On the Shortness of Life (or) Life is Long if You Know how to Use it


Seneca the younger

Essay / Lette
Seneca the younger


Another publication best summarized by the quotes contained within it. Seneca was a tutor and advisor to Nero in AD 54 -62, later wrongfully caught up in the Pisonian Conspiracy (the plot to kill Nero), and forced to take his own life. His writing – essays, plays, transcripts of conversations – were crucial precursors to many subsequent theories and writing on time, desire and emotion; he is also regarded as the source and inspiration for what is now know as the ‘Revenge Tragedy’. A collection of three moral essays written to his father in law, On the Shortness of Life does indeed feel like a message from a friend; it seems impossible that this could be a transmission from over 2,000 years ago. In brief, the book is a stringent reminder about the non-renewability of our most important resource: time.

‘You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day… Nothing can be taken from this life, and you can only add to it as if giving to a man who is already full and satisfied food which he does not want but can hold. So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.’

A genuinely illuminating treatise against the methods procrastination and distraction we can develop when holding a version of an ideal future in mind, without ever really setting out to attain it. Or, as it has been quipped at Lawson Park (and as benefits any other working farm and garden… or anything? for that matter): ‘Do it when you see it.’