstood her, on all occasions, and in his last moments, at the point of death, showed that a brave man can live in spite of Fortune, can die in spite of her. His whole life was passed either in civil warfare, or under a political regime which was soon to breed civil war.
  • No one ever saw Cato change, no matter how often the state changed: he kept himself the same in all circumstances—in the praetorship, in defeat, under accusation, in his province, on the platform, in the army, in death.
  • And this is the vote which [Cato] casts concerning them both: “If Caesar wins, I slay myself; if Pompey, I go into exile.” What was there for a man to fear who, whether in defeat or in victory, had assigned to himself a doom which might have been assigned to him by his enemies in their utmost rage? So he died by his own decision.
  • You see that man can endure toil: Cato, on foot, led an army through African deserts. You see that thirst can be endured: he marched over sun-baked hills, dragging the remains of a beaten army and with no train of supplies, undergoing lack of water and wearing a heavy suit of armour; always the last to drink of the few springs which they chanced to find. You see that honour, and dishonour too, can be despised: for they report that on the very day when Cato was defeated at the elections, he played a game of ball. You see also that man can be free from fear of those above him in rank: for Cato attacked Caesar and Pompey simultaneously, at a time when none dared fall foul of the one without endeavouring to oblige the other. You see that death can be scorned as well as exile: Cato inflicted exile upon himself and finally death, and war all the while.
  • If you set a high value on liberty, you must set a low value on everything else.

Letter CV: On Facing the World With Confidence

  • Besides, he who is feared, fears also; no one has been able to arouse terror and live in peace of mind.

Letter CVI: On the corporeality of virtue

  • Quemadmodum omnium rerum, sic litterarum quoque intemperantia laboramus: non vitae sed scholae discimus.
    • Just as we suffer from excess in all things, so we suffer from excess in literature; thus we learn our lessons, not for life, but for the lecture room.
      • Line 12
    • Alternate translation: Not for life, but for school do we learn. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: We are taught for the schoolroom, not for life. (translator unknown).

Letter CVII: On Obedience to the Universal Will

It is best to endure what you cannot change.
  • And we cannot change this order of things; but what we can do is to acquire stout hearts, worthy of good men, thereby courageously enduring chance and placing ourselves in harmony with Nature.
  • Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis.
    • Translation: It is best to bear what cannot be changed.
    • Seneca, Moral Letters, 107. 9. As quoted in: Frank Breslin (Retired High-School Teacher) (December 21, 2017): Teaching Latin Quotations -- Part 1: The Art of Survival. In: The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on November 23, 2022.
    • Alternate translation: It is best to endure what you cannot change. Translated by Twitter user Melanie Antao in a tweet from July 3, 2012. Archived from the original on November 23, 2022.

Letter CVIII: On the Approaches to Philosophy

  • They have been spoken by Plato, spoken by Zeno, spoken by Chrysippus or by Posidonius, and by a whole host of Stoics as numerous as excellent. I shall show you how men can prove their words to be their own: it is by doing what they have been talking about.

Letter CIX: On the Fellowship of Wise Men


You assured me that I should be unterrified though swords were flashing round me, though the point of the blade were grazing my throat; you assured me that I should be at ease though fires were blazing round me, or though a sudden whirlwind should snatch up my ship and carry it over all the sea. Now make good for me such a course of treatment that I may despise pleasure and glory. Thereafter you shall teach me to work out complicated problems, to settle doubtful points, to see through that which is not clear; teach me now what it is necessary for me to know!

Letter CX: On True and False Riches


Learn to be content with little, and cry out with courage and with greatness of soul: ‘We have water, we have porridge; let us compete in happiness with Jupiter himself.’

Letter CXV: On the Superficial Blessings

  • Let words proceed as they please, provided only your soul keeps its own sure order, provided your soul is great and holds unruffled to its ideals, pleased with itself on account of the very things which displease others, a soul that makes life the test of its progress, and believes that its knowledge is in exact proportion to its freedom from desire and its freedom from fear.

Letter CXVI: On Self-Control


And do you know why we have not the power to attain this Stoic ideal? It is because we refuse to believe in our power. Nay, of a surety, there is something else which plays a part: it is because we are in love with our vices; we uphold them and prefer to make excuses for them rather than shake them off. We mortals have been endowed with sufficient strength by nature, if only we use this strength, if only we concentrate our powers and rouse them all to help us or at least not to hinder us. The reason is unwillingness, the excuse, inability.

Letter CXVI: On Real Ethics as Superior to Syllogistic Subtleties

  • Tell me what to avoid, what to seek, by what studies to strengthen my tottering mind, how I may rebuff the waves that strike me abeam and drive me from my course, by what means I may be able to cope with all my evils, and by what means I can be rid of the calamities that have plunged in upon me and those into which I myself have plunged. Teach me how to bear the burden of sorrow without a groan on my part, and how to bear prosperity without making others groan; also, how to avoid waiting for the ultimate and inevitable end, and to beat a retreat of my own free will, when it seems proper to me to do so.
  • Why then do you occupy me with the words rather than with the works of wisdom? Make me braver, make me calmer, make me the equal of Fortune, make me her superior.

Letter CXX: More About Virtue

  • I will tell you: that perfect man, who has attained virtue, never cursed his luck, and never received the results of chance with dejection; he believed that he was citizen and soldier of the universe, accepting his tasks as if they were his orders. Whatever happened, he did not spurn it, as if it were evil and borne in upon him by hazard; he accepted it as if it were assigned to be his duty. “Whatever this may be,”he says, “it is my lot; it is rough and it is hard, but I must work diligently at the task.”

Letter CXXIII: On the conflict between pleasure and virtue

  • Magna pars libertatis est bene moratus venter et contumeliae patiens.
    • A great step towards independence is a good-humored stomach, one that is willing to endure rough treatment.
      • Line 3.

De Superstitione (On Superstition)

  • The customs of that most criminal nation have gained such strength that they have now been received in all lands. The conquered have given laws to the conquerors.

Moral Essays

English translations of quotes in this section by Aubrey Stewart except as otherwise noted
  • Qui grate beneficium accipit, primam eius pensionem solvit.
    • He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it.
      • De Beneficiis (On Benefits): Book 2, cap. 22, line 1.
  • Marcet sine adversario virtus.
    • Valor withers without adversity.
      • De Providentia (On Providence), 2.4
  • Patrium deus habet adversus bonos viros animum et illos fortiter amat et "Operibus," inquit, "doloribus, damnis exagitentur, ut verum colligant robur." Languent per inertiam saginata nec labore tantum sed motu et ipso sui onere deficiunt. Non fert ullum ictum inlaesa felicitas; at cui assidua fuit cum incommodis suis rixa, callum per iniurias duxit nec ulli malo cedit sed etiam si cecidit de genu pugnat.
    • Toward good men God has the mind of a father, he cherishes for them a manly love, and he says, "Let them be harassed by toil, by suffering, by losses, in order that they may gather true strength." Bodies grown fat through sloth are weak, and not only labour, but even movement and their very weight cause them to break down. Unimpaired prosperity cannot withstand a single blow; but he who has struggled constantly with his ills becomes hardened through suffering; and yields to no misfortune; nay, even if he falls, he still fights upon his knees.
      • De Providentia (On Providence), 2.6; translation by John W. Basore
  • "Licet," inquit, "omnia in unius dicionem concesserint, custodiantur legionibus terrae, classibus maria, Caesarianus portas miles obsideat; Cato qua exeat habet; una manu latam libertati viam faciet. Ferrum istud, etiam civili bello purum et innoxium, bonas tandem ac nobiles edet operas: libertatem, quam patriae non potuit, Catoni dabit.
    • "Although," said he [Cato], "all the world has fallen under one man's sway, although Caesar's legions guard the land, his fleets the sea, and Caesar's troops beset the city gates, yet Cato has a way of escape; with one single hand he will open a wide path to freedom. This sword, unstained and blameless even in civil war, shall at last do good and noble service: the freedom which it could not give to his country it shall give to Cato!
      • De Providentia (On Providence), 2.10; translation by John W. Basore
  • Quare deus optimum quemque aut mala valetudine aut luctu aut aliis incommodis adficit? quia in castris quoque periculosa fortissimis imperantur: dux lectissimos mittit qui nocturnis hostes adgrediantur insidiis aut explorent iter aut praesidium loco deiciant. Nemo eorum qui exeunt dicit 'male de me imperator mervit', sed 'bene iudicavit'.
    • Why does God afflict the best of men with ill-health, or sorrow, or other troubles? Because in the army the most hazardous services are assigned to the bravest soldiers: a general sends his choicest troops to attack the enemy in a midnight ambuscade, to reconnoitre his line of march, or to drive the hostile garrisons from their strong places. No one of these men says as he begins his march, " The general has dealt hardly with me," but "He has judged well of me."
      • De Providentia (On Providence), 4.8, translated by Aubrey Stewart
  • Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes uiros.
    • Fire tries gold, misfortune tries brave men.
      • De Providentia (On Providence), 5.9, translated by Aubrey Stewart
    • Alternate translation: Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men. (translator unknown).
  • bonus iudex damnat inprobanda, non odit.
    • A good judge condemns wrongful acts, but does not hate them.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 1, cap. 16, line 6.
  • nemo autem regere potest nisi qui et regi.
    • No one is able to rule unless he is also able to be ruled.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 15, line 4
    • Compare with the following : No man ruleth safely but that he is willingly ruled.
      • From The Imitation of Christ, Liber I, cap. 20 (Of the Love of Solitude and Silence), line 2 : by Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471).
  • Contra primus itaque causas pugnare debemus; causa autem iracundiae opinio iniuriae est, cui non facile credendum est. Ne apertis quidem manifestisque statim accedendum; quaedam enim falsa ueri speciem ferunt. Dandum semper est tempus: ueritatem dies aperit.
    • The cause of anger is the belief that we are injured; this belief, therefore, should not be lightly entertained. We ought not to fly into a rage even when the injury appears to be open and distinct: for some false things bear the semblance of truth. We should always allow some time to elapse, for time discloses the truth.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 22, line 2
    • Alternate translation: Time discovers truth. (translator unknown).
  • fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus
    • No man expects such exact fidelity as a traitor.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 28, line 7.
  • Magna pars hominum est quae non peccatis irascitur, sed peccantibus.
    • A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 28, line 8
  • Hoc habent pessimum animi magna fortuna insolentes: quos laeserunt et oderunt.
    • This is the worst trait of minds rendered arrogant by prosperity, they hate those whom they have injured.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 33, line 6
    • Alternate translation: Men whose spirit has grown arrogant from the great favour of fortune have this most serious fault – those whom they have injured they also hate. (translation by John W. Basore)
    • Alternate translation: Whom they have injured they also hate. (translator unknown).
  • Irascetur aliquis: tu contra beneficiis prouoca; cadit statim simultas ab altera parte deserta; nisi paria non pugnant.
    • If any one is angry with you, meet his anger by returning benefits for it: a quarrel which is only taken up on one side falls to the ground: it takes two men to fight.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 34, line 5.
  • Aut potentior te aut inbecillior laesit: si inbecillior, parce illi, si potentior, tibi.
    • He who has injured thee was either stronger or weaker than thee. If weaker, spare him; if stronger, spare thyself.
      • De Ira (On Anger); Book III, Chapter V
  • Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat.
    • I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.
      • De Vita Beata (On the Happy Life): cap. 2, line 2
    • Alternate translation: I do not distinguish by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge of the man. (translator unknown).
  • Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est.
    • All savageness is a sign of weakness.
      • De Vita Beata (On the Happy Life): cap. 3, line 4
    • Alternate translation: All cruelty springs from weakness. (translator unknown)
      • As quoted in Caxtoniana: A Series of Essays on Life, Literature, and Manners (1864), Harper & brothers, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, p. 174 (in the essay The Sympathetic Temperment).
  • Non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdidimus. Satis longa vita.
    • It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough.
  • Denique inter omnes convenit nullam rem bene exerceri posse ab homine occupato, non eloquentiam, non liberales disciplinas, quando districtus animus nihil altius recipit, sed omnia velut inculcata respuit.
    • It is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied – not rhetoric or liberal studies – since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it.

On Tranquility of the Mind

A letter to Serenus as translated in Tranquillity of Mind and Providence (1900) by William Bell Langsdorf
  • We are all chained to fortune: the chain of one is made of gold, and wide, while that of another is short and rusty. But what difference does it make? The same prison surrounds all of us, and even those who have bound others are bound themselves; unless perchance you think that a chain on the left side is lighter. Honors bind one man, wealth another; nobility oppresses some, humility others; some are held in subjection by an external power, while others obey the tyrant within; banishments keep some in one place, the priesthood others. All life is slavery. Therefore each one must accustom himself to his own condition and complain about it as little as possible, and lay hold of whatever good is to be found near him. Nothing is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find comfort in it. Small tablets, because of the writer's skill, have often served for many purposes, and a clever arrangement has often made a very narrow piece of land habitable. Apply reason to difficulties; harsh circumstances can be softened, narrow limits can be widened, and burdensome things can be made to press less severely on those who bear them cleverly.
  • Male vivet quisquis nesciet bene mori.
    • That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.
      • Chapter 11, Section 4
  • Numquam me in re bona mali pudebit auctoris.
    • I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good.
    • Alternate translation: I shall never be ashamed to go to a bad author for a good quotation.
      • Chapter 11, Section 8
  • Virtue runs no risk of becoming contemptible by being exposed to view, and it is better to be despised for simplicity than to be tormented by continual hypocrisy.
  • Our minds must have relaxation: rested, they will rise up better and keener. Just as we must not force fertile fields (for uninterrupted production will quickly exhaust them), so continual labor will break the power of our minds. They will recover their strength, however, after they have had a little freedom and relaxation.
  • Whether we believe the Greek poet, "it is sometimes even pleasant to be mad", or Plato, "he who is master of himself has knocked in vain at the doors of poetry"; or Aristotle, "no great genius was without a mixture of insanity"; the mind cannot express anything lofty and above the ordinary unless inspired. When it despises the common and the customary, and with sacred inspiration rises higher, then at length it sings something grander than that which can come from mortal lips. It cannot attain anything sublime and lofty so long as it is sane: it must depart from the customary, swing itself aloft, take the bit in its teeth, carry away its rider and bear him to a height whither he would have feared to ascend alone.
    • In Latin, nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit (There is no great genius without some touch of madness). This passage by Seneca is the source most often cited in crediting Aristotle with this thought, but in Problemata xxx. 1, Aristotle says: 'Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholic?' The quote by Plato is from the Dialogue Phaedrus (245a).

Seneca: Dialogues


(translated by Aubrey Stewart, (1887-1898) [full text])

To Marcia on Consolation

  • When the changes of our times gave you an opportunity, you restored to the use of man that genius of your father for which he had suffered, and made him in real truth immortal by publishing as an eternal memorial of him those books which that bravest of men had written with his own blood. You have done a great service to Roman literature: a large part of Cordus’s books had been burned; a great service to posterity, who will receive a true account of events, which cost its author so dear; and a great service to himself, whose memory flourishes and ever will flourish, as long as men set any value upon the facts of Roman history, as long as anyone lives who wishes to review the deeds of our fathers, to know what a true Roman was like — one who still remained unconquered when all other necks were broken in to receive the yoke of Sejanus, one who was free in every thought, feeling, and act.
  • By Hercules, the state would have sustained a great loss if you had not brought him forth from the oblivion to which his two splendid qualities, eloquence and independence, had consigned him: he is now read, is popular, is received into men’s hands and bosoms, and fears no old age: but as for those who butchered him, before long men will cease to speak even of their crimes, the only things by which they are remembered.
  • All vices sink into our whole being, if we do not crush them before they gain a footing; and in like manner these sad, pitiable, and discordant feelings end by feeding upon their own bitterness, until the unhappy mind takes a sort of morbid delight in grief... In like manner, wounds heal easily when the blood is fresh upon them: they can then be cleared out and brought to the surface, and admit of being probed by the finger: when disease has turned them into malignant ulcers, their cure is more difficult.
  • Octavia lost Marcellus, whom both his father-in-law and his uncle had begun to depend upon, and to place upon his shoulders the weight of the empire — a young man of keen intelligence and firm character, frugal and moderate in his desires to an extent which deserved especial admiration in one so young and so wealthy, strong to endure labour, averse to indulgence, and able to bear whatever burden his uncle might choose to lay, or I may say to pile upon his shoulders. Augustus had well chosen him as a foundation, for he would not have given way under any weight, however excessive.
  • What madness this is, to punish oneself because one is unfortunate, and not to lessen, but to increase one’s ills! You ought to display, in this matter also, that decent behaviour and modesty which has characterised all your life: for there is such a thing as self-restraint in grief also.
  • When we leave you and assemble together by ourselves, we talk freely about his sayings and doings, treating them with the respect which they deserve: in your presence deep silence is observed about him, and thus you lose that greatest of pleasures, the hearing the praises of your son, which I doubt not you would be willing to hand down to all future ages, had you the means of so doing, even at the cost of your own life.

On Anger to Novatus. Book I

  • You have demanded of me, Novatus, that I should write how anger may be soothed, and it appears to me that you are right in feeling especial fear of this passion, which is above all others hideous and wild: for the others have some alloy of peace and quiet, but this consists wholly in action and the impulse of grief, raging with an utterly inhuman lust for arms, blood and tortures, careless of itself provided it hurts another, rushing upon the very point of the sword, and greedy for revenge even when it drags the avenger to ruin with itself.
  • Some of the wisest of men have in consequence of this called anger a short madness: for it is equally devoid of self control, regardless of decorum, forgetful of kinship, obstinately engrossed in whatever it begins to do, deaf to reason and advice, excited by trifling causes, awkward at perceiving what is true and just, and very like a falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes.
  • That you may know that they whom anger possesses are not sane, look at their appearance; for as there are distinct symptoms which mark madmen, such as a bold and menacing air, a gloomy brow, a stern face
  • Other vices can be concealed and cherished in secret; anger shows itself openly and appears in the countenance, and the greater it is, the more plainly it boils forth. Do you not see how in all animals certain signs appear before they proceed to mischief, and how their entire bodies put off their usual quiet appearance and stir up their ferocity? Boars foam at the mouth and sharpen their teeth by rubbing them against trees, bulls toss their horns in the air and scatter the sand with blows of their feet
  • Next, if you choose to view its results and the mischief that it does, no plague has cost the human race more dear
  • See the foundations of the most celebrated cities hardly now to be discerned; they were ruined by anger. See deserts extending for many miles without an inhabitant: they have been desolated by anger.
  • What, if you were to pass from the consideration of those single men against whom anger has broken out to view whole assemblies cut down by the sword, the people butchered by the soldiery let loose upon it, and whole nations condemned to death in one common ruin... as though by men who either freed themselves from our charge or despised our authority?
  • Everything of this sort is not anger, but the semblance of anger, like that of boys who want to beat the ground when they have fallen upon it, and who often do not even know why they are angry, but are merely angry without any reason or having received any injury, yet not without some semblance of injury received, or without some wish to exact a penalty for it.
  • Thus they are deceived by the likeness of blows, and are appeased by the pretended tears of those who deprecate their wrath, and thus an unreal grief is healed by an unreal revenge.
  • We must admit, however, that neither wild beasts nor any other creature except man is subject to anger: for, whilst anger is the foe of reason, it nevertheless does not arise in any place where reason cannot dwell. Wild beasts have impulses, fury, cruelty, combativeness: they have not anger any more than they have luxury: yet they indulge in some pleasures with less self-control than human beings.
  • Dumb creatures have not human feelings, but have certain impulses which resemble them: for if it were not so, if they could feel love and hate, they would likewise be capable of friendship and enmity, of disagreement and agreement. Some traces of these qualities exist even in them, though properly all of them, whether good or bad, belong to the human breast alone.
  • To no creature besides man has been given wisdom, foresight, industry, and reflection.
  • To animals not only human virtues but even human vices are forbidden: their whole constitution, mental and bodily, is unlike that of human beings...they possess intellect, the greatest attribute of all, but in a rough and inexact condition. It is, consequently, able to grasp those visions and semblances which rouse it to action, but only in a cloudy and indistinct fashion. Their impulses and outbreaks are violent, and that they do not feel fear, anxieties, grief, or anger, but some semblances of these feelings: wherefore they quickly drop them and adopt the converse of them: they graze after showing the most vehement rage and terror, and after frantic bellowing and plunging they straightaway sink into quiet sleep.
  • What anger is has been sufficiently explained. The difference between it and irascibility is evident: it is the same as that between a drunken man and a drunkard; between a frightened man and a coward. It is possible for an angry man not to be irascible; an irascible man may sometimes not be angry. I shall omit the other varieties of anger, which the Greeks distinguish by various names, because we have no distinctive words for them in our language, although we call men bitter and harsh, and also peevish, frantic, clamorous, surly and fierce: all of which are different forms of irascibility.
  • Let us now enquire whether anger be in accordance with nature, and whether it be useful and worth entertaining in some measure.
  • What is more affectionate to others than man? Yet what is more savage against them than anger?
  • Mankind is born for mutual assistance, anger for mutual ruin: the former loves society, the latter estrangement.
  • The one loves to do good, the other to do harm; the one to help even strangers, the other to attack even its dearest friends.
  • The one is ready even to sacrifice itself for the good of others, the other to plunge into peril provided it drags others with it.
  • Who, then, can be more ignorant of nature than he who classes this cruel and hurtful vice as belonging to her best and most polished work?
  • Anger, as we have said, is eager to punish; and that such a desire should exist in man’s peaceful breast is least of all according to his nature; for human life is founded on benefits and harmony and is bound together into an alliance for the common help of all, not by terror, but by love towards one another.

Dialogi de Tranquillitate Animi (Concerning Peace of Mind)



  • Much must also be withdrawn into oneself: for a well-composed conversation of differences disturbs and renews the affections, and infuriates whatever is weak in the mind and has not been cared for...
    Loneliness will cure the hatred of the crowd, the boredom of solitude will be cured by the crowd.
    ... A certain dullness and languor of the mind is born from constant toil.
    ...Nor would the desire of men so much tend to this, unless play and fun had a kind of natural voluptuousness. The frequent use of which will relieve all the weight of the soul and all the vigor.
    For sleep is also necessary for refreshment, but if you continue it day and night, death will result.
  • It makes a big difference whether you give something back or pay it off...
    The framers of the laws instituted festivals, in order that men should be publicly compelled to gaiety, as a necessary temperance for labors; We remember the great orator Pollio Asinius, who was not detained by anything beyond the tenth hour: he did not even need letters for an hour after that, so that no new concern arose, but he put the fatigue of the whole day in those two hours. Some joined in the middle of the day and put off some lighter work in the afternoon hours. Our elders also forbade a new report to be made in the senate after ten o'clock. The army divided the vigils, and the night was safe from the return of the expedition.
  • The mind must be indulged, and leisure must be given from time to time, which is the place of food and strength.
  • To roam in open walks, that the soul may increase and lift itself up in the free air and with much spirit; sometimes travel and a change of country will give vigor, and marriage and more liberal drink. Sometimes even to the point of drunkenness, not that it drowns us, but that it depresses us: for it washes away cares and moves the mind from below, and, as with certain diseases, so it heals sadness.
  • You have, dearest Serene, things that can protect tranquility, things that restore it, things that resist creeping escapes. Be it known, however, that none of these things is sufficient for those who hold a feeble matter, unless a constant concern surrounds the slipping mind.

Other works

  • Mors dolorum omnium exsolutio est et finis ultra quem mala nostra non exeunt, quae nos in illam tranquillitatem in qua antequam nasceremur iacuimus reponit. Si mortuorum aliquis miseretur, et non natorum misereatur. Mors nec bonum nec malum est; id enim potest aut bonum aut malum esse quod aliquid est; quod uero ipsum nihil est et omnia in nihilum redigit, nulli nos fortunae tradit. Mala enim bonaque circa aliquam uersantur materiam: non potest id fortuna tenere quod natura dimisit, nec potest miser esse qui nullus est.
    • Death is a release from and an end of all pains: beyond it our sufferings cannot extend: it restores us to the peaceful rest in which we lay before we were born. If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing: but that which is nothing, and reduces all things to nothing, does not hand us over to either fortune, because good and bad require some material to work upon. Fortune cannot take ahold of that which Nature has let go, nor can a man be unhappy if he is nothing.
      • From Ad Marciam De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Marcia), cap. XIX, line 5
      • In L. Anneus Seneca: Minor Dialogues (1889), translated by Aubrey Stewart, George Bell and Sons (London), p. 190.
  • Quid opus est partes deflere? Tota flebilis uita est.
    • What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.
  • Nihil perpetuum, pauca diuturna sunt; aliud alio modo fragile est, rerum exitus variantur, ceterum quicquid coepit et desinit.
    • Nothing lasts forever, few things even last for long: all are susceptible of decay in one way or another; moreover all that begins also ends.
      • From Ad Polybium De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Polybius), chap. I; translation based on work of Aubrey Stewart
  • Magna servitus est magna fortuna.
    • A great fortune is a great slavery.
      • From Ad Polybium De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Polybius), chap. VI, line 5
  • It would be some consolation for the feebleness of ourselves and our works, if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.


  • Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
    • Has been attributed to Seneca since the 1990s (eg. Gregory K. Ericksen, (1999), Women entrepreneurs only: 12 women entrepreneurs tell the stories of their success, page ix.). Other books ascribe the saying to either Darrell K. Royal (former American football player, born 1924) or Elmer G. Letterman (Insurance salesman and writer, 1897-1982). However, it is unlikely either man originated the saying. A version that reads "He is lucky who realizes that luck is the point where preparation meets opportunity" can be found (unattributed) in the 1912 The Youth's Companion: Volume 86. The quote might be a distortion of the following passage by Seneca (who makes no mention of "luck" and is in fact quoting his friend Demetrius the Cynic):

      "The best wrestler," he would say, "is not he who has learned thoroughly all the tricks and twists of the art, which are seldom met with in actual wrestling, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them, and watches keenly for an opportunity of practising them." — Seneca, On Benefits, vii. 1


  • Si vis amari, ama.
    • If you wish to be loved, love.
      • Seneca quotes this in Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium; Epistle IX and attributes it to Hecato
  • Servare cives, major est virtus patriae patri.
    • To preserve the life of citizens, is the greatest virtue in the father of his country.
      • The quote is from a Roman tragedy Octavia; Act 2, Line 444, where Seneca advises Nero against carrying out his tyrannical plans. Seneca's attribution to the play is generally discredited by modern scholarship.

Quotes about Seneca

  • [Seneca] would have denounced the opinion to which most philosophers, tacitly or otherwise, have come round in the last half-century, that it is no part of the business of philosophy to turn people into better persons, as tantamount to desertion or lèse-majesté.
    • Robin Campbell, introduction to Seneca's Letters
  • [Seneca’s] tremendous faith in philosophy … was grounded on a belief that her end was the practical one of curing souls, of bringing peace and order to the feverish minds of men pursuing the wrong aims in life.
    • Robin Campbell, introduction to Seneca's Letters
  • He is refreshingly undogmatic, incomplete, and at times even senile. We cannot rightly accuse him of all the moralizing and dogmatism which spoiled the objective accuracy of medieval Science before Roger Bacon. Nor can we blame him for assuming that imprisoned air is the main agency in earthquakes, or for not knowing that the rainbow's colors are the result of decomposition of white light instead of a seeming color which does not really exist, or for believing that lightning melts metals and freezes wine, or that the sun is supported by exhalations from the earth. In his assumption, however, that comets may have orbits which carry them beyond the zodiac, that there is an evolutionary process in the world, and that rings round the sun are often the result of atmospheric conditions, he is sound. But after all, how accurate were the astronomers before Galileo, the physicists before Newton, or the biologists before Darwin? Seneca's guesses are as good as those of any other speculator before the discoveries of modern Science.
  • Seneca's virtue shows forth so live and vigorous in his writings, and the defense is so clear there against some of these imputations, as that of his wealth and excessive spending, that I would not believe any testimony to the contrary.
  • Caligula used to say that Seneca, who was very popular just then, composed "mere school exercises," and that he was "sand without lime."
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