Time and the Self in Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae

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Title: Time and the Self in Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae
Author: Walter, Benjamin Z.
Advisor: Baertschi, Annette
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Classics.
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: This paper attempts to find the relationship between the self and time in De Brevitate Vitae. It is argued that Seneca’s advice to his addressee to withdrawal from public office in order to avoid the “brevity of life” is, following Stoic reasoning, an actual and not merely rhetorical extension of life. The Introduction explains why the self is relevant in Senecan scholarship, using the Letters as well as brief analysis by Long and Edwards. A definition of the Stoic self is constructed using relevant scholarship by Gill, Inwood, and Long. This definition is contrasted with at least one modern definition of the self. The definition put forward is that the Senecan self is unified, self-reflexive, goal-oriented, and rational. De Brevitate Vitae is examined and the conclusion is drawn that Seneca suggests that reclusion from public life can actually extend time and cure the “brevity of life”. This statement is shown to be explicable only in light of the active participation of the Stoic self. Reclusion from politics signifies philosophical and moral development (i.e. the development of the self). Life is defined as the amount of time one owns. The principle metaphor of time in the dialogue is that of time as a spendable commodity. The fact that time is spendable implies the ownership of the self over life (the specific amount of time that we own). It is argued that only a developed self has the ability to control the flow of time. The consequence of this is that life is extended. Therefore, using the logic of Seneca’s Stoicism, the withdrawal from public affairs actually lengthens life. The conclusion contains a brief overlook of the possible historical and political context surrounding the dialogue, as well as a summary of the broader implications of the dialogue.
Subject: Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, approximately 4 B.C.-65 A.D. De brevitate vitae
Subject: Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, approximately 4 B.C.-65 A.D. -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Self in literature
Subject: Time in literature
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Walter, Benjamin Z.. "Time and the Self in Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae". 2013. Available electronically from

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