Reading together is a great way to socialize and a great way to learn Latin. It is an enjoyment shared throughout the ages. But sometimes it is difficult to gather together. So, we thought we would gather digitally.
Suggested reading and watching: All Latin book club posts
Can you read too many books? This is the subject of Seneca’s letter to his dear Lucilius and one that we will read in today’s video.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, or Seneca the Younger, is also known as Seneca Minor or Seneca Philosophus. All these different names distinguish him from his father, who was also called Lucius Annaeus Seneca, usually referred to as Seneca the Elder or Seneca Maior.
Seneca the Younger was born in Córdoba, Spain, in 4 B.C. but came to Rome as a young boy to be educated. He took an early interest in philosophy and became famous for his devotion to Stoicism which permeates his letters. Seneca also took an interest in politics and became a senator.
In 41 A.D., he was exiled from Rome after accusations of adultery and spent eight years on Corsica. He was called back to Rome to tutor future emperor Nero. He became Nero’s advisor for some time but then retired from political life altogether. His life ended, quite famously, after Nero had ordered him to commit suicide.
Seneca was very diligent with his pen, and thanks to his passion for Stoicism, quite many of his works have been saved; The reason is that the Stoic philosophy shares traits with Christianity, which gave the Early Christian Church a reason to preserve and copy his works.
His most popular work is the collection of 124 letters written to Lucilius, Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, in which he wrote about moral and ethical questions. The 124 letters span over 20 books, though Aulus Gellius (c.130–170 A.D.) quotes a 22nd book which indicated that the original collection was even larger.
Today we will read the second of these letters, and learn what Seneca’s stance is on reading voraciously.
Video in Latin
Listen and watch the reading of the text.
Listen to the audio on your podcast app.
Latin Text (Seneca, Ep. 1.2)
SENECA LUCILIO SUO SALUTEM
 Ex iis quae mihi scribis et ex iis quae audio bonam spem de te concipio: non discurris nec locorum mutationibus inquietaris. Aegri animi ista iactatio est: primum argumentum compositae mentis existimo posse consistere et secum morari.
 Illud autem vide, ne ista lectio auctorum multorum et omnis generis voluminum habeat aliquid vagum et instabile. Certis ingeniis immorari et innutriri oportet, si velis aliquid trahere quod in animo fideliter sedeat. Nusquam est qui ubique est. Vitam in peregrinatione exigentibus hoc evenit, ut multa hospitia habeant, nullas amicitias; idem accidat necesse est iis qui nullius se ingenio familiariter applicant sed omnia cursim et properantes transmittunt.
 Non prodest cibus nec corpori accedit qui statim sumptus emittitur; nihil aeque sanitatem impedit quam remediorum crebra mutatio; non venit vulnus ad cicatricem in quo medicamenta temptantur; non convalescit planta quae saepe transfertur; nihil tam utile est ut in transitu prosit. Distringit librorum multitudo; itaque cum legere non possis quantum habueris, satis est habere quantum legas.
 ‘Sed modo’ inquis ‘hunc librum evolvere volo, modo illum.’ Fastidientis stomachi est multa degustare; quae ubi varia sunt et diversa, inquinant non alunt. Probatos itaque semper lege, et si quando ad alios deverti libuerit, ad priores redi. Aliquid cotidie adversus paupertatem, aliquid adversus mortem auxili compara, nec minus adversus ceteras pestes; et cum multa percurreris, unum excerpe quod illo die concoquas.
 Hoc ipse quoque facio; ex pluribus quae legi aliquid apprehendo. Hodiernum hoc est quod apud Epicurum nanctus sum — soleo enim et in aliena castra transire, non tamquam transfuga, sed tamquam explorator -: ‘honesta’ inquit ‘res est laeta paupertas’.
 Illa vero non est paupertas, si laeta est; non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est. Quid enim refert quantum illi in arca, quantum in horreis iaceat, quantum pascat aut feneret, si alieno imminet, si non acquisita sed acquirenda computat? Quis sit divitiarum modus quaeris? primus habere quod necesse est, proximus quod sat est. Vale.Join our Newsletter because we send out tips, updates and learning material.
Greetings from Seneca to his friend Lucilius.
1. Judging by what you write me, and by what I hear, I am forming a good opinion regarding your future. You do not run hither and thither and distract yourself by changing your abode; for such restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit. The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.
2. Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.
3. Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.
Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read. 4. “But,” you reply, “I wish to dip first into one book and then into another.” I tell you that it is the sign of an overnice appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are manifold and varied, they cloy but do not nourish. So you should always read standard authors; and when you crave a change, fall back upon those whom you read before. Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. 5. This is my own custom; from the many things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself.
The thought for to-day is one which I discovered in Epicurus; for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp, – not as a deserter, but as a scout. 6. He says: “Contented poverty is an honourable estate.” Indeed, if it be contented, it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour’s property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough. Farewell.
Translation by Richard M. Gummere, 1917