Seneca On Reading

The more I read Seneca the more I like the man.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known simply as Seneca, was a philosopher and rhetorician.

Despite his vast wealth, he was one of the wealthiest persons in the Roman Empire, he preached indifference to wealth. He also happened to be a tutor, and then in AD 54, advisor to Emperor Nero. If the name Nero doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the one who tried to kill his mother.

Seneca subscribed to the philosophical school of Stoicism.

Regrettably, I was never introduced to Seneca until I was an adult.

I read Susanna Braund’s translation of De Clementia in 2011 but never got around to reading more. My mistake.

I was recently reminded of Seneca while reading Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. He writes

His work has seduced people like me and most of the friends to whom I introduced to his books, because he speaks to us; he walked the walk, and he focused on the practical aspect of Stoicism, down to the how to take a trip, how to handle oneself while committing suicide (which he was ordered to do) or mostly, how to handle adversity and poverty and, even more critically, wealth.

Searching my bookshelf for what I could find on Seneca, I settled on the epistles, in which he writes about moral and ethical questions, relating to personal experiences.

While many of these have been lost, 124 exist.

I thought this brief passage, from Seneca, IV, Loeb Classical Library Edition, offered something to think about this weekend.

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. Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner. Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.

Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. This is my own custom; from the many things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself.