I really don’t understand why so many people hold this essay in high regard. Maybe I’m missing something.
In my reading, Seneca is writing to Polonious, a friend or relative, who is responsible for maintaining the food supply for their city.
Seneca spends most of the essay explaining how people waste their time — drinking too much, political ambitions, growing a trading businesses, reading too many literary works, suntanning. He explains that most people are quite frugal with their money, but don’t manage their time with the same level of care.
About 90% of the essay is spent this way. In the 10% of the time Seneca suggests alternatives, I find them unsatisfying.
Instead of ensuring the town is fed, Polonius should spend his time reading philosophy since “they alone who give their time to philosophy are at leisure, they alone really live.”
This essay reads like a pitch for philosophy in a college major open-house. You can stop by the physics department and they will tell you how physics is so cool since you will understand the fundamental truths of nature and work with people who are very passionate. Computer scientists pitch you by explaining that you will be able to get a high paying job and will make things with little capital investment.
Then you get to philosophy. Seneca pushes up his rimless glasses, takes out his pipe, and tells you how everyone else is wasting their time and the philosophy department alone knows the value of time.