Seneca: We Suffer more from Imagination than Reality#


In his thirteenth letter[1], “On groundless fears”, Seneca the Younger[2] writes to Lucilius about, predictably, human fear and how we, often without sufficient grounds, are affraid of that which is yet to come.

This quote is a personal favorite, usually found as “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality”. It is worth, however, to skip the paraphrasing and read the original and its literal translation[1].


There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality. I am not speaking with you in the Stoic strain but in my milder style. For it is our Stoic fashion to speak of all those things, which provoke cries and groans, as unimportant and beneath notice; but you and I must drop such great-sounding words, although, Heaven knows, they are true enough. What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. 5. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.

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