On the Shortness of Life
On the Shortness of Life in English is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger in 49 AD, a Roman Stoic philosopher, to his father-in-law Paulinus. The philosopher brings up many Stoic principles on the nature of time, namely that men waste much of it in meaningless pursuits. According to the essay, nature gives man enough time to do what is really important and the individual must allot it properly. In general, time can be best used in the study of philosophy, according to Seneca.
“…we are born only for a short space of time, and that this allotted period of life runs away so swiftly, nay so hurriedly, that with but few exceptions men’s life comes to an end just as they are preparing to enjoy it…. Hence comes that well-known saying of physicians, that art is long but life is short. … We do not have a very short time assigned to us, but we lose a great deal of it: life is long enough … if we do but arrange the whole of it aright.”
“Thus it is: we do not receive a short life, but we make it a short one, and we are not poor in days, but wasteful of them. When great and kinglike riches fall into the hands of a bad master, they are dispersed straightway, but even a moderate fortune, when bestowed upon a wise guardian, increases by use: and in like manner our life has great opportunities for one who knows how to dispose of it to the best advantage.”
The text in this edition is excerpted from the 1889 translation of Seneca’s “Minor Dialogues” by Aubrey Stewart (1844-1918).