What An Ancient Roman Philosopher Has To Teach Us About Email Writing

Dear Lucilius,

You ask me what should be easily avoided? I say crowds. Because no one can trust themselves among the crowd with safety.

I’ll admit a weakness of mine; I never bring back home the same character I left with.

Something that I’ve taught is to be calm within me is disturbed; some of the foes that I’ve removed within return again.

This is an extract from one of the Roman philosopher Seneca’s lessons called On Crowds. It’s one of my favourites for a couple of reasons:

  1. It beautifully captures the emotions of a bloke who’s feeling socially awkward in a sea of strangers.
  2. The content of the letter reads like a captivating email and there’s so much value to take away.

Seneca’s letters are packed full of practical wisdom to apply to our own lives. But we can’t forget that he was writing in a specific way to appeal to his audience. And that he was an excellent personal brander.

How do we know this? Well, we’re still talking about him today and Letters from A Stoic is still being sold and read around the world.

Something I love to draw from Seneca’s writings is his storytelling and if he were an email copywriter, he’d be one of the best around.

What can we learn about email writing from this letter?

In On Crowds, Seneca starts by telling his friend about his dislike of crowds. He reveals how emotionally draining they are for him.

This intro acts as a great hook. A story of vulnerability that would’ve drawn his readers in and put him on their level.

You can use the same emotional story opening for your emails. Show your list that you’ve experienced the same problems they have.

Next, Seneca laments how crowds can turn into chaotic messes. Even great thinkers like Socrates would have their moral judgement tested.

Here, he name-drops famous people while telling a parable. A lesson that the reader can take away.

Introducing a parable where you can give your readers a valuable takeaway signals that you aren’t just about selling to your list.

You want to help them in lots of ways.

Towards the end of the letter, Seneca advises his friend to “withdraw into yourself, as far as you can, associate with those who will make a better man of you.”

In an email, this would be considered the ‘turn’ i.e. the section where the writer transitions into making an offer or selling to the reader.

Seneca’s offer is that he’s a wise mentor to Lucilius. That the younger man should continue to associate with him to improve his character.

Seneca wanted to keep their relationship going by giving value in his letters. He also wanted to be perceived by his readers as the sage philosopher he tried to be in life.

Using a turn in your email is a subtle way of selling and removing anxiety about making the pitch. You’re still educating your readers and trying to help solve their problems.

On Crowds is just one of Seneca’s letters and I’d recommend reading as many as you can to pick up practical life lessons AND excellent email writing techniques.

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