30 Days of Seneca, the Perfect Quarantine Companion

30 quotes to ponder and help you get through this and other challenges

30 days of Seneca image2,000+ year-old Roman philosopher by the name of Lucius Annaeus Seneca has been one of my closest companions during this time of quarantine

The reason for this is that, thirty days ago, I took up a challenge to write a short reflection on a quote from Seneca the Younger’s book “Letters from a Stoic” for 30 consecutive days.

This has been quite an exercise in constancy! But one couldn’t ask for a better teacher during these extraordinary times than Seneca. Loss, death, distance and misfortune, though always around us, have been magnified by the pandemic. It just so happens that these are some of Seneca’s topics of choice. 

It’s mind boggling to think that Seneca’s words seem to have been written last month and not over 2,000 years ago.

How did I come across Seneca and Stoicism?

Cesar, my husband, is an avid listener of the Tim Ferriss podcast. Because Tim Ferriss talks about Stoicism a lot, Cesar became interested in it and brought home the books Meditations (by Marcus Aurelius), Letters from a Stoic (by Seneca the Younger), and How to Be a Stoic (by Massimo Pigliucci).

These books (which I highly recommend) and content from a few websites constitute all my reading on Stoic philosophy.

Of the two ancient Stoic writers, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, Seneca is far more relatable and quotable. You can open his Letters to any page and I guarantee you’ll find at least three quotable passages or sentences. 

For my challenge, I first used the quotes I’d included in a “Favorite Quotes” document I keep. After running out of quotes by day 14 or so, I’d just open Letters from a Stoic on a random page and read until I found something I’d like to dive deeper into. It didn’t take long at all.

What’s special about my reflections when you can find hundreds of articles online on Seneca and Stoic philosophy?

All I can say about my take is that it’s coming from from a 50-year-old woman whose favorite color is yellow, who was born and raised in Venezuela, became a US citizen in 2008 and works as a preschool special education teacher. 

Because every person’s story is in some way unique, everyone’s take would be different in some way too.

Here, then, dear reader, are the quotes and themes I covered over the past thirty days, with links to each reflection. The list is alphabetized by theme.

I hope these quotes and reflections help you lead a happier and better life, or at least give you some insights into your deepest self.


Anger

“The outcome of violent anger is a mental raving, and therefore anger is to be avoided not for the sake of moderation but for the sake of sanity.”

“It is borne of love as well as hate, and is as liable to arise in the course of sport or jesting as in affairs of a serious kind.”

Awareness of Life and Death

“This day’s my last or maybe it isn’t, but it’s not so far away from it.”

“Every life without exception is a short one.”

“Death ought to be right there before the eyes of a young man just as much as an old one — the order in which we each receive our summons is not determined by our precedence in the register… no one is so very old that it would be quite unnatural for him to hope for one more day.”

Bad Company

“So long as you associate with a person who’s mean and grasping you will remain a money-minded individual yourself. So long as you keep arrogant company, just so long will conceit stick to you. Cruelty you’ll never say goodbye to while you share the same roof with a torturer. If you wish to be stripped of your vices you must get right away from the examples others set of them.”

Bad Vs Many

“You should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you.”

On Choice

“There is a world of difference between, on the one hand, choosing not to do what is wrong and, on the other, not knowing how to do it in the first place.”

Common Property

“Whatever is true is my property. And I shall persist in inflicting Epicurus on you, in order to bring it home to the people who take an oath of allegiance to someone and never afterwards consider what is being said but only who said it, that the things of greatest merit are common property.”

Dangers Vs Fears

“Our fears are always more numerous than our dangers.”

Death

“You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive. That end still awaits you when you have been cured.”

Fear

“To be feared is to fear: no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind himself.”

Friendship

“After friendship is formed you must trust, but before that you must judge.”

Genius

“There is a sequence about the creative process, and a work of genius is a synthesis of its individual features from which nothing can be subtracted without disaster.”

Greatness

“It is a great man that can treat his earthenware as if it was silver, and a man who treats his silver as if it was earthenware is no less great.”

Language

“Words need to be sown like seeds. No matter how tiny a seed may be, when it lands in the right sort of ground it unfolds its strength and from being minute expands and grows to a massive size… Yes, precepts have the same features as seeds: they are of compact dimensions, and they produce impressive results — given, as I say, the right sort of mind, to grasp at and assimilate them.”

Leaders

“A man who follows someone else not only does not find anything, he is not even looking… Yes indeed, I shall use the old road, but if I find a shorter and easier one I shall open it up. The men who pioneered the old routes are leaders, not our masters.”

Longevity

“As it is with a play, so it is with life — what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.”

Loss

“The growth of things is a tardy process and their undoing is a rapid matter.”

The Mind

“The more the mind takes in the more it expands.”

Perseverance

“You have to persevere and fortify your pertinacity until the will to do good becomes a disposition to good.”

Poverty

“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the man who hankers for more.”

Praise

“Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away.”

Punishment

“To expect punishment is to suffer it; and to earn it is to expect it. Where there is a bad conscience, some circumstance or other may provide one with impunity, but never with freedom from anxiety.”

Right and Wrong

“How much better to pursue a straight course and eventually reach that destination where the things that are pleasant and the things that are honourable finally become, for you, the same.”

Role Models

There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.

Stoic Attitude

“Whatever can happen at any moment can happen today.”

“Just as I know that anything is capable of happening so also do I know that it’s not bound to happen. So I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite.”

Temperament

“The active man should be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action.”

Unhappiness

“No one confines his unhappiness to the present.”

Vices

“Vices are manifold, take countless different forms and are incapable of classification. Devotion to what is right is simple, devotion to what is wrong is complex and admits of infinite variations.”

Wisdom

“If we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts.”

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Seneca on the Power of Words

We can use them to plant all manner of ideas

Seedling on hand
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

“Words need to be sown like seeds. No matter how tiny a seed may be, when it lands in the right sort of ground it unfolds its strength and from being minute expands and grows to a massive size… Yes, precepts have the same features as seeds: they are of compact dimensions, and they produce impressive results — given, as I say, the right sort of mind, to grasp at and assimilate them.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

Oh, the power and mystery of words! Physically, spoken words are no more than a number of discrete sounds we produce and blend together. As for the written word, what we have is a collection of symbols representing such sounds.

The significance and potential of words, though, is infinite.

Seneca’s quote refers to words as the seeds one can use to grow ideas. Words can be minute, but ideas can grow to a massive size.

Ideas take many forms and can promote community and love just as much as they can sow death and destruction. That’s why a dangerous idea is never “just an idea.”

Ideas captured in words can drive people to do horrible things. The idea of racial superiority comes to mind. Ultimately, it has translated into tragedies like slavery, ethnic cleansing, holocausts and genocide.

In these United States we have something called “free speech,” which makes it possible for us to use words for good and bad. What a huge privilege and responsibility, especially when you’re in a position of power and influence.

I can’t help but think of some politicians, especially the one at the top of the Executive branch, who, instead of harnessing the power of words for good during the COVID-19 pandemic, uses it to sow confusion at all levels, from the risks involved to potential treatments.

Seneca’s quote focuses on words planted to produce good. For the Stoics, the good virtues to cultivate were wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. You may hold different ideals. Whatever they may be, though, if you care to promote them, then your words are your seeds.

Seneca also emphasizes that, to grow big, the seeds need to land “in the right sort of ground.” Just as seeds die when they land on the wrong ground, our words will be wasted on people who refuse — or are not ready — to hear them.

But what is the “right sort of ground” for our words and precepts? Seneca describes it as the mind able “to grasp and assimilate them.” In my view, the best mind is an open, critical mind. 

Likewise, we must remember that the effect of our words also depends on us. Are we meeting our audience where it’s at? Are we really listening?


Day 29 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.

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