Here is a demo taken from work I did while recording the Stoic philosopher Seneca’s Moral Epistles and Letters from a Stoic, a text first published circa 65 CE.

Seneca the Younger wrote the Moral Epistles after retiring from Nero’s Rome. Like so much that came out of the Roman Empire, it is an astonishingly contemporary text, full of nuance and instantly recognizable. Seneca makes the most of literacy as a tool for developing and delivering careful argument. (And in that sense, it is hard not to hear Montaigne in every one of these letters).

Like the Stoic philosophy itself, Seneca’s letters are full of appeal and wisdom on a personal level. To my mind, however, the way Seneca’s thought operationalizes his misanthropy is dispiriting. Stoics hate themselves, but hate everyone else more.

In this letter, number 46, Seneca writes to Lucilius in order to offer early feedback on a book the young man has just written. But the old man chooses to perform his disdain, rather than declare it: In my estimation, at least, every word of letter 46 is a transparent lie, an excoriation of Lucilius’ arrogance, his lack of wisdom, and his vanity.