In letters from a stoic 49, Seneca begins by saying that certain places bring memories back to our mind, good and bad. He said that these memories are brief when we reflect on them. Time goes by so fast that a present experience is gone in splits of seconds, what we normally term “a moment ago”. “All past time is in the same place; it all presents the same aspect to us, it lies together. Everything slips into the same abyss.” Our time is brief, Seneca argues, and therefore should not be spent on things that are not important. From the Stoic perspective, the only thing that worth pursuing is virtues and anything beyond that is superfluous.
The most important key takeaway in the letter is that a good life is not a function of the time we spent in our lifetime. In other words, we could be living for 70 years but that’s not necessarily mean we had a better life than a man who only lived for 30 years. “ Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a man who has lived long to have lived too little.” Again it’s all about doing virtuous actions that matter to the Stoics. Virtue is sufficient enough for happiness. If we indulge ourselves in vices and chase obsessively wealth, power, or fame we will live our lives in anxiety, anger, resentment, and a sense of dissatisfaction.
In the last part of the letter, he reminds us that death is always near us. “You are mistaken if you think that only on an ocean voyage there is a very slight space between life and death. No, the distance between is just as narrow everywhere. It is not everywhere that death shows himself so near at hand; yet everywhere he is as near at hand.” The Stoics want us to reflect on death so that we only chase the things that truly matter.
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