To comply with fate is a major premise of Stoic philosophy: not grudgingly, but willingly. In this letter Seneca tells us how to achieve that. It is of course not by reading this letter and nodding in agreement that one becomes a stoic; rather it is an exercise, a way of life. In times of distress stoicism has always had a certain appeal and let’s not forget that Antiquity was in many respects a time of distress with wars, hunger and diseases looming. Such a concept as a makeable society was completely foreign to Classical thinking. I won’t call Stoic philosophy a panacea for dealing with all our problems, but reading and rethinking a stoic text now and then can do no harm.
LXI. SENECA LUCILIO SUO SALUTEM
 Desinamus, quod voluimus, velle. Ego certe id ago <ne> senex eadem velim quae puer volui. In hoc unum eunt dies, in hoc noctes, hoc opus meum est, haec cogitatio, imponere veteribus malis finem. Id ago ut mihi instar totius vitae dies sit; nec mehercules tamquam ultimum rapio, sed sic illum aspicio tamquam esse vel ultimus possit.  Hoc animo tibi hanc epistulam scribo, tamquam me cum maxime scribentem mors evocatura sit; paratus exire sum, et ideo fruar vita quia quam diu futurum hoc sit non nimis pendeo. Ante senectutem curavi ut bene viverem, in senectute ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori.  Da operam ne quid umquam invitus facias: quidquid necesse futurum est repugnanti, id volenti necessitas non est. Ita dico: qui imperia libens excipit partem acerbissimam servitutis effugit, facere quod nolit; non qui iussus aliquid facit miser est, sed qui invitus facit. Itaque sic animum componamus ut quidquid res exiget, id velimus, et in primis ut finem nostri sine tristitia cogitemus.  Ante ad mortem quam ad vitam praeparandi sumus. Satis instructa vita est, sed nos in instrumenta eius avidi sumus; deesse aliquid nobis videtur et semper videbitur: ut satis vixerimus, nec anni nec dies faciunt sed animus. Vixi, Lucili carissime, quantum satis erat; mortem plenus exspecto. Vale.
desino desii (-ere): to abandon, stop
id ago: I give heed, attention to
<ne>: the text is corrupt
opus meum: my need, business
impono finem: to put an end to
instar (+ gen.): equal to
rapio rapui raptum (-ere): to snatch, seize, lay hold on
aspicio aspexi aspectum (-ere): to consider
hoc animo: with this state of mind
cum maxime: just now, more than ever
scribentem: while writing
evocatura sit: is about to/will summon
frui fructus (+ abl.) to enjoy
quam diu: how long
non nimis: not very much
pendeo pependi (-ēre): (here) to be in suspense (i.e. I don’t care much)
operam do: to give attention to
quidquid necesse futurum est repugnanti, id volenti necessitas non est: what will appear to be a necessary for one resisting, is not a necessity for one willing
imperium: command, order
excipio excepi exceptum: to follow, receive
acerbus: harsh, bitter
compono composui compositum (-ere): to arrange
exigo exegi exactum (-ere): to demand, require
in primis: especially
finem nostri: our end, death
cogito (-are): reflect upon
praeparo (-are): to prepare
instruo instruxi instructum (-ere): to furnish
nos in instrumenta eius avidi sumus: we are avid regarding to means/provisions for it
nec anni nec dies faciunt ut satis vixerimus
quantum: as much as
Translation by Richard M. Gummere (1917, 1920, 1925).
LXI. On Meeting Death Cheerfully
1. Let us cease to desire that which we have been desiring. I, at least, am doing this: in my old age I have ceased to desire what I desired when a boy. To this single end my days and my nights are passed; this is my task, this the object of my thoughts, – to put an end to my chronic ills. I am endeavouring to live every day as if it were a complete life. I do not indeed snatch it up as if it were my last; I do regard it, however, as if it might even be my last. 2. The present letter is written to you with this in mind, – as if death were about to call me away in the very act of writing. I am ready to depart, and I shall enjoy life just because I am not over-anxious as to the future date of my departure.
Before I became old I tried to live well; now that I am old, I shall try to die well; but dying well means dying gladly. See to it that you never do anything unwillingly. 3. That which is bound to be a necessity if you rebel, is not a necessity if you desire it. This is what I mean: he who takes his orders gladly, escapes the bitterest part of slavery, – doing what one does not want to do. The man who does something under orders is not unhappy; he is unhappy who does something against his will. Let us therefore so set our minds in order that we may desire whatever is demanded of us by circumstances, and above all that we may reflect upon our end without sadness. 4. We must make ready for death before we make ready for life. Life is well enough furnished, but we are too greedy with regard to its furnishings; something always seems to us lacking, and will always seem lacking. To have lived long enough depends neither upon our years nor upon our days, but upon our minds. I have lived, my dear friend Lucilius, long enough. I have had my fill; I await death. Farewell.