Seneca wrote "On the Shortness of Life" circa 49 A.D. (C.E.). Some excerpts:

It is a general complaint among mankind, Paulinus, that Nature is niggardly: our alloted span is brief, and the term granted us flies by with such dizzy speed that all but a few exhaust it just when they are beginning to live. ... It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. Life is long enough and our allotted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone, under the pressure of the ultimate necessity, before we were aware it was going.


It is universally agreed, moreover, that no pursuit, neither eloquence nor the liberal arts, can be followed by a man preoccupied, for the mind can take nothing in deeply when its interests are fragmented, but spews back everything that is crammed into it. The least concern of the preoccupied man is life; it is the hardest science of all. Experts in other disciplines are numerous and common; some of them mere boys have been able to master so thoroughly that they could even play the teacher. But the science of life requires a whole lifetime, and the science of dying, which you may find more surprising, requires a whole lifetime. Many fine people have abandoned all their encumbrances, have renounced riches and business and pleasure, and have made it their one object, during the remainder of their span, to learn how to live. Even so, the greater number died confessing that they had not yet learned the art --- still less have those others learned it.


Life falls into three divisions --- past, present, and future. Of these, the present is transitory, the future uncertain, the past unalterable. This is the part over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be subjected to any man's control. But this part men preoccupied lose, for they have no leisure to look back on the past, and if they had there would be no pleasure in recollecting a regrettable episode. They are unwilling to call to mind time badly spent, therefore, and have no stomach for traversing again passages whose faults are obvious in retrospect though they were disguised at the time by the pander pleasure. No one willingly turns his mind back to the past unless his acts have all passed the censorship of his own conscience, which is never deceived; a man who has coveted much in his ambition, behaved arrogantly in his pride, used his victory without restraint, overreached by treachery, plundered out of avarice, squandered out of prodigality, must inevitably be afraid of his own memory. And yet that is the part of our time which is hallowed and sacrosanct, above the reach of human vicissitudes and beyond the sway of Fortune, impregnable to the vexations of want and fear and the assaults of disease; it is the part which is not subject to turmoil or looting; its possession is everlasting and free from anxiety. The days of our present come one by one, and each day minute by minute; but all the days of the past will appear at your bidding and allow you to examine them and linger over them at your will. Busy men have no time for this. Excursions into all the parts of its past are the privilege of a serene and untroubled mind; but the minds of the preoccupied cannot turn or look back, as if constricted by a yoke. And so their life vanishes into an abyss. However much water your pour on will do no good if there is no vessel ready to receive and hold it; and similarly it makes no difference how much time is given you if there is no place for it to settle and it passes through the cracks and holes of the mind. The present is fleeting, to the degree that to some it seems non-existent. It is always in motion, it flows on headlong; it ceases to be before it has come, and will no more brook delay than the firmament or the stars, whose incessant drive never allows them to remain stationary. It is only with the present that busy men are concerned, and the present is so transitory that it cannot be grasped; but because their attention is distracted in many directions they are deprived of even this little.

(From The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, translated by Moses Hadas (1900-1966), W. W. Norton & Company, 1958. See ^zhurnal 29 April 1999 BennettOnStoicism, and 12 June 1999 LivingPhilosophy.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2001 at 21:55:17 (EDT) = 2001-06-13


(correlates: LifeTimeManagement2, TwentyPercentLonger, SuspectTerrain, ...)