peterferguson

debrevitatevitae

6min read

As a precursor, I am only referring in this post to the essay 'De Brevitate Vitae' (On the shortness of life) by Seneca and not the entirety of the book/translation (here). Which also includes some letters on the topic from the writer to his mother, and another essay 'On Tranquility of Mind'. This post will serve as a synopsis for key quotes that resonated with me.

For those unfamiliar with Seneca and his writings, he was a Roman philosopher around between 4BC and 65AD. He focused on the Stoic school of philosophy and wrote a number of essays and letters on his thinking.

I feel the essence of the essay is well portrayed in one of the early passages. So to reuse the quote I have used before, and to help you get the gist of the topic and Seneca's view, see below.

Even if all the bright intellects who ever lived were to agree to ponder this one theme, they would never sufficiently express their surprise at this fog in the human mind. Men do not let anyone seize their estates, and if there is the slightest dispute about their boundaries they rush to stones and arms; but they allow others to encroach on their lives – why, they themselves even invite in those who will take over their lives. You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

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3min read

You will hear many people saying: “ When I am fifty I shall retire into leisure; when I am sixty I shall give up public duties.” And what guarantee do you have of a longer life? Who will allow your course to proceed as you arrange it? Aren't you ashamed to keep or yourself just the remnants of life

Seneca

This is a common order of proceedings; grow-up, work, retire, then live the life you wanted. But just because it is common, does it mean it is best? Of course, each to their own. From Seneca's standpoint though, he is talking about lost time. Your time is one of your most precious assets. Just because you choose a predictable and common path, does not mean it will be this way. Furthermore, you may not even be given a chance for it to even become this way. Memento mori.

So what if we did as Seneca is suggesting and reversed the order of proceedings.

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7min read

I have recently been thinking about what is best to do with my time. As have most of us I think during 2020 with various lockdowns and limitations on how we can possibly spend what should be considered as our most valuable asset. I am by no means the world's most efficient spender of time, in fact far from it. I think I probably have traits or habits which inhibit optimised time expenditure. Reading the stoic philosopher Seneca's writings “De Brevitate Vitae” or “The Brevity of life” there is the below quote regarding effective use of time;

“Even if all the bright intellects who ever lived were to agree to ponder this one theme, they would never sufficiently express their surprise at this fog in the human mind. Men do not let anyone seize their estates, and if there is the slightest dispute about their boundaries they rush to stones and arms; but they allow others to encroach on their lives – why, they themselves even invite in those who will take over their lives. You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

Seneca

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