Becoming More Stoic With Seneca

His best quotes, life, and works

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Seneca is one of the wisest and most complicated Stoic philosophers.

He saw emperors come and go. At one point, he was rumored to be the richest man in all Rome. Despite a life of political intrigue, risk, and bustle, he wrote plays and philosophical works fated to outlive him.

It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that he was a combination of Shakespeare, Socrates, and Thomas Jefferson. This is a combination so rare, that for most of history, scholars believed that Seneca the playwright and Seneca the philosopher were two different people!

His writings and life contain deep lessons about how to live well. Seneca is worth emulating and yet he also made decisions that are, at best, lessons in how to avoid ruin.

The fact that he is both a role model and an anti-model renders him relatable. He advises us from the hospital bed – he is sick and so are we, but he has wisdom for improving our condition.

His Life

Seneca was born around 4 BC in modern-day Spain. Like many ambitious Romans, he shortly moved to Rome where he eventually served as a senator. He was renowned for his oratory skill. Too renowned perhaps – he was exiled from Rome on grounds of being involved in an affair with an emperor’s sister. This charge was likely fabricated by his political enemies.

Almost 10 years later, Seneca was called out of exile by the ambitious and strategic Agrippina, the mother of the Roman emperor Nero, to serve as Nero’s tutor.

This role placed him in the powerful, yet precarious position of advising Rome’s most powerful man. Unfortunately, despite Seneca’s lessons, the emperor Nero was neither the most sane nor most virtuous emperor.

Nero’s early years were prosperous ones. It’s surmised that, at this point, Seneca, Agripinna, and another one of Nero’s tutors, Burrus essentially ran the Roman empire.

Yet Nero’s later reign was disastrous. Though some historians have argued that he’s painted in far too negative of a light, he was by most accounts greedy, impulsive, and unstable. Senators were pressured to play the sycophant to Nero’s childish behavior. Not all did. Those who didn’t faced exile or death.

In time, Nero’s rage turned to Seneca. The emperor ordered Seneca to commit suicide in 65 AD.

And so ended the life of a Stoic philosopher, advisor, and playwright.

His Work

He lives on through his writings. Seneca’s works have provided advice and insight to millions. His most famous works include an essay On Anger and his Moral Letters. Seneca’s Moral Letters are written to a friend, Lucilius, a Roman peer seeking counsel. They consult him on a range of important matters from time management, friendship, reading, and death. Seneca’s talent as a writer and advisor is on full display. They are exceptionally useful and practical.

They’re a key resource for Stoics and philosophers today. Seneca was an astute philosopher and political player. His understanding of human psychology was exemplary. Despite his flaws, perhaps in some measure because of them, he shares priceless insights into how to become more Stoic.

🎯 Action

Take a moment to reflect on some of Seneca’s best lines from the Moral Letters:

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. That which has been long expected comes more gently.

Seneca, Moral Letters 78

There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

Seneca, Moral Letters 13

Hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by.

Seneca, Moral Letters 1

🔗 Links

📱 Check out our course on Seneca in the Stoa app. It includes daily lessons and meditations on how to build a more resilient and Stoic life from the Stoic teacher.

Note – if you still want to use Stoa after trying a free trial but cannot afford it, reach out to us and we’ll give you a free account.

📚️ Our favorite books on Seneca are James Romm’s Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero and David Fideler’s Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living. Read Romm’s book for an in depth biography and go to Fideler’s for a sense of Seneca’s practical philosophy and how it can change a life.

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

🏆️ Share The Stoa Letter

If you find what we’re doing useful, please share it. Just have people sign up with your link below.

1 Referral — Cheatsheet on The Most Important Stoic Concepts— get access to our list of the most important Stoic concepts with links and instructions for putting each into practice.

3 Referrals – The Stoic Training Program PDF — in this 10-page guide, we share the three main ideas and practices that ground a Stoic approach to life.

5 Referrals – Five Stoic Meditations get five downloadable meditations to go deeper into your practice.

Share with your link below.

Join the conversation

or to participate.