Talk:Seneca the Younger

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External Links[edit]

  • [ Lucius Annaeus Seneca Quotes],

Note that current consensus, as seen on WQ:VP, is to not link to quote sites. Thanks ~ MosheZadka (Talk) 16:42, 29 July 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Quote format[edit]

The quotes in nested bullets (in particular the Epistles section) seemed to be too unorganized. I tried cleaning it up the following way:

When both Latin and its English translation is available for a quote, the Latin (italicized and followed by reference in parentheses ()) was placed in bullet level 1, then in the following line, the English translation was placed in bullet level 2.

If only one of Latin (italicized) or English is available, it was placed in level 1, also followed by a parenthesized reference.

--Immer in Bewegung 01:48, 24 April 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment"[edit]

I find this quote at all the usual suspects, but is it legitimate, I've never seen it sourced? – OttoMäkelä (talk) 12:26, 31 July 2013 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"True, False, Useful" Quote[edit]

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" is attributed to Seneca at, question III. 22:31, 26 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks for the comment, but that link is broken. I realize that you can find many, many, MANY places on the internet that repeat this quote, yet not a single one of them say precisely where this quote comes from (They never say which of Seneca's works includes this passage). If you google the quote you find hudreds and hundreds of people who repeat it, but not a single one of them seems to know where it came from. This has become somewhat of a personal quest for me these last few days. I even went to the old-fashioned public library to see if I could sort this out, but without any success. I am always wary of internet-circulated quotes that don't offer a decent citation. The thing that makes me wonder if this quote is genuine is this...

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. - Edward Gibbon (1776)(Chapter II: The Internal Prosperity In The Age Of The Antonines.—Part I. Second Paragraph)

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher. - Lucretius (94 BC - 49 BC)

Either a couple of these guys are plagiarist, or some internet fiend has been misattributing this quote and duping hundreds of other internet sites into thinking the quote is genuine. I can't find a proper citation for Lucretius either. Some sites say that the quote comes from his work On the Nature of Things. But I found a copy of this work[1] on the Internet and that quote wasn't in it. Something fishy is going on here. If these quotes are genuine, I want to accurately source them. If they aren't, we need to list them as "misattributed". - Big Brother 1984 22:11, 25 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I found a fairly comprehensive collection of Seneca's works here. I searched through every text they had available and could not find this passage. It's difficult to "prove a negative" and declare with certainty that Seneca never wrote these words, but I'm about ready to list this quote as "misattributed". I'll keep searching, though... - Big Brother 1984 00:02, 26 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I, ch. II:

"The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord." [2]

Since Gibbon was writing here about the beliefs of the ancient Romans, it appears that what he wrote has ended up attributed to Roman authors. It's analogous to a very well-known quote that has often been attributed to Voltaire; but it turns out to have been said by an author who was merely summarizing Voltaire's beliefs. - InvisibleSun 00:38, 26 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Something like that may be happening here. I ran into the same issue when I was trying to source a quote from Celsus -- Somebody had taken Origen's commentary on Celsus and attempted to guess what Celsus' original words were, then the quote began to circulate as Celsus' original words. But if the Seneca/Lucretius quotes are merely this kind of paraphrasing, they should be listed as misattributed.

But I do have some good news. According to this the two quotes (Seneca and Lucretius) come from a book by James Haught titled 2000 Years of Disbelief (Prometheus, 1996)[3]. I was able to determine where Haught got the Lucretius quote from. Luckily, the "look inside the book" feature let me see the Lucretius quote. It seems that Haught's source is a book by Ira D. Cardiff named What great men think of religion (New York, Arno Press, 1972 [c1945]) [4]. Now I just need to figure out where CarDiff found this quote.

As for Seneca's quote, it appears on page 21 of Haught's book, but the "free preview" ends with page 20. What a crock. The search continues... - Big Brother 1984 01:56, 26 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I found a copy of "What Great Men Think About Religion" by Ira D. Cardiff at the St. Louis Public Library. As far as I can tell, this book is THE source for both the Seneca quote and the similar passage by Lucretius. Unfortunately, the book doesn't include a bibliography. It doesn’t say explicitly where either of these quotes came from. The only clue to where these quotes came from can be found in the introduction to the book...

I was reared a Christian; was taught that good and great were, as a matter of course, always religious -- Christians to be sure.
Being a rather persistent and omnivorous reader, I, soon after reaching the age of discretion, began to discover that many of the great men of the past and present were not religious. In fact a great many seemed anti-religious.
After a time I commenced making note of some of the opinions of the great men and women with reference to religion, and I find after a number of years of this practice that I have accumulated a considerable number of such opinions - many of which are to me, exceedingly interesting.
[…]It is not maintained that they represent the thought of all great men, or of any certain group of class. The quotations are simply the gleanings from the desultory reading of a busy business man. - Ira D. Cardiff, introduction to "What Great Men Think About Religion" (1972 [c1945])

It appears that these quotes come from this "business man" who just found these quotes somewhere, and jotted them down in a little notebook -- but didn't bother to document where any of these quotes came from. Besides being a bit unscholarly, does this sound a litle fishy to anybody else? Every place on the internet that repeats this quote cites this book as a source (when they cite any source at all, that is). Is it possible that they've all been fooled by Dr. Cardiff? - Big Brother 1984 00:15, 28 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It is also cited in "The Great Quotations", p 627, George Seldes, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0817-5

Does it say where the quote comes from? The problem that I have with this quote is that have been unable to find it in any of Seneca's extant works. If Seneca did indeed write this line, I want to know where he wrote it. The same goes for the Lucretius quote as well. Books which merely repeat the quote don't do me any good. They all could be using the Cardiff book as a source. And as I explained above, this might not be a trustworthy source. - Big Brother 1984 23:27, 29 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Do check the Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius. Many quotes and anecdotes related to the ancient greats are found in that book, but not in their extant works, due to those works being lost in time. E.

Thanks for the suggestion. But it appears that Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers contains nothing about Seneca nor Lucretius. And yes... I am STILL curious about this issue TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS LATER. -- Big Brother 1984 20:07, 11 September 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I found a somewhat older source. "Little Journeys: To the homes of great philosophers" Volume 8 by Elbert Hubbard on page 79 (Google Books page link) published in 1916. Hubbard seems to be using the Edward Gibbon quote in some manner to show this sentiment. (I've not throughly looked at the source.) -- MicahDCochran 16:59, 7 November 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Here is the direct quote from Hubbard's book:

The Emperor was the head of the Church, and he usually encouraged the idea that he was something different from common men —that his mission was from On High and that he should be worshiped. Gibbon, making a free translation from Seneca, says, " Religion was regarded by the common people as true, by the philosophers as false, and by the rulers as useful."

It is the same quote except for it being in the past tense ("was") and using "philosophers" instead of wise. -- MicahDCochran 18:22, 7 November 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Possibly the earliest edition of this book (in volume 14) was printed in 1903 on page 60 (Google Books page link). It just seems to me that Hubbard is "making a free translation" of Gibbon. -- MicahDCochran 19:05, 7 November 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Just to say, wow, great work trying to find this. Thank you-- 00:14, 23 November 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

A "free translation"? Dammit. It looks like this thing is just as genuine as my favorite Voltaire quote. But I still don't understand how Seneca got dragged into all of this.
The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 1[5]
Why did Hubbard say that this passage by Gibbon was a "free translation" of Seneca? A free translation of what? The Gibbon passage appears to be the source of this quote, but Gibbon makes no mention of Seneca. It appears to be entirely Gibbon's own words. So why did Hubbard try to tie these words to Seneca? -- Big Brother 1984 04:25, 26 May 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I found a reference which sheds some light upon this discussion:

"The common worship was regarded," says Gibbon, "by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful." And this famous remark is little more than a translation from Seneca, who, after exposing the futility of the popular beliefs, adds: "And yet the wise man will observe them all, not as pleasing to the gods, but as commanded by the laws. We shall so adore all that ignoble crowd of gods which long superstition has heaped together in a long period of years, as to remember that their worship has more to do with custom than with reality." "Because he was an illustrious senator of the Roman people," observes St. Augustine, who has preserved for us this fragment, "he worshiped what he blamed, he did what he refuted, he adored that with which he found fault."

Wise, witty, eloquent kings of the platform and pulpit , edited by Melville De Lancey Landon, page 471. 23:15, 23 September 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It's been 6 years. Can we classify this quote as "misattributed" yet? -- Big Brother 1984 (talk) 07:29, 24 June 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I checked the Latin text of De Rerum Natura, it does not contain the quote attributed to Lucretius or anything like it. Not that the sentiment is entirely un-Lucretian, but this isn't even a reasonable gloss of anything he actually said. it's indeed amazing how these things spread on Internet.Fbunny (talk) 10:24, 19 December 2013 (UTC)Reply[reply]

SOLUTION TO THE QUESTION: The quotation of Augustine found in Landon (ed.), Wise, witty, eloquent kings of the platform and pulpit, referenced above, is itself merely a reproduction of something written by Archdeacon F. W. Farrar (see id. (1894) "Seekers after God," p. 45). Farrar quotes from Augustine, "City of God" ("De civitate dei") Book 6, Chapter 10, where Augustine quotes Seneca, "De superstitione" (a lost text attested only by Augustine, as far as I know). Augustine does NOT give the Seneca quotation in question. In fact, the misattributed Seneca quotation REALLY belongs to Gibbon, "Decline and Fall," Chapter 2 (p. 56 in vol. 1 of the Womersley edition for Penguin), and it runs, "The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful." Gibbon's words get "quoted," usually inexactly, throughout the 19th-century. Farrar (o.c.) caused the confusion by quoting Gibbon (somewhat inaccurately) and then saying, "And this famous remark is little more than a translation from Seneca..." Gibbon was not REALLY translating from Seneca. Rather, Farrar merely thought the substance of Gibbon's remark accurately reflected the opinion of Seneca-as-quoted-by-Augustine (in DCD 6.10). From there, the careless took up what were originally Gibbon's words and attributed them to Seneca. Clear?

"... a little crazy" quote[edit]

Hey y'all.

A long time back I memorized and enjoyed a quote attributed to Seneca. It's got lots of gHits but can't find a reputable source that verifies.

"Aliquando et insanire iucundum est." My translation would be, "At times, it can even be [or "be even"] enjoyable to be crazy." Obviously variants may be superior. I would not translate it so loosely as to turn it into, "Sometimes, you feel like a nut. Ain't we got fun."

If anybody has a source for the Latin, the phrase appears widely on webpages, usually by people taking the crazy and the enjoyable far too seriously. Or not seriously enough. Thanks! Eh Nonymous

Aulus scripsit:

Adding to this, unless anyone can provide the specific notation (work, book, chapter and line) for this "quote" as well as the original Latin, said quote has to be treated as suspect, at the very least.

In short, if you are going to post quotes allegedly from Classical authors, claiming some nebulous skene of truth, be prepared to back it up with the original language and commonly accepted citation of its source. Anything less is just masturbatory exhibitionism. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) at 6:56 on January 21, 2008 (UTC)

Running the phrase Aliquando et insanire iucundum est through Google Book Search, I got a number of results, including the original source. As seen here, it's from Seneca, Dialogue IX, Ad Serenum De Tranquillitate Animi, 17.10: Sive Graeco poetae credimus, aliquando et insanire iucundum est. ("If we believe the Greek poet, sometimes it is even pleasant to be mad.") The translation I used here is from one of the other Google Book Search results (which can be seen in their totality here). - InvisibleSun 07:21, 21 January 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Not sure about that Seneca quote, but Horace says in Carmina IV, 12: 28: "Dulce est desipere in loco", which translates exatly as the phrase you are looking for. Knobkerrie 14:29, 13 September 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Luck is what happens when..." Quote[edit]

This is listed on the wikiquote page on Luck but not here. Was this said by the Elder? Does anyone know more?

You mean the phrase: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I'm pretty sure it's not by Seneca (either of them). The oldest book on Google Book Search which ascribes this saying to Seneca is from 1999! [6]. Some earlier 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). Both men probably made use of the saying, indeed Elmer Letterman seems to have written a book entitled "Elmer Letterman's Book of Useful Quotations" (1972). But this saying pre-dates Darrell Royal, and predates Letterman's professional career. The oldest instance I can find of a quote like it is from the 1912 Youth's companion: Volume 86, [7], where we find written "HE is lucky who realizes that "luck" is the point where preparation meets opportunity." I doubt that's the earliest instance of the quote, but I can't trace it any further back. Singinglemon 19:32, 30 September 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I found a discussion [8] which pointed to the possible source of this quote. In Seneca's On Benefits [9], he writes:

"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."

Obviously there is no mention of "luck," and it's worth noting that Seneca is quoting his friend w:Demetrius the Cynic. Singinglemon 21:59, 21 July 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Quote about Death[edit]

  • Death is the release from all pain and complete cessation, beyond which our suffering will not extend. It will return us to that condition of tranquility, which we had enjoyed before we were born. Should anyone mourn the deceased, then he must also mourn the unborn. Death is neither good nor evil, for good or evil can only be something that actually exists. However, whatever is of itself nothing and which transforms everything else into nothing will not all be able to put us at the mercy of Fate.

I am moving this quote from the main page to the Discussion page due to sourcing issues. Quote was originally added to the Unsourced section (November 2006); the link to a poster that was on sale at the bodyworldshop was added in 2008. This link is now broken and returns a 404 error. In searching for another source to cite, I found that A) a Google Books search turns up no matches, while B) a Google internet search finds occurrences such as Myspace pages, a Xanga Site page, funeral home Guestbooks and a blogspot, but nothing which has sourcing info or even material that could be used as a basis for further searches. Perhaps someone else can locate new sourcing for this quote, but so far, my efforts in this regard have been fruitless. CononOfSamos (talk) 20:51, 23 April 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It can be found in De Consolatione ad Marciam XIX.5. Original Latin from
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.
I can't find the source of this exact translation. The essay doesn't appear in the popular Norton edition of Seneca's works, and Davie and Basore translate the passage slightly differently. Perhaps one of those kids on Myspace has a little Latin. - Calmypal 03:42, 8 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Congratulations & thanks to Calmypal for the above cite. You da man, Calmypal! Thanks to your info, I was able to locate the quote in question in a PDF download of Seneca's Minor Dialogues that I have on my computer. I will be adding this quote back to the main page as soon as I format it properly. CononOfSamos (talk) 23:34, 22 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]


Wikiquote no longer allows unsourced quotations, and they are in process of being removed from our pages (see Wikiquote:Limits on quotations). Accordingly, I have removed the recently added section on the Seneca the Younger page. The associated quote has now been moved to a new section (Other Works) with the best sourcing information that I was able to locate. If anyone has additional information about this quote ("Toil to make yourself remarkable ..."), please add it to the main page or record it here: a specific text by L. Anneus Seneca, or the original Latin, would be nice. CononOfSamos (talk) 00:21, 23 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Progress quote[edit]

"The greater part of progress is the desire for progress." I saw this attributed to Seneca on a loading page. Is this correctly attributed?--Brainy J (talk) 00:41, 30 August 2013 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Yes, "the greater part of progress is the desire to progress" is precisely how Richard Mott Gummere's translation reads [10] ; from Moral letters to Lucilius, letter 71, 36

Anger quote[edit]

Widely attributed to Seneca the Younger, on the web:

Anger: an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

I had a bit of a look on Google book search - there seems to be mention of it at least back to 1968, but that was a book of quotes for toastmakers (which sounds potentially unreliable) and I couldn't view the text for attribution details. Also couldn't find it on Wikisource. --Chriswaterguy (talk) 05:41, 31 August 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Very similar to these words from Moral letters to Lucilius, Letter 81, 22; translation by Richard Mott Gummere:

My master Attalus used to say: "Evil herself drinks the largest portion of her own poison." The poison which serpents carry for the destruction of others, and secrete without harm to themselves, is not like this poison; for this sort is ruinous to the possessor.

Cheers, IOHANNVSVERVS (talk) 18:31, 31 August 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
This form appears in The American Mercury Volume 92, page 35: "Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it's stored than to anything on which it's poured". This seems to be attributed to "Baptist Beacon" - there have been several publications with that name. --R. S. Shaw (talk) 01:01, 6 April 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]


Improperly sourced[edit]

  • 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.

“It is often better not to see an insult than to avenge it.”[edit]

I have seen the quote “It is often better not to see an insult than to avenge it.” attributed to Seneca (the younger). (Unfortunately I have lost the citation.) Can this be checked out and verified or falsified? Thanks! --Lbeaumont (talk) 12:18, 23 March 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"a blow which has long been foreseen...[edit]

The quote “a blow which has long been foreseen falls much less heavily upon us” is often cited and attributed to Seneca. It is found in his consolation letter to Marcia, IX. I suggest it be added to this collection. Thanks! --Lbeaumont (talk) 12:39, 6 May 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]