Seneca the Younger

From Wikiquote
(Redirected from Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
Jump to: navigation, search
Time discovers truth.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – A.D. 65), often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger, was a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist. He was son of Seneca the Elder.


The spirit in which a thing is given determines that in which the debt is acknowledged...


English translations of quotes in this section by Frank Justus Miller, Ph.D. except as otherwise noted
  • Do you seek Alcides' equal? None is, except himself.
    • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), line 84.
  • rursus prosperum ac felix scelus virtus vocatur; sontibus parent boni, ius est in armis, opprimit leges timor.
    • Once again prosperous and successful crime goes by the name of virtue; good men obey the bad, might is right and fear oppresses law.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 251-253; (Amphitryon)
    • Alternate translation: Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: Might makes right. (translator unknown).
  • inveniet viam aut faciet.
    • He [Hercules] will find a way — or make one.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), line 276; (Amphitryon)
    • In this line, Seneca adapts a well-known saying "Inveniam viam aut faciam" (commonly attributed to the Carthaginian general Hannibal) for use in his drama
  • Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit ; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest ; quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit.
    • Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 325-328; (Megara).
  • qui genus iactat suum, aliena laudat.
    • Who vaunts his race, lauds what belongs to others.
    • Alternate translation: He who boasts of his descent, praises the deeds of another (translator unknown).
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 340-341; (Lycus).
  • ars prima regni est posse invidiam pati.
    • 'Tis the first art of kings, the power to suffer hate.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 353; (Lycus)
    • Alternate translation: To be able to endure odium is the first art to be learned by those who aspire to power (translator unknown).
  • arma non servant modum; nec temperari facile nec reprimi potest stricti ensis ira; bella delectat cruor.
    • Arms observe no bounds; nor can the wrath of the sword, once drawn, be easily checked or stayed; war delights in blood.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 403-405; (Lycus).
  • quaeritur belli exitus, non causa.
    • Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), line 407; (Lycus).
  • Cogi qui potest nescit mori.
    • Who can be forced has not learned how to die.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), line 426; (Megara).
    • Alternate translation: Who can be compelled does not know how to die.
  • quae fuit durum pati, meminisse dulce est.
    • Things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall.
      • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 656-657; (Amphitryon)
    • Alternate translation: Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember. (translator unknown).
  • mens regnum bona possidet.
    • Tis the upright mind that holds true sovereignty.
      • Thyestes, line 380; (Chorus)
    • Alternate translation: A good mind possesses a kingdom. (translator unknown).
  • Illi mors gravis incubat
    Qui notus nimis omnibus
    Ignotus moritur sibi
    • On him does death lie heavily, who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown.
      • Thyestes, lines 401-403; (Chorus).
    • Alternate translation: Death weighs on him who is known to all, but dies unknown to himself. (The Philisophical Life by James Miller).
  • peior est bello timor ipse belli.
    • Worse than war is the very fear of war.
      • Thyestes, line 572 (Chorus).
  • Mens impudicam facere, non casus, solet.
    • Impurity is caused by attitude, not events.
      • Phaedra line 735; translation by Emily Wilson
  • Qui non vetat peccare cum possit, iubet.
    • He who, when he may, forbids not sin, commands it.
      • Troades (The Trojan Women), line 291 (Agamemnon)
    • Alternate translation: He who does not prevent a crime, when he can, encourages it. (translator unknown).
  • Pyrrhus: Mortem misericors saepe pro vita dabit.
    • Pyrrhus: Mercy often means giving death, not life.
      • Troades (The Trojan Women), line 329; Translation by Emily Wilson
  • Pyrrhus: Lex nulla capto parcit aut poenam impedit.
    Agamemnon: Quod non vetat lex, hoc vetat fieri pudor.
    Pyr: Quodcumque libuit facere victori licet.
    Agam.: Minimum decet libere cui multum licet.
    • Pyrrhus: No law demands mercy to prisoners
      Agamemnon: Though the law forbids it not, yet decency forbids it.
      Pyr: The victor is at liberty to do whatever he likes.
      Agam.: To whom much is allowed, it is least suitable to act wantonly.
      • Troades (The Trojan Women), lines 333-336
  • Iniqua nunquam regna perpetuo manent.
    • Unjust rule never abides continually.
      • Medea, line 196; (Medea)
    • Alternate translation: Unjust dominion cannot be eternal. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: Authority founded on injustice is never of long duration. (translator unknown).
  • Cui prodest scelus, is fecit.
    • Who profits by a sin has done the sin.
      • Medea, lines 500-501; (Medea)
    • Alternate translation: He who profits by crime commits it. (translator unknown).

Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius)[edit]

The best ideas are common property.
Full Latin texts at The Latin Library (link below) : Loeb Classical Library translations at Wikisource
English translations of quotes in this section by Richard Mott Gummere except as otherwise noted
  • What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?
    • Letter I: On Saving Time
  • For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands.
    • Letter I: On Saving Time
  • Sera parsimonia in fundo est.
    • It is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask.
      • Letter I: On saving time, line 5
    • This quote is often directly attributed to Seneca, but he is referring to lines 368-369 of Works and Days by the Greek poet Hesiod : Take your fill when the cask is first opened and when it is nearly spent, but midways be sparing: it is poor saving when you come to the lees. (translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White)
    • Alternate translation: Thrift comes too late when you find it at the bottom of your purse. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: It is too late to be thrifty when the bottom has been reached. (translator unknown).
  • Nusquam est qui ubique est. Vitam in peregrinatione exigentibus hoc evenit, ut multa hospitia habeant, nullas amicitias.
    • Who is everywhere is nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
      • Letter II: On discursiveness in reading, line 2.
  • Non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.
    • It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.
      • Letter II: On discursiveness in reading, line 6.
  • Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria sed exagitatae mentis concursatio.
    • For love of bustle is not industry – it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.
      • Letter III: On true and false friendship, line 5.
  • Nulli potest secura vita contingere qui de producenda nimis cogitat.
    • No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it.
      • Letter IV: On the terrors of death, line 4.
  • Plus tamen tibi et viva vox et convictus quam oratio proderit; in rem praesentem venias oportet, primum quia homines amplius oculis quam auribus credunt, deinde quia longum iter est per praecepta, breve et efficax per exempla.
    • Of course, however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word. You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.
      • Letter VI: On precepts and exemplars, line 5.
    • Alternate translation: Teaching by precept is a long road, but short and beneficial is the way by example.
  • Recede in te ipse quantum potes; cum his versare qui te meliorem facturi sunt, illos admitte quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines dum docent discunt.
    • Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.
      • Letter VII: On crowds, line 8.
  • sic vive cum hominibus tamquam deus videat, si loquere cum deo tamquam homines audiant.
    • Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.
      • Letter X: On living to oneself, line 5.
  • sciant quae optima sunt esse communia.
    • The best ideas are common property.
      • Letter XII: On old age, line 11.
  • Leve aes alienum debitorem facit, grave inimicum.
    • A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one makes him an enemy.
      • Letter XIX: On worldliness and retirement, line 11.
  • quid est sapienta? semper idem velle atque idem nolle.
    • What is wisdom? Always desiring the same things, and always refusing the same things.
      • Letter XX: On practicing what you preach, line 5
    • Here, Seneca uses the same observation that Sallust made regarding friendship (in his historical account of the Catilinarian conspiracy, Bellum Catilinae[XX.4]) to define wisdom.
  • Nemo quam bene vivat sed quam diu curat, cum omnibus possit contingere ut bene vivant, ut diu nulli.
    • Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long.
      • Letter XXII: On the futility of half-way measures, line 17.
  • Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem.
    • Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.
      • Letter XXIV: On despising death, line 12
    • Alternate translation: You will understand that there is nothing dreadful in this except fear itself. (translator unknown).
  • Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult.
    • If one doesn't know his mistakes, he won't want to correct them.
      • Letter XXVIII: On travel as a cure for discontent, line 9
    • Alternate translation: The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation (translated by Richard M. Gummere).
  • magnus gubernator et scisso navigat velo.
    • A great pilot can sail even when his canvas is rent.
      • Letter XXX: On conquering the conqueror, line 3.
  • Prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est. Ita dico, Lucili: sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque nostrorum observator et custos...
    • God is near you, with you, and in you. Thus I say, Lucilius: there sits a holy spirit within us, a watcher of our right and wrong doing, and a guardian...
      • Letter XLI: On the god within us, line 6-7
  • Rationale enim animal est homo.
    • Man is a reasoning animal.
      • Letter XLI: On the god within us, line 8.
  • Is qui scit plurimum, rumor.
    • That most knowing of persons – gossip.
      • Letter XLIII: On the relativity of fame, line 1.
  • Non refert quam multos sed quam bonos habeas.
    • It is quality rather than quantity that matters.
      • Letter XLV: On sophistical argumentation, line 1
    • Alternate translation : It is not how many [books] you have, but how good. (translator unknown).
  • Vis tu cogitare istum quem servum tuum vocas ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum.
    • Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives and dies. It is just as possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to see in you a slave.
      • Letter XLVII: On master and slave, line 10.
  • sic cum inferiore vivas quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere.
    • Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.
      • Letter XLVII: On master and slave, line 11
    • This can be related to other expressions on the ethics of reciprocity, often referred to as the variants of the Golden Rule.
  • qualis quisque sit scies, si quemadmodum laudet, quemadmodum laudetur aspexeris.
    • You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.
      • Letter LII: On choosing our teachers, line 12.
  • numquam vacat lascivire districtis, nihilque tam certum est quam otii vitia negotio discuti.
    • The much occupied man has no time for wantonness, and it is an obvious commonplace that the evils of leisure can be shaken off by hard work.
      • Letter LVI: On quiet and study, line 9
    • Alternate translation: Nothing is so certain as that the evils of idleness can be shaken off by hard work. (translator unknown).
  • Ante senectutem curavi ut bene viverem, in senectute ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori.
    • Before I became old I tried to live well; now that I am old, I shall try to die well; but dying well means dying gladly.
      • Letter LXI: On meeting death cheerfully, line 2.
  • Brevissima ad divitias per contemptum divitiarum via est.
    • The shortest way to wealth is through the contempt of wealth.
      • Letter LXII
  • Nulla res citius in odium venit quam dolor, qui recens consolatorem invenit et aliquos ad se adducit, inveteratus vero deridetur, nec inmerito.
    • Translation: Nothing becomes so offensive so quickly as grief. When fresh it finds someone to console it, but when it becomes chronic, it is ridiculed and rightly.
    • Letter LXIII, line 13.
  • Not lost, but gone before.
    • Letter LXIII, line 16.
  • Omnis ars naturae imitatio est.
    • All art is but imitation of nature.
      • Letter LXV: On the first cause, line 3.
  • Sapiens vivit quantum debet, non quantum potest.
    • The wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can.
      • Letter LXX: On the proper time to slip the cable, line 4.
  • errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est.
    • Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.
      • Letter LXXI: On the supreme good, line 3
    • Alternate translation: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. (translator unknown).
  • Eo animo quidque debetur quo datur, nec quantum sit sed a quali profectum voluntate perpenditur.
    • Our feeling about every obligation depends in each case upon the spirit in which the benefit is conferred; we weigh not the bulk of the gift, but the quality of the good-will which prompted it.
      • Letter LXXXI: , line 6
    • Alternate translation: The spirit in which a thing is given determines that in which the debt is acknowledged; it's the intention, not the face-value of the gift, that's weighed. (translator unknown).
  • Quemadmodum Attalus noster dicere solebat: "malitia ipsa maximam partem veneni sui bibit."[1]
    • As Attalus used to say: "Evil herself drinks the largest portion of her own poison."
      • Letter LXXXI: On benefits, line 22
  • Nihil aliud esse ebrietatem quam voluntariam insaniam.
    • Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness.
      • Letter LXXXIII: On Drunkenness, line 18.
  • Confragosa in fastigium dignitatis via est.
    • It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.
      • Letter LXXXIV: On gathering ideas, line 13
  • quemadmodum gladius neminem occidit: occidentis telum est.
    • A sword by itself does not slay; it is merely the weapon used by the slayer.
      • Letter LXXXVII: Some arguments in favor of the simple life, line 30
    • Seneca is here describing arguments used by 'certain men,' not stating his own opinion.
    • Alternate translation: A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. (translator unknown).
  • Satius est supervacua scire quam nihil.
    • It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.
      • Letter LXXXVIII: On liberal and vocational studies, line 45.
  • postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris.
    • Don't ask for what you'll wish you hadn't got.
      • Letter XCV: On the usefulness of basic principles, line 1
    • Seneca himself states that he is quoting a 'common saying' here.
    • Alternate translation: Do not ask for what you will wish you had not got. (translator unknown).
  • Saepe aliud volumus, aliud optamus, et verum ne dis quidem dicimus.
    • We often want one thing and pray for another, not telling the truth even to the gods.
      • Letter XCV: On the usefulness of basic principles, line 2.
  • Non privatim solum sed publice furimus. Homicidia conpescimus et singulas caedes: quid bella et occisarum gentium gloriosum scelus? Non avaritia, non crudelitas modum novit. Et ista quamdiu furtim et a singulis fiunt minus noxia minusque monstrosa sunt: ex senatus consultis plebisque scitis saeva exercentur et publice iubentur vetata privatim. Quae clam commissa capite luerent, tum quia paludati fecere laudamus. Non pudet homines, mitissimum genus, gaudere sanguine alterno et bella gerere gerendaque liberis tradere, cum inter se etiam mutis ac feris pax sit. Adversus tam potentem explicitumque late furorem operosior philosophia facta est et tantum sibi virium sumpsit quantum iis adversus quae parabatur acceserat.
    • We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples? There are no limits to our greed, none to our cruelty. And as long as such crimes are committed by stealth and by individuals, they are less harmful and less portentous; but cruelties are practised in accordance with acts of senate and popular assembly, and the public is bidden to do that which is forbidden to the individual. Deeds that would be punished by loss of life when committed in secret, are praised by us because uniformed generals have carried them out. Man, naturally the gentlest class of being, is not ashamed to revel in the blood of others, to wage war, and to entrust the waging of war to his sons, when even dumb beasts and wild beasts keep the peace with one another. Against this overmastering and widespread madness philosophy has become a matter of greater effort, and has taken on strength in proportion to the strength which is gained by the opposition forces.
      • Letter XCV: On the usefulness of basic principles, lines 30-32.
  • At quanto ego de illis melius existimo! ipsi quoque haec possunt facere, sed nolunt. Denique quem umquam ista destituere temptantem? cui non faciliora apparuere in actu? Non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus difficilia sunt.
    • But how much more highly do I think of these men! They can do these things, but decline to do them. To whom that ever tried have these tasks proved false? To what man did they not seem easier in the doing? Our lack of confidence is not the result of difficulty. The difficulty comes from our lack of confidence.
    • Also translated as: It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, but because we do not dare, things are difficult.
      • Letter CIV, verse 26
  • Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe.
    • If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.
      • Letter CIV: On care of health and peace of mind, line 12
    • Alternate translation: Hope not without despair, despair not without hope. (translated by Zachariah Rush).
  • Quemadmodum omnium rerum, sic litterarum quoque intemperantia laboramus: non vitae sed scholae discimus.
    • Just as we suffer from excess in all things, so we suffer from excess in literature; thus we learn our lessons, not for life, but for the lecture room.
      • Letter CVI: On the corporeality of virtue, line 12
    • Alternate translation: Not for life, but for school do we learn. (translator unknown)
    • Alternate translation: We are taught for the schoolroom, not for life. (translator unknown).
  • Magna pars libertatis est bene moratus venter et contumeliae patiens.
    • A great step towards independence is a good-humored stomach, one that is willing to endure rough treatment.
      • Letter CXXIII: On the conflict between pleasure and virtue, line 3.

Moral Essays[edit]

English translations of quotes in this section by Aubrey Stewart except as otherwise noted
  • Qui grate beneficium accipit, primam eius pensionem solvit.
    • He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first instalment of it.
      • De Beneficiis (On Benefits): Book 2, cap. 22, line 1.
  • Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes uiros.
    • Fire tries gold, misfortune tries brave men.
      • De Providentia (On Providence): cap. 5, line 9
    • Alternate translation: Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men. (translator unknown).
  • bonus iudex damnat inprobanda, non odit.
    • A good judge condemns wrongful acts, but does not hate them.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 1, cap. 16, line 6.
  • nemo autem regere potest nisi qui et regi.
    • No one is able to rule unless he is also able to be ruled.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 15, line 4
    • Compare with the following : No man ruleth safely but that he is willingly ruled.
      • From The Imitation of Christ, Liber I, cap. 20 (Of the Love of Solitude and Silence), line 2 : by Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471).
  • Contra primus itaque causas pugnare debemus; causa autem iracundiae opinio iniuriae est, cui non facile credendum est. Ne apertis quidem manifestisque statim accedendum; quaedam enim falsa ueri speciem ferunt. Dandum semper est tempus: ueritatem dies aperit.
    • The cause of anger is the belief that we are injured; this belief, therefore, should not be lightly entertained. We ought not to fly into a rage even when the injury appears to be open and distinct: for some false things bear the semblance of truth. We should always allow some time to elapse, for time discloses the truth.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 22, line 2
    • Alternate translation: Time discovers truth. (translator unknown).
  • fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus
    • No man expects such exact fidelity as a traitor.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 28, line 7.
  • Magna pars hominum est quae non peccatis irascitur, sed peccantibus.
    • A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 28, line 8
  • Hoc habent pessimum animi magna fortuna insolentes: quos laeserunt et oderunt.
    • This is the worst trait of minds rendered arrogant by prosperity, they hate those whom they have injured.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 33, line 6
    • Alternate translation: Men whose spirit has grown arrogant from the great favour of fortune have this most serious fault – those whom they have injured they also hate. (translation by John W. Basore)
    • Alternate translation: Whom they have injured they also hate. (translator unknown).
  • Irascetur aliquis: tu contra beneficiis prouoca; cadit statim simultas ab altera parte deserta; nisi paria non pugnant.
    • If any one is angry with you, meet his anger by returning benefits for it: a quarrel which is only taken up on one side falls to the ground: it takes two men to fight.
      • De Ira (On Anger): Book 2, cap. 34, line 5.
  • Aut potentior te aut inbecillior laesit: si inbecillior, parce illi, si potentior, tibi.
    • He who has injured thee was either stronger or weaker than thee. If weaker, spare him; if stronger, spare thyself.
      • De Ira (On Anger); Book III, Chapter V
  • Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat.
    • I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.
      • De Vita Beata (On the Happy Life): cap. 2, line 2
    • Alternate translation: I do not distinguish by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge of the man. (translator unknown).
  • Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est.
    • All savageness is a sign of weakness.
      • De Vita Beata (On the Happy Life): cap. 3, line 4
    • Alternate translation: All cruelty springs from weakness. (translator unknown)
      • As quoted in Caxtoniana: A Series of Essays on Life, Literature, and Manners (1864), Harper & brothers, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, p. 174 (in the essay The Sympathetic Temperment).

On Tranquility of the Mind[edit]

A letter to Serenus as translated in Tranquillity of Mind and Providence (1900) by William Bell Langsdorf
  • We are all chained to fortune: the chain of one is made of gold, and wide, while that of another is short and rusty. But what difference does it make? The same prison surrounds all of us, and even those who have bound others are bound themselves; unless perchance you think that a chain on the left side is lighter. Honors bind one man, wealth another; nobility oppresses some, humility others; some are held in subjection by an external power, while others obey the tyrant within; banishments keep some in one place, the priesthood others. All life is slavery. Therefore each one must accustom himself to his own condition and complain about it as little as possible, and lay hold of whatever good is to be found near him. Nothing is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find comfort in it. Small tablets, because of the writer's skill, have often served for many purposes, and a clever arrangement has often made a very narrow piece of land habitable. Apply reason to difficulties; harsh circumstances can be softened, narrow limits can be widened, and burdensome things can be made to press less severely on those who bear them cleverly.
  • That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.
  • Should I be surprised that dangers which have always surrounded me should at last attack me? A great part of mankind, when about to sail, do not think of a storm. I shall never be ashamed of a reporter of bad news in a good cause.
    • Variant translation: I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good.
  • Virtue runs no risk of becoming contemptible by being exposed to view, and it is better to be despised for simplicity than to be tormented by continual hypocrisy.
  • Our minds must have relaxation: rested, they will rise up better and keener. Just as we must not force fertile fields (for uninterrupted production will quickly exhaust them), so continual labor will break the power of our minds. They will recover their strength, however, after they have had a little freedom and relaxation.
  • Whether we believe the Greek poet, "it is sometimes even pleasant to be mad", or Plato, "he who is master of himself has knocked in vain at the doors of poetry"; or Aristotle, "no great genius was without a mixture of insanity"; the mind cannot express anything lofty and above the ordinary unless inspired. When it despises the common and the customary, and with sacred inspiration rises higher, then at length it sings something grander than that which can come from mortal lips. It cannot attain anything sublime and lofty so long as it is sane: it must depart from the customary, swing itself aloft, take the bit in its teeth, carry away its rider and bear him to a height whither he would have feared to ascend alone.
    • In Latin, nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit (There is no great genius without some touch of madness). This passage by Seneca is the source most often cited in crediting Aristotle with this thought, but in Problemata xxx. 1, Aristotle says: 'Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholic?' The quote by Plato is from the Dialogue Phaedrus (245a).

Other Works[edit]

  • Mors dolorum omnium exsolutio est et finis ultra quem mala nostra non exeunt, quae nos in illam tranquillitatem in qua antequam nasceremur iacuimus reponit. Si mortuorum aliquis miseretur, et non natorum misereatur. Mors nec bonum nec malum est; id enim potest aut bonum aut malum esse quod aliquid est; quod uero ipsum nihil est et omnia in nihilum redigit, nulli nos fortunae tradit. Mala enim bonaque circa aliquam uersantur materiam: non potest id fortuna tenere quod natura dimisit, nec potest miser esse qui nullus est.
    • Death is a release from and an end of all pains: beyond it our sufferings cannot extend: it restores us to the peaceful rest in which we lay before we were born. If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing: but that which is nothing, and reduces all things to nothing, does not hand us over to either fortune, because good and bad require some material to work upon. Fortune cannot take ahold of that which Nature has let go, nor can a man be unhappy if he is nothing.
      • From Ad Marciam De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Marcia), cap. XIX, line 5
      • In L. Anneus Seneca: Minor Dialogues (1889), translated by Aubrey Stewart, George Bell and Sons (London), p. 190.
  • Nihil perpetuum, pauca diuturna sunt; aliud alio modo fragile est, rerum exitus variantur, ceterum quicquid coepit et desinit.
    • Nothing lasts forever, few things even last for long: all are susceptible of decay in one way or another; moreover all that begins also ends.
      • From Ad Polybium De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Polybius), chap. I; translation based on work of Aubrey Stewart
  • magna servitus est magna fortuna.
    • A great fortune is a great slavery.
      • From Ad Polybium De Consolatione (Of Consolation, To Polybius), chap. VI, line 5
  • Shun no toil to make yourself remarkable by some talent or other; yet do not devote yourself to one branch exclusively. Strive to get clear notions about all. Give up no science entirely; for science is but one.
    • In Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1862), Henry Southgate (ed.), Griffin, Bohn, and Co. (London), p. 340.

Quotes about Seneca[edit]

  • [Seneca] would have denounced the opinion to which most philosophers, tacitly or otherwise, have come round in the last half-century, that it is no part of the business of philosophy to turn people into better persons, as tantamount to desertion or lèse-majesté.
    • Robin Campbell, introduction to Seneca's Letters
  • [Seneca’s] tremendous faith in philosophy … was grounded on a belief that her end was the practical one of curing souls, of bringing peace and order to the feverish minds of men pursuing the wrong aims in life.
    • Robin Campbell, introduction to Seneca's Letters
  • He is refreshingly undogmatic, incomplete, and at times even senile. We cannot rightly accuse him of all the moralizing and dogmatism which spoiled the objective accuracy of medieval Science before Roger Bacon. Nor can we blame him for assuming that imprisoned air is the main agency in earthquakes, or for not knowing that the rainbow's colors are the result of decomposition of white light instead of a seeming color which does not really exist, or for believing that lightning melts metals and freezes wine, or that the sun is supported by exhalations from the earth. In his assumption, however, that comets may have orbits which carry them beyond the zodiac, that there is an evolutionary process in the world, and that rings round the sun are often the result of atmospheric conditions, he is sound. But after all, how accurate were the astronomers before Galileo, the physicists before Newton, or the biologists before Darwin? Seneca's guesses are as good as those of any other speculator before the discoveries of modern Science.
  • Seneca's virtue shows forth so live and vigorous in his writings, and the defense is so clear there against some of these imputations, as that of his wealth and excessive spending, that I would not believe any testimony to the contrary.
  • Caligula used to say that Seneca, who was very popular just then, composed "mere school exercises," and that he was "sand without lime."


  • Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
    • Has been attributed to Seneca since the 1990s (eg. Gregory K. Ericksen, (1999), Women entrepreneurs only: 12 women entrepreneurs tell the stories of their success, page ix.). Other books ascribe the saying to either Darrell K. Royal (former American football player, born 1924) or Elmer G. Letterman (Insurance salesman and writer, 1897-1982). However, it is unlikely either man originated the saying. A version that reads "He is lucky who realizes that luck is the point where preparation meets opportunity" can be found (unattributed) in the 1912 The Youth's Companion: Volume 86. The quote might be a distortion of the following passage by Seneca (who makes no mention of "luck" and is in fact quoting his friend Demetrius the Cynic):

      "The best wrestler," he would say, "is not he who has learned thoroughly all the tricks and twists of the art, which are seldom met with in actual wrestling, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them, and watches keenly for an opportunity of practising them." --- Seneca, On Benefits, vii. 1

  • Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
    • This line was popularized by Semisonic in their hit "Closing Time," and has been widely attributed to Seneca (though also attributed to Anonymous, and Traditional Roman Proverb).

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about: