It is too late to begin to live just when you must cease to live!

I should like to buttonhole one of the oldsters and say to him: "I see that you have reached the highest life expectancy and are now close to a century or more; please give us an itemized account of your years. Calculate how much of that span was subtracted by a creditor, a mistress, a patron, a client, quarreling with your wife, punishing your slaves, gadding about the city on social duties. Add to the subtrahend self-caused diseases and the time left an idle blank. You will see that you possess fewer years than the calendar shows. Search your memory: how seldom you have had a consistent plan, how few days worked out as you intended, how seldom you have enjoyed full use of yourself, how seldom your face was unflurried, what accomplishments you have to show for so long a life, how much of your life has been pilfered by others without your being aware of it, how much of it you have lost, how much was dispensed on groundless regret, foolish gladness, greedy desire, polite society --- and then realize that your death will be premature."

Why should this be? It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last. Like the mortal you are, you are apprehensive of everything; but your desires are unlimited as if you were immortal. Many a man will say, "After my fiftieth year I shall retire and relax; my sixtieth year will release me from obligations." And what guarantee have you that your life will be longer? Who will arrange that your program shall proceed according to plan? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the tail end of life and to allot to serious thought only such time as cannot be applied to business? How late an hour to begin to live when you must depart from life! What stupid obliviousness to mortality to postpone counsels of sanity to the fifties or sixties, with the intention of beginning life at an age few have reached! . . .
- Seneca, "On the Shortness of Life"

[Updated 22-March-2007 @ 08:31 to replace text with a better version which can be found here. The page I grabbed it from is an excerpt from the beginning of the essay. Too bad they did not publish the whole thing, but it is quite long. This is the same as the translation found in Penguin's Letters From a Stoic. I would link to the Amazon site, but the past few weeks every time I go to Amazon, it sends my browser into a fit. The book is an excellent read and highly recommended by me.]


KayMac said…
good stuff! making me think
Richard said…
kaymac: I have a great love for the writings fo Seneca and MArcus Aurelius - both Stoic philosophers. Seneca writes beautiful letters and is well worth reading.
vina said…
wow. that, uhm, hit me.

i'll try to find this here. thanks richard!
Richard said…
vina: it is a good essay, I think it could have been shorter - but it still has lots of hmmmm moments in it.

I have always enjoyed Seneca's writings (but you have to get a good translation otherwise you suffer with some stuffy old English one).

Popular Posts