Of the Stoics, Seneca seems like the one who had the most fun. He’s the one who it’s easiest to picture spending time with friends or mingling at a dinner party (in fact, he was known for his legendary parties with hundreds of guests). Whereas almost all of Marcus’s writing is private and solitary, and Epictetus’s comes to us in the form of lecture notes from his students, a sizable chunk of what survives of Seneca are the letters he wrote to his dear friend Lucilius.
We don’t know too much about Lucilius, except that he was a governor of Sicily and possibly also a writer. Nor do we know much about who the guests at Seneca’s parties were. But from what we do know, we can gather Seneca was social and had a large circle of friends and acquaintances with whom he spent a lot of time.
Which begs the question: How did he choose these friends? We can hope—and expect—that Seneca’s many friendships adhered to the rule he put down to Lucilius in one of those famous letters:
“Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.”
It’s an impossible thing to know really—even for ourselves—how we came to know most of the people in our lives. But how they stayed in our lives? How our acquaintances evolved into friendships, that should be easier to figure out. And Seneca’s rule is a wonderful guide, because what he’s describing is what friendship is about. A process of mutual improvement, benefit and enjoyment.
We become like the people we spend the most time with…so we should choose wisely. And we should choose widely, because life is too short to live lonely or narrowly.
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