An Evening


She said: “It’s a beautiful evening, isn’t it? Just about perfection.”

“I know!” he said. “Too bad it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”

Then they went their separate ways: one to enjoy the evening and the other to spend the evening dreading the disappointment of tomorrow.


Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

51lcdbvyJ0L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Letters from a Stoic contains 40 of Seneca’s 124 epistles to Lucilius, translated by Robin Campbell. I spent quite a bit of time comparing Campbell’s translation to Richard Mott Gummere’s translation from the 1920s (which is now in the public domain). Reading the rest of Seneca’s epistles not included in the Penguin edition, I wish that this book was a comprehensive compilation rather than just a sampling. However, Campbell’s introduction points readers who want to read all 124 letters to Gummere’s three volume edition. Final summary on this Penguin Classic edition: there is much context, background, and perspective in the other 84 epistles omitted from this book. On the plus side, Campbell’s translation much more modern than Gunnmere’s. On these grounds, I’d recommend this book as an introduction to the epistles. But if you are at all intrigued by what you find here, be prepared venture into Gummere’s translation later. (I have yet to compare Elaine Fantham’s translation in the Oxford Classics edition.)


A Library as a Timeline


Like many others who have fallen in love with the classics, I began developing an acute appreciation for the breadth and depth of literature over the last several thousand years. By ‘appreciation’, I mean ‘an overwhelming and crippling sense of awe’. To help myself ‘situate’ new readings as I go, I have organized my library into a quasi-chronological timeline, which I have titled A Library for a Lifetime. This basically started as a spreadsheet to help me keep my centuries straight, but it has grown into a hybrid of a reading record, ‘to read’ list, and snapshot of history. This tool remains under constant revision, and is nowhere close to complete. (Not that ‘completing’ such a project is even remotely possible in one lifetime!)

In addition, I have also started compiling a recommended reading list for people who are interested in dipping their toes into the ocean of classical literature for the first time.


Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

41gnL1ycUXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hitchens is very honest about death. He is also very honest about his disdain for sentimentality, self-pity, and denial. This book chronicles his experience of undergoing chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, and it quietly wrestles with the “bargain” of gaining a few extra months to live at the cost of independence, comfort, and wellbeing. Chapter V — Hitchens account of losing his voice — is alone worth the read.


The Greek Sophists by Jonathan Dillon

418UrfzSriL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The sophists — public orators and “speech coaches” for hire — were an extremely influential variable in the social and political life of ancient Athens. Many of their ideas frame the issues that exercised people like Socrates and Plato, and thus in these pages we encounter the kernels of many propositions that later grow into full-blown philosophical inquiries.

Dillon and Gergel’s curation and reconstruction of the sophist’s ideas is excellent, with the notable exception being the exclusion of Isocrates. (Dear Penguin Classics: how about a collected works of Isocrates to augment this book?)

In a world where the masses are sovereign, those who can influence the masses hold the power. This is another one of those “ancient” collections of writings that has a certain unmistakable resonance with the present.