Towards the end of his life, Seneca the Younger (c4 BCE-65 CE) began a correspondence with a friend in Sicily, later collected under the title The Moral Epistles.
In these 124 letters, Seneca expresses, in a wise, steady and calm manner, the philosophy by which he lived – derived essentially from the Stoics. The letters deal with a variety of specific topics – often eminently practical – such as ‘On Saving Time’, ‘On the Terrors of Death’, ‘On True and False Friendships’, ‘On Brawn and Brains’ and ‘On Old Age and Death’.
His views are as relevant to us today as in his own time. He remarks on how we waste our time through lack of clarity of purpose, how we jump from one attraction to another and how fleeting life is. But these are letters to a friend, so the tone is not grandly didactic but friendly, personal and direct and speak to us across the centuries.
Though not so well known as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, The Moral Epistles are approachable, memorable and immensely rich in content – and especially so in this sympathetic reading by James Cameron Stewart.
Translation Richard Gummere.