On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

The Big Idea: Life is short unless you live it well. Study philosophy and protect your valuable time from others.

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.

The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.

Vices beset us and surround us on every side. Their victims are never allowed to return to their true selves.

Men do not suffer anyone to seize their estates, and they rush to stones and arms if there is even the slightest dispute about the limit of their lands, yet they allow others to trespass upon their life.

In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

You live as if you were destined to live forever.

What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year.

Among the worst I count also those who have time for nothing but wine and lust; for none have more shameful engrossments.

No one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things.

It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and — what will perhaps make you wonder more — it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.

It takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be filched from him.

But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow.

There is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles; he has not lived long — he has existed long.

No one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing.

Yet no one will bring back the years.

Life will follow the path it started upon, and will neither reverse nor check its course; it will make no noise, it will not remind you of its swiftness. Silent it will glide on.

Postponement is the greatest waste of life.

“Why do you delay,” says he, “Why are you idle? Unless you seize the day, it flees.”

Life is divided into three periods — that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present time is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain.

The mind that is untroubled and tranquil has the power to roam into all the parts of its life.

Decrepit old men beg in their prayers for the addition of a few more years. They reflect how uselessly they have striven for things which they did not enjoy.

This vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans.

Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live.

We may fairly say that they alone are engaged in the true duties of life who shall wish to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their most intimate friends every day.

Households there are of noblest intellects; choose the one into which you wish to be adopted; you will inherit not merely their name, but even their property.

The life of the philosopher, therefore, has wide range, and he is not confined by the same bounds that shut others in.

But those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and troubled; when they have reached the end of it, the poor wretches perceive too late that for such a long while they have been busied in doing nothing.

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.

How long will these things last? This feeling has led kings to weep over the power they possessed, and they have not so much delighted in the greatness of their fortune, as they have viewed with terror the end to which it must some time come.

With anxiety hold what they have attained; meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.

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