Seneca – Epistula 1

Updated: 2023-10-28 (Bronwen MacDonald)


[1] Ita fac, mi Lucili: vindica te tibi, et tempus quod adhuc aut auferebatur aut subripiebatur aut excidebat, collige et serva. Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, magna pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, maxima nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

[2] Quem mihi dabis, qui aliquod pretium tempori ponat, qui diem aestimet, qui intellegat se cotidie mori? In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus; magna pars eius iam praeterit. Quicquid aetatis retro est, mors tenet. Fac ergo, mi Lucili, quod facere te scribis, omnes horas complectere. Sic fiet, ut minus ex crastino pendeas, si hodierno manum inieceris.

[3] Dum differtur vita transcurrit. Omnia, Lucili, aliena sunt, tempus tantum nostrum est. In huius rei unius fugacis ac lubricae possessionem natura nos misit, ex qua expellit quicumque vult. Et tanta stultitia mortalium est, ut quae minima et vilissima sunt, certe reparabilia, imputari sibi, cum impetravere, patiantur; nemo se iudicet quicquam debere, qui tempus accepit, cum interim hoc unum est, quod ne gratus quidem potest reddere.

[4] Interrogabis fortasse, quid ego faciam, qui tibi ista praecipio. Fatebor ingenue: quod apud luxuriosum sed diligentem evenit, ratio mihi constat impensae. Non possum dicere nihil perdere, sed quid perdam et quare et quemadmodum, dicam; causas paupertatis meae reddam, sed evenit mihi, quod plerisque non suo vitio ad inopiam redactis: omnes ignoscunt, nemo succurrit.

[5] Quid ergo est? Non puto pauperem, cui quantulumcumque superest, sat est. Tu tamen malo serves tua, et bono tempore incipies. Nam ut visum est maioribus nostris, “sera parsimonia in fundo est”; non enim tantum minimum in imo, sed pessimum remanet. Vale.


[1] Do so, my Lucilius: claim yourself for yourself; gather and guard your time, which was carried off, snatched away, or falling (through the cracks). Persuade yourself that this is thus, as I write: some of our time is being taken away, some lead off, some is running out. However, the foulest loss is that which is made through negligence. And if you want to pay attention, a large part of life slips away doing evil (things), a greater (part) doing nothing, and a whole life doing other (than what we should be doing)1.

[2] What person can you show me who places some value on time? Who values the day? Who understands (that) every day, he is dying? For we deceive (ourselves) in this – that we keep watch (forward) for death, whereas a large part (of it) is already passed by. Whatever time of life is behind (us), death holds. Therefore do (it), my Lucilius, what you write to do, embrace all the hours. So you will depend less on tomorrow’s (time) if you lay your hands on today’s (time).

[3] While life is being deferred, it passes by. All things, Lucilius, belong to another – only time is ours. Nature has sent us into the possession of this single elusive and slippery thing from which anyone who wishes expels us2. And such is the foolishness of mortals that they suffer that which is minor and most worthless, certainly repairable, attributed to themselves when obtained. No one judges himself to be indebted when he receives (our) time; meanwhile, this is the only (thing) which even a grateful (person) is not able to repay3.

[4] You will maybe ask what I am doing – I, who am instructing you (in) these (things). I will freely confess what occurs in the household of a self-indulgent but diligent (person); my expense account balances. I cannot say that I waste nothing, but I shall say what I waste, why, and how. I can give the causes of my poverty, but (what) occurs to me is, with many, reduced to scarcity by no fault of theirs. All forgive; no one assists.

[5] What is it, therefore? I do not consider someone poor whom even a trifling supports (him). You, however, should keep (what is) yours for bad times and begin in good times. For as our ancestors saw it, “Thrift is (too) late at the bottom.” For not only is very little left, but it is the worst. Farewell


  1. I think that Seneca’s point here is that even though he is coming from a philosophical background that focuses on moulding a good person, the time that we spend doing innately evil things is less than that which we spend on doing nothing or worse, doing everything except what we are supposed to be doing (procrastinating). ↩︎
  2. The slippery thing is time, which just about anyone can steal or force away from us simply by capturing our attention and diverting us away from the things that we should or wish to be doing. ↩︎
  3. This is such a powerful image. The one thing that we can most easily give, our time, is also the one thing that the people we give it to can never repay. One cannot take a loan of time and then repay it like one does with money or goods. Time given to someone is always a gift. ↩︎

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