From Seneca's "On the Shortness of Life":

The only people really at leisure are those who take time for philosophy. They alone really live. It is not their lifetime alone of which they are careful stewards: they annex every age to their own and exploit all the years that have gone before. Unless we prove ingrate, it was for us that the illustrious founders of divine schools of thought came into being, for us they prepared a way of life. By the exertions of others we are led to the fairest treasures, raised to the light out of the darkness in which they were mired. No age is forbidden to us, we have admittance to all, and if we choose to transcend the narrow bounds of human frailty by loftiness of mind, there is a vast stretch of time for us to roam. We may dispute with Socrates, doubt with Carneades, repose with Epicurus, transcend human nature with the Stoics, defy it with the Cynics. Since Nature allows us to participate in any age, why should we not betake ourselves in mind from this petty and ephemeral span to the boundless and timeless region we can share with our betters?


Only men who make Zeno and Pythagoras and Democritus and the other high priests of liberal studies their daily familiars, who cultivate Aristotle and Theophrastus, can properly be said to be engaged in the duties of life. None of these will be "not at home," none will send his visitor away without making him happier and better contented with himself, none will allow a visitor to leave him empty-handed, and they are accessible to all comers, night and day.

None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how. None of these will wear your years away, but rather add his own to yours. Conversation with them is not subversive, association not a capital offense, and no great expense is involved in cultivating them. You can carry home whatever you like: it will not be their fault if you do not draw as deeply as you like from their wellsprings. What felicity awaits the man who has enrolled as their client, what a fair old age! He will have friends with whom he can deliberate on matters great and small, whom he may consult about his problems every day, from whom he can hear truth without offense and praise without flattery, after whose likeness he may mold himself.

It is a common saying that a man's parents are not of his own choosing but allotted to him by chance. But we can choose our genealogy. Here are families with noble endowments: choose whichever you wish to belong to. Your adoption will give you not only the name but actually the property, and this you need not guard in a mean or niggardly spirit: the more people you share it with, the greater will it become. These will open the path to eternity for you and will raise you to a height from which none can be cast down. This is the sole means of prolonging your mortality, rather of transforming it into immortality. Honors, monuments, all that ambition has blazoned in inscriptions or piled high in stone will speedily sink to ruin; there is nothing that the lapse of time does not dilapidate and exterminate. But the dedications of philosophy are impregnable; age cannot erase their memory or diminish their force. Each succeeding generation will hold them in ever higher reverence; what is close at hand is subject to envy, whereas the distant we can admire without prejudice. The philosopher's life is therefore spacious: he is not hemmed in and constricted like others. He alone is exempt from the limitations of humanity; all ages are at his service as at a god's. Has time gone by? He holds it fast in recollection. Is time now present? He utilizes it. Is it still to come? He anticipates it. The amalgamation of all time into one makes his life long.

(From The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, translated by Moses Hadas (1900-1966), W. W. Norton & Company, 1958. See ^zhurnal LifeTimeManagement1 and 30 May 2000 HeadlineSocrates.)

Sunday, June 17, 2001 at 18:24:05 (EDT) = 2001-06-17

TopicStoicism - TopicThinking - TopicLife

(correlates: LifeTimeManagement1, OutOfMyWay, ElusivePimpernel, ...)