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Letters on Ethics

To Lucilius

Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Margaret Graver and A. A. Long
The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE) recorded his moral philosophy and reflections on life as a highly original kind of correspondence. Letters on Ethics includes vivid descriptions of town and country life in Nero’s Italy, discussions of poetry and oratory, and philosophical training for Seneca’s friend Lucilius. This volume, the first complete English translation in nearly a century, makes the Letters more accessible than ever before.

Written as much for a general audience as for Lucilius, these engaging letters offer advice on how to deal with everything from nosy neighbors to sickness, pain, and death. Seneca uses the informal format of the letter to present the central ideas of Stoicism, for centuries the most influential philosophical system in the Mediterranean world. His lively and at times humorous expositions have made the Letters his most popular work and an enduring classic. Including an introduction and explanatory notes by Margaret Graver and A. A. Long, this authoritative edition will captivate a new generation of readers.


“Excellent. . . . This is an exceptionally accessible text. . . that will be invaluable not only to those interested in the letters as literary artifacts that open an important window onto imperial Rome’s cultural life, but also to readers engaging with the letters philosophically, as the lively and urgent writings of one of classical antiquity’s most important ethicists. . . . Essential.”


“Translators Margaret Graver and A.A. Long should be commended for reintroducing the Letters to a new generation. . . . A Seneca as approachable and fresh as he was thousands of years ago.”

American Conservative

“[An] excellent book. . . . The Stoic ideas are as relevant now as they were in the days of the emperor Nero and [Graver and Long] have done Seneca (and us) a great service in making the old man speak so clearly once again.”

Classics for All Reviews

"Graver and Long successfully manage to draw the reader in. . . . An accurate, readable and well-annotated translation of Seneca's letters."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of Contents

Seneca and His World
Introduction to the Letters on Ethics
Letters on Ethics
1          Taking charge of your time
2          A beneficial reading program
3          Trusting one’s friends
4          Coming to terms with death
5          Our inward and outward lives
6          Intimacy within friendship
7          Avoiding the crowd
8          Writing as a form of service
9          Friendship and self-sufficiency
10        Communing with oneself
11        Blushing
12        Visiting a childhood home
13        Anxieties about the future
14        Safety in a dangerous world
15        Exercises for the body and the voice
16        Daily study and practice
17        Saving for retirement
18        The Saturnalia festival
19        The satisfactions of retirement
20        The importance of being consistent
21        How reading can make you famous
22        Giving up a career
23        Real joy is a serious matter
24        Courage in a threatening situation
25        Effective teaching
26        Growing old
27        Real joy depends on real study
28        Travel is no cure for depression
29        A disillusioned friend
30        An Epicurean on his deathbed
31        Our mind’s godlike potential
32        Steadiness of aim
33        The use of philosophical maxims
34        Willingness is the key
35        Learning to be a friend
36        Helping another maintain his commitment
37        Service to philosophy is true freedom
38        Fewer words achieve more
39        Healthy and unhealthy desires
40        Oratory and the philosopher
41        God dwells within us
42        Good people are rare
43        Being the subject of gossip
44        Noble birth
45        A gift of books
46        A book by Lucilius
47        How we treat our slaves
48        Tricks of logic
49        Remembering old times
50        Blindness to one’s own faults
51        The party town of Baiae
52        Good learners and good teachers
53        A bad experience at sea
54        A near-fatal asthma attack
55        Passing the home of a recluse
56        Noisy lodgings above a bathhouse
57        A dark tunnel
58        A conversation about Plato
59        Steadiness of joy
60        Our prayers are all amiss
61        Preparing for death
62        Living the inner life
63        Consolation for the death of a friend
64        Our predecessors in philosophy
65        Some analyses of causation
66        All goods are equal
67        All goods are choiceworthy
68        The uses of retirement
69        Combating one’s faults
70        Ending one’s own life
71        Life’s highest good
72        Finding time for study
73        Gratitude toward rulers
74        Only the honorable is good
75        What it means to make progress
76        Some proofs that only the honorable is good
77        Facing death with courage
78        Coping with bodily pain
79        A trip around Sicily brings thoughts of glory
80        A quiet day at home
81        Gratitude for benefits received
82        Syllogisms cannot make us brave
83        Heavy drinking
84        The writer’s craft
85        Some objections to Stoic ethics
86        The rustic villa of Scipio Africanus
87        Poverty and wealth
88        The liberal arts
89        The divisions of philosophy
90        The beginnings of civilization
91        A terrible fire at Lyon
92        What we need for happiness
93        A premature death
94        The role of precepts in philosophy
95        The role of general principles
96        Complaints
97        A trial in the time of Cicero
98        The power of the mind
99        Consolation for the death of a child
100      A book by Papirius Fabianus
101      A sudden death
102      Renown and immortality
103      Those we meet may be dangerous to us
104      Why travel cannot set you free
105      How to avoid being harmed by other people
106      The corporeal nature of the good
107      An unexpected misfortune
108      Vegetarianism and the use of literature
109      Mutual aid among the wise
110      False fears and mistaken ideas of wealth
111      What we lose with our tricks of logic
112      A difficult pupil
113      Is a virtue an animate creature?
114      A debased style of eloquence
115      Fine language will not help us
116      The Stoic view of emotion
117      Propositions and incorporeals
118      A proper definition for the human good
119      Natural wealth
120      How we develop our concept of the good
121      Self-awareness in animate creatures
122      The hours of day and night
123      Resisting external influences
124      The criterion for the human good
Fragments of other letters
Textual Notes

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