Navigating Emotions: Seneca’s Wisdom on Anger, Fear, and Sadness

How can we transform the energy of anger, fear, and sadness into actions that contribute to personal growth and the betterment of society?

Anger, fear, and sadness are emotions are deeply ingrained in our human nature and are experienced by everyone, across every culture and background. However, what we all share is the ability to navigate and manage these emotions. Seneca held that by embracing the concept of virtue, practicing self-reflection, and accepting the impermanence of external circumstances, we can find tranquility and maintain emotional equilibrium amidst the storms of life existence.


On Anger

Accordingly, some wise men have said that anger is a brief Madness: for it’s no less lacking in self-control, forgetful of decency, unmindful of personal ties, unrelentingly intent on its goal, shut off from rational deliberation, stirred for no substantial reason, unsuited to discerning what’s fair and true, just like a collapsing building that’s reduced to rubble even as it crushes what it falls upon.

Seneca, On Anger

Seneca viewed anger as a useless emotion that accomplishes nothing. He stated that “No plague has cost the human race more” than anger, harming both the person who feels it and those who are subjected to it. He believed that the path to overcoming anger lies in cultivating virtue, particularly the virtues of patience, self-control, and forgiveness. He encouraged developing philosophical outlook on life that helps us rise above anger-inducing situations.

On Fear

…we suffer more often in imagination than in reality….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.

Seneca, On Groundless Fear

Seneca recognized fear as a natural and instinctive emotion that arises in response to perceived threats or dangers. He also acknowledged that fear is a common human experience but believed that it can be managed and overcome through reason. True courage, he believed, is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to act in the face of fear. He encouraged confronting it and taking action despite its presence, as inaction only perpetuates and reinforces fear; realizing too that most of it comes from our own thoughts and interpretations of external events.

On Sadness

No one will bring back the years, no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly.

Seneca, On Consolation

Seneca held that living in the present moment was vital to our happiness and well-being, not allowing past or future events to burden us with sadness. He encouraged individuals to concentrate their attention on the here and now, rather than dwelling excessively on past regrets or uncertain future outcomes. Sadness should never be denied, he believed, but rather accepted and allowed to run its course; making constructive use of the time whilst deriving wisdom from the experience, becoming better people as a result.

We hope that you will join us for our On Seneca: Anger, Fear, and Sadness virtual event on Sat, August 19th at 12pm EDT, and derive wisdom from the experience as well.

The Death of Seneca, Jacques-Louis David


Don’t miss this opportunity to gain invaluable insights from Seneca’s wisdom and discover practical approaches for managing the anger, fear, and sadness that every one of us experiences.

Engage in discussions with authors and academics in Stoic philosophy and the teachings of Seneca:

  • David Fideler, editor of the Stoic Insights website, author of Breakfast with Seneca and Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence
  • Lalya Lloyd, writer and classicist, Eton College, University College School
  • Margaret Graver, Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, author of Stoicism and Emotion and Seneca: The Literary Philosophe
  • James S. Romm, James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College, author of Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero and editor of How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (Seneca)
  • Christopher Star, Associate Professor of Classics at Middlebury College, Vermont, author of Seneca and The Empire of the Self: Self-Command and Political Speech in Seneca.

More to be announced!

Hosted by Donald Robertson and Anya Leonard of Classical Wisdom

This is event free to register. You may also donate an amount of your choosing. Your generosity keeps us hosting these events. Donations also go towards the development of an on-site PAC location near the original Plato’s Academy in Akadimia Platonos, Athens.

There is no need to worry if you are unavailable on the day. A recording post-event will be sent to all registered attendees.

Seneca’s philosophy offers invaluable guidance in managing the universal emotions of anger, fear, and sadness. By cultivating virtues like patience, self-control, courage and forgiveness, we can rise above and empower ourselves. Join the On Seneca: Anger, Fear, and Sadness virtual event to gain practical insights and discover effective ways to navigate these emotions.


We hope to see you all on Saturday, August 19th!

Karen Duffy: Resiliency and a Stoic “Backbone”

Karen Duffy is a NYT bestselling author, television personality, and actress. Her memoir of her personal accounts on coping with chronic pain, Backbone: Living with Chronic Pain Without Turning Into One, is funny and profoundly inspiring. She passes on Stoic lessons from both living with a life-threatening disease and being a mother in her highly-anticipated upcoming release, Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It.

The qualities that the study of philosophy offers are profound; it creates a framework, a backbone of character. If you drift off course, it is a compass to navigate you back to your path to meaning.

How did you become interested in philosophy? 

I became interested in studying philosophy as a teenager. My brother and I are Irish twins (we were born within 13 months of each other). My brother is a polymath. Jim was always reading philosophy books and passing them on. When I read Meditations, Marcus Aurelius’ words reverberated through me like a cherry bomb in a cymbal factory. His work ignited my passion and my daily devotion to reading the Stoics. I’ve been at it for over 3 decades.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

When I was in my early 30’s, I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain lesion. I live with chronic pain, a condition called “Complex regional pain syndrome”. My career as an actress, which was really starting to take off, was derailed. It was like I had built an airplane by hand, and just when I was going to take it off on the runway, I had to take it back into the hanger. I became uninsurable as an actor, as I cannot pass a pre-filming physical. I understood that we can’t control what happens, we can only control how we respond, the dichotomy of Control. I am a Recreational Therapist, a grief counselor at the 9/11 family assistance center and am a certified hospice chaplain in the Buddhist tradition. I am a patient advocate and I often share the life of Epictetus with my community. He wrote about living with pain, and his image often includes his crutch. He was beaten so savagely, his leg was broken and he lived in chronic pain. I love the words from Marcus Aurelius, “Look well into yourself, there is a source of strength which will always spring up if you will look”.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Philosophy is for everyone. It’s not just eggheads in black turtlenecks smoking Gauloises to the filter arguing over The Discourses. The wisdom of the Stoics reads as if the ink is still wet, yet it was written twenty-four centuries ago. Stoicism is enduring. The art of living in our modern age can be enhanced by reading the classics. The qualities that the study of philosophy offers are profound; it creates a framework, a backbone of character. If you drift off course, it is a compass to navigate you back to your path to meaning. The wisdom you need to follow your own way is readily available. As Epictetus said, it’s all up to you and your way of thinking.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

It is endlessly fascinating that our alphabet only has 26 measly letters. Yet when you line them up, you can create a sentence that will set off an explosion in your mind. Epictetus wrote that “Beautiful choices make a beautiful life.” Just 6 words, and it is the quote that illuminated the work of the Stoics.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

I have a long, interesting career. I was a model/actress, MTV VJ, drugstore perfume pitchwoman and winner of the “Ernest Borgnine Look-a-Like” contest. I’m on People Magazine’s “Worst Dressed List” in the head-to-toe horror category. I am most proud of my work as a writer, mentor and patient advocate. I produce documentaries and coming in 2022, a huge Hollywood movie staring Russell Crow, Zac Ephron and Bill Murray. It is titled The World’s Greatest Beer Run.