"Life without learning is death"
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (also known as Seneca the Younger, but most commonly known as just Seneca) was born in Cordoba, Spain and was educated in Rome from an early age in philosophy. His death came about after he was falsely accused of plotting against the Roman Emperor, Nero, whom he had tutored as a small boy. Although his life was cut short, Seneca had lead a full life through to the age of 68 or 69, when he committed suicide. He had a successful career as a lawyer, amassed a personal fortune, and made a significant contribution to philosophy.
"We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality."1
Whilst Seneca was a Stoic philosopher, his approach was more practical in many ways than other Stoics such as Cicero, who seemed to aspire to lofty goals that were in practice unattainable. Seneca is known for his plays, all tragedies, his prose works, which include a dozen essays and one hundred and twenty-four letters dealing with moral issues (The Epistulae morales ad Lucilium). His writings are generally recognised as making an important and lasting contribution to philosophy and the school of Stoicism.
At an early age Seneca was exposed to philosophy through his teacher, Attalus, a Stoic philosopher. However, Seneca did not limit himself solely to Stoicism, he acknowledged other schools of thought, even to the extent of citing Epicurus (famous for propounding the theory of hedonism, which holds that pleasure is the only intrinsic value) on a number of occasions.
Seneca demonstrated his 'practical' approach to philosophy in his essays and letters by constantly trying to give advice to his readers, rather than simply imparting philosophical wisdom.
Seneca believed that every one of us has a god within and we are guided along a path set for us by providence. We can attain happiness only by acting in accordance with our own true nature and being content with what we are and what we have in life.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not."2
Seneca's contribution to philosophy was huge. Although Stoic, he offered sensible, practical advice on how to navigate through the upsides and downsides of life. He was able to do so through his own life experiences, which varied from massive wealth, to exile, to handling with dignity his suicide, which was ordered from his own former pupil, Nero. He offers lessons to us all, no matter what our current problems are.
For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.
1The Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (from the 124 letters Seneca wrote probably in the last three years of his life. The letters were to Lucilius, who was the Governor of Sicily at the time. Seneca wrote the letters to give Lucilius advice on how to become a better person).
2From The Morals of Seneca: A Selection of his Prose, based on the translation by Sir Roger L’Estrange, edited by Walter Clode; London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 1888; pp. 3-5.