Seneca’s On Leisure

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

A series of short audio meditations on Seneca’s advice concerning how to spend our time.

I: Leisure is important to be able to pursue the good life, and yet by itself it is not sufficient. Without proper education, we are far more likely to waste our time than to use it to good effect.

I: We oscillate between desire and remorse, for we depend entirely upon the opinions of others, and it is that which many people praise and seek after, not that which deserves to be praised and sought after, which we consider to be best.

I: Our Stoic philosophers say we must be in motion up to the very end of our life, we will never cease to labour for the general good, to help individual people, and when stricken in years to afford assistance even to our enemies.

III: Would that all things were already known, that truth were unveiled and recognized, and that none of our doctrines required modification! but as it is we have to seek for truth in the company of the very men who teach it.

III: Epicurus says, “The wise man will not take part in politics, except upon some special occasion.” Zeno says, “The wise man will take part in politics, unless prevented by some special circumstance.”

III: If the state is so rotten as to be past helping, if evil has entire dominion over it, the wise man will not labor in vain or waste his strength in unprofitable efforts.

III: The duty of a human being is to be useful to his fellow human beings; if possible, to many of them; failing this, to a few; failing this, to oneself: for when we help others, we advance the general interests of humanity.

IV: We are born by accident into a specific nation, but we naturally belong to the human cosmopolis. Reflecting on the nature of virtue and practicing it every day is one way to serve both our fellow citizens and humanity at large.

V: We have a habit of saying that the highest good is to live according to nature: now nature has produced us for both purposes, for contemplation and for action. … Nature has [also] bestowed upon us an inquiring disposition.

VI: It is by no means desirable that one should merely strive to accumulate property without any love of virtue. Similarly, virtue placed in leisure without action is but an incomplete and feeble good thing, because she never displays what she has learned.

VI: What is the sage’s purpose in devoting themselves to leisure? They know that in leisure as well as in action they will accomplish something by which they will be of service to posterity.

VII: There are three kinds of life, and it is a stock question which of the three is the best: the first is devoted to pleasure, the second to contemplation, the third to action.

VII: Everyone is fond of contemplation. Some make it the object of their lives: to us it is an anchorage, but not a harbor.