Seneca the Younger

Seneca the Younger

Overview

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 Stoic
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 philosopher, statesman
Statesman
A statesman is usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. As a term of respect, it is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term...

, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy
Pisonian conspiracy
The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 represented one of the major turning points in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero...

 to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors
Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The Julio-Claudian dynasty normally refers to the first five Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula , Claudius, and Nero, or the family to which they belonged; they ruled the Roman Empire from its formation, in the second half of the 1st century BC, until AD 68, when the last of the line,...

, he may have been innocent. His father was Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Elder
Lucius or Marcus Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Rhetorician , was a Roman rhetorician and writer, born of a wealthy equestrian family of Cordoba, Hispania...

 and his elder brother was Gallio.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in Cordoba, in the Baetica, the southern highly romanized province of Spain.
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Quotations

He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt.

On Benefits, Book II, 22, line 1

Ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable, Epistulae Morales

Might makes right.

Hercules Furens

Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue.

Hercules Furens, Book I, 1, line 84

Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.

Hercules Furens

A good mind possesses a kingdom.

Thyestes, 380

The spirit in which a thing is given determines that in which the debt is acknowledged; it's the intention, not the face-value of the gift, that's weighed.

Moral Letters to Lucilius

He who profits by crime commits it.

Medea

He who does not prevent crime when he can encourages it.

Troades

Illi mors gravis incubat Qui notus nimis omnibus Ignotus moritur sibi

On him does death lie heavily who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown.
Encyclopedia

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 Stoic
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 philosopher, statesman
Statesman
A statesman is usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. As a term of respect, it is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term...

, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy
Pisonian conspiracy
The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 represented one of the major turning points in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero...

 to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors
Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The Julio-Claudian dynasty normally refers to the first five Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula , Claudius, and Nero, or the family to which they belonged; they ruled the Roman Empire from its formation, in the second half of the 1st century BC, until AD 68, when the last of the line,...

, he may have been innocent. His father was Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Elder
Lucius or Marcus Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Rhetorician , was a Roman rhetorician and writer, born of a wealthy equestrian family of Cordoba, Hispania...

 and his elder brother was Gallio.

Biography


Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in Cordoba, in the Baetica, the southern highly romanized province of Spain. One of his revisionist modern biographers, however, Miriam Griffin says in her biography of Seneca that "the evidence for Seneca's life before his exile in 41 is so slight, and the potential interest of these years, for social history as well as for biography, is so great that few writers on Seneca have resisted the temptation to eke out knowledge with imagination." Griffin also states, apparently inferring from ancient sources, that Seneca was born in either 8, 4, or 1 BC. She thinks he was born between 4 and 1 BC and was resident in Rome by 5 AD. Seneca says that he was carried to Rome in the arms of his mother's stepsister. Griffin says that, allowing for rhetorical exaggeration, means "it is fair to conclude that Seneca was in Rome as a very small boy." Be that as it may, it is clear that he was in Rome at a relatively early stage in his life.

His family was from Cordoba
Córdoba, Spain
-History:The first trace of human presence in the area are remains of a Neanderthal Man, dating to c. 32,000 BC. In the 8th century BC, during the ancient Tartessos period, a pre-urban settlement existed. The population gradually learned copper and silver metallurgy...

 in Hispania
Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 (the Iberian Peninsula
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

) and, like his father, Lucius Annaeus Seneca "the elder," he was born there. According to Griffin, the family originally probably came from Etruria
Etruria
Etruria—usually referred to in Greek and Latin source texts as Tyrrhenia—was a region of Central Italy, an area that covered part of what now are Tuscany, Latium, Emilia-Romagna, and Umbria. A particularly noteworthy work dealing with Etruscan locations is D. H...

 or the "area further east towards Illyria
Illyria
In classical antiquity, Illyria was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by the Illyrians....

."

He was the second son of Helvia and Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the wealthy rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

ian known as Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Elder
Lucius or Marcus Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Rhetorician , was a Roman rhetorician and writer, born of a wealthy equestrian family of Cordoba, Hispania...

. His older brother, Gallio, became proconsul
Proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

 in the Roman province of Achaea
Achaea
Achaea is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of West Greece. It is situated in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. The capital is Patras. The population exceeds 300,000 since 2001.-Geography:...

. His younger brother Annaeus Mela's son was Marcus Annaeus Lucanus
Lucan
Lucan is the common English name of the Roman poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.Lucan may also refer to:-People:*Arthur Lucan , English actor*Sir Lucan the Butler, Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend...

.

At Rome he was trained in rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 and was introduced to Hellenistic Stoic philosophy by Attalus
Attalus (Stoic)
Attalus was a Stoic philosopher in the reign of Tiberius , who was defrauded of his property by Sejanus, and reduced to cultivating the ground. He taught the philosopher Seneca, who frequently quotes him, and speaks of him in the highest terms. The elder Seneca describes him as a man of great...

 and Sotion
Sotion (Pythagorean)
Sotion , a native of Alexandria, was a Neopythagorean philosopher who lived in the age of Tiberius. He belonged to the school of Quintus Sextius which combined Pythagoreanism with Stoicism...

. Seneca's own writings describe his poor health. At some stage he was nursed by his aunt; as she was in Egypt from 16 to 31 AD, he must have at least visited and perhaps lived there for a period.

Seneca and his aunt returned to Rome in 31, and she helped him in his campaign for his first magistracy
Roman Magistrates
The Roman Magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome. During the period of the Roman Kingdom, the King of Rome was the principal executive magistrate. His power, in practice, was absolute. He was the chief priest, lawgiver, judge, and the sole commander of the army...

.

Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 began his first year as emperor in 38, and there was a severe conflict between him and Seneca; the emperor is said to have spared his life only because he expected Seneca's natural life to be near its end.

In 41, Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 succeeded Caligula, and then, at the behest of his third wife Valeria Messalina, banished Seneca to Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

 on a charge of adultery with Caligula's sister Julia Livilla
Julia Livilla
Julia Livilla was the youngest child of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder and the youngest sister of the Emperor Caligula.-Life:Livilla was the youngest great granddaughter of Emperor Augustus, great-niece and adoptive granddaughter...

. Seneca spent his exile in philosophical and natural study (a life counseled by Roman Stoic thought) and wrote the Consolations, fulfilling a request for the text made by his sons for the sake of posterity. In 49, Claudius' fourth wife Agrippina the Younger
Agrippina the Younger
Julia Agrippina, most commonly referred to as Agrippina Minor or Agrippina the Younger, and after 50 known as Julia Augusta Agrippina was a Roman Empress and one of the more prominent women in the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

 had Seneca recalled to Rome to tutor her son Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

, then 12 years old; on Claudius' death in 54, she secured recognition of Nero, rather than Claudius' son Britannicus
Britannicus
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus was the son of the Roman emperor Claudius and his third wife Valeria Messalina. He became the heir-designate of the empire at his birth, less than a month into his father's reign. He was still a young boy at the time of his mother's downfall and Claudius'...

, as emperor.

From 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero's advisor, together with the praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

 Sextus Afranius Burrus
Sextus Afranius Burrus
Sextus Afranius Burrus , Praetorian prefect, was advisor to Roman Emperor Nero and, together with Seneca the Younger, very powerful in the early years of Nero's reign....

. Seneca's influence was said to be especially strong in the first year. Many historians consider Nero's early rule with Seneca and Burrus to be quite competent. However, over time, Seneca and Burrus lost their influence over Nero. In 59 they had reluctantly agreed to Agrippina's murder, and afterward Seneca wrote a dishonest exculpation of Nero to the Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

. With the death of Burrus in 62 and accusations of embezzlement, Seneca retired and devoted his time again to study and writing.

There is also speculation in Peter Salway
Peter Salway
Peter Salway is a British historian, who specialises in Roman Britain. He was a tutor for the Open University and later a fellow of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge and later at All Souls College Oxford. He is the author of Roman Britain , a volume in the Oxford History of England series.-References:...

's History of Roman Britain that Seneca had been involved in forcing large loans on the indigenous British aristocracy in the aftermath of Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

's Roman conquest of Britain
Roman conquest of Britain
The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Britannia. Great Britain had already frequently been the target of invasions, planned and actual, by forces of the Roman Republic and...

, and then calling them in suddenly and aggressively. The suggestion is that this contributed to Boudica
Boudica
Boudica , also known as Boadicea and known in Welsh as "Buddug" was queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire....

's rebellion, and so possibly to his own fall.
In 65, Seneca was caught up in the aftermath of the Pisonian conspiracy
Pisonian conspiracy
The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 represented one of the major turning points in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero...

, a plot to kill Nero. Although it is unlikely that he conspired, he was ordered by Nero to kill himself. He followed tradition by severing several vein
Vein
In the circulatory system, veins are blood vessels that carry blood towards the heart. Most veins carry deoxygenated blood from the tissues back to the heart; exceptions are the pulmonary and umbilical veins, both of which carry oxygenated blood to the heart...

s in order to bleed to death
Exsanguination
Exsanguination is the fatal process of hypovolemia , to a degree sufficient enough to cause death. One does not have to lose literally all of one's blood to cause death...

, and his wife Pompeia Paulina
Pompeia Paulina
Pompeia Paulina was the wife of the statesman, philosopher, and orator Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and she was part of a circle of educated Romans who sought to lead a principled life under the emperor Nero. Her husband was the emperor's tutor and later became his political adviser and minister...

 attempted to share his fate. Tacitus (writing in Book XV, Chapters 60 through 64 of his Annals of Imperial Rome
Annals (Tacitus)
The Annals by Tacitus is a history of the reigns of the four Roman Emperors succeeding Caesar Augustus. The surviving parts of the Annals extensively cover most of the reigns of Tiberius and Nero. The title Annals was probably not given by Tacitus, but derives from the fact that he treated this...

, a generation later, after the Julio-Claudian emperors) gives an account of the suicide, perhaps, in light of Tacitus's Republican sympathies, somewhat romanticized. According to it, Nero ordered Seneca's wife to be saved. Her wounds were bound up and she made no further attempt to kill herself. As for Seneca himself, his age and diet were blamed for slow loss of blood, and extended pain rather than a quick death; taking poison was also not fatal. After dictating his last words to a scribe, and with a circle of friends attending him in his home, he immersed himself in a warm bath, which was expected to speed blood flow and ease his pain. Tacitus writes: “He was then carried into a bath, with the steam of which he was suffocated, and he was burnt without any of the usual funeral rites. So he had directed in a codicil of his will, even when in the height of his wealth and power he was thinking of life’s close.”

As a humanist saint


The early Christian Church was very favorably disposed towards Seneca and his writings, and the church leader Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 called him "our Seneca".

Medieval writers and works (such as the Golden Legend
Golden Legend
The Golden Legend is a collection of hagiographies by Jacobus de Voragine that became a late medieval bestseller. More than a thousand manuscripts of the text have survived, compared to twenty or so of its nearest rivals...

, which erroneously has Nero as a witness to his suicide) believed Seneca had been converted to the Christian faith by Saint Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

, and early humanists
Christian humanism
Christian humanism is the position that universal human dignity and individual freedom are essential and principal components of, or are at least compatible with, Christian doctrine and practice. It is a philosophical union of Christian and humanist principles.- Origins :Christian humanism may have...

 regarded his fatal bath as a kind of disguised baptism.

Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 placed Seneca in the First Circle of Hell, or Limbo
Limbo
In the theology of the Catholic Church, Limbo is a speculative idea about the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the damned. Limbo is not an official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church or any other...

, a place of perfect natural happiness where virtuous non-Christians such as the ancient philosophers had to stay for eternity, due to their lack of the justifying grace (given only by Christ) required to go to heaven. Seneca makes an appearance as a character in Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea
L'incoronazione di Poppea
L'incoronazione di Poppea is an Italian baroque opera comprising a prologue and three acts, first performed in Venice during the 1642–43 carnival season. The music, attributed to Claudio Monteverdi, is a setting of a libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello...

.

An improving reputation


Seneca remains one of the few popular Roman philosophers from the period. He appears not only in Dante, but also in Chaucer and to a large degree in Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

, who adopted his style in his own essays and who quotes him more than any other authority except Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

. In the Renaissance, printed editions and translations of his works became common, including an edition by Erasmus and a commentary by John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

, John of Salisbury
John of Salisbury
John of Salisbury , who described himself as Johannes Parvus , was an English author, educationalist, diplomat and bishop of Chartres, and was born at Salisbury.-Early life and education:...

, Erasmus and others celebrated his works. French essayist Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

, who claimed not to have studied on Seneca and Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, was himself considered by Pasquier
Pasquier
Pasquier is a French surname derived from Latin pascuarium meaning "pasture". Pasquier shares the same root of given name and surname Pascal, from Latin Pascha, in turn from the Hebrew pesach that means literally "pass over"...

 a "French Seneca"; similarly, Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death...

 praised Joseph Hall as "our English Seneca". Many who have considered his ideas not to be particularly original, still argued he was important in making the Greek philosophers presentable and intelligible.

Even with the admiration of an earlier group of intellectual stalwarts, Seneca is not without his detractors. In his own time, he was widely considered to be a hypocrite or, at least, less than "stoic" in his lifestyle. His tendency to engage in illicit affairs with married women and close ties to Nero's excess test the limits of his teachings on restraint and self-discipline. While banished to Corsica, he wrote pleas for restoration rather incompatible with his advocacy of a simple life and the acceptance of fate. In his Pumpkinification (54) he ridiculed several behaviors and policies of Claudius that every Stoic should have applauded; a reading of the text shows it was also an attempt to gain Nero's favor by flattery
Flattery
Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject....

—such as proclaiming that Nero would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor
Nestor (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Nestor of Gerenia was the son of Neleus and Chloris and the King of Pylos. He became king after Heracles killed Neleus and all of Nestor's siblings...

. Suilius claims that Seneca acquired some "three hundred million sesterces within the space of four years" through Nero's favor. Robin Campbell, a translator of Seneca's letters, writes that the "stock criticism of Seneca right down the centuries [has been]...the apparent contrast between his philosophical teachings and his practice."

According to Tacitus however, Suilius's accusations did not hold up under scrutiny. It would make sense that Seneca's position of power would make him vulnerable to trumped-up charges, as many public figures were at the time.

In 1966 scholar Anna Lydia Motto also challenged this view of Seneca, arguing that his image has been based almost entirely on Suilius's account, while many others who might have lauded him have been lost.
"We are therefore left with no contemporary record of Seneca's life, save for the desperate opinion of Publius Suilius. Think of the barren image we should have of Socrates, had the works of Plato and Xenophon not come down to us and were we wholly dependent upon Aristophanes' description of this Athenian philosopher. To be sure, we should have a highly distorted, misconstrued view. Such is the view left to us of Seneca, if we were to rely upon Suilius alone."


More recent work is changing the dominant perception of Seneca as a mere conduit for pre-existing ideas showing originality in Seneca's contribution to the history of ideas. Examination of Seneca's life and thought in relation to contemporary education and to the psychology of emotions is revealing a relevance of his thought. For example, Martha Nussbaum in her discussion of desire and emotion includes Seneca among the Stoics who offered important insights and perspectives on emotions and their role in our lives. Specifically devoting a chapter to his treatment of anger and its management she shows Seneca's appreciation of the damaging role of uncontrolled anger, and its pathological connections. Nussbaum later extended her examination to Seneca's contribution to political philosophy showing considerable subtlety and richness in his thoughts about politics, education and notions of global citizenship and finding a basis for reform minded education in Seneca's ideas that allows her to propose a mode of modern education which steers clear of both narrow traditionalism and total rejection of tradition.

Some writers regard Seneca as the first great western thinker on the complex nature and role of gratitude in human relationships There has also been a recent theory presented that there were in fact two Senecas. While the evidence seems marginal at best, a small number of doctorate works have noted stylistic discrepancies across the corpus of Senecan work. The theory, though a published dissertation, has been roundly viewed as incorrect.

Works



Works attributed to Seneca include a dozen philosophical essays, one hundred and twenty-four letters dealing with moral
Moral
A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

 issues, nine tragedies
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

, a satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, and a meteorological
Meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

 essay. One of the tragedies attributed to him, Octavia, has been argued as having been written by another. His authorship of Hercules on Oeta has also been questioned.

Seneca generally employed a pointed rhetorical style. His writings expose traditional themes of Stoic philosophy: the universe is governed for the best by a rational providence; contentment is achieved through a simple, unperturbed life in accordance with nature and duty to the state; human suffering should be accepted and has a beneficial effect on the soul; study and learning are important. He emphasized practical steps by which the reader might confront life's problems. In particular, he considered it important to confront one's own mortality. The discussion of how to approach death dominates many of his letters.

Seneca's Tragedies



Many scholars have thought, following the ideas of the 19th century German scholar Leo, that Seneca's tragedies were written for recitation only. Other scholars think that they were written for performance and that it is possible that actual performance had taken place in Seneca's lifetime. Ultimately, this issue cannot be resolved on the basis of our existing knowledge.

The tragedies of Seneca have been successfully staged in modern times. The dating of the tragedies is highly problematic in the absence of any ancient references. A relative chronology has been suggested on metrical grounds but scholars remain divided. It is inconceivable that they were written in the same year. They are not all based on Greek tragedies, they have a five act form and differ in many respects from extant Attic drama, and whilst the influence of Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

 on some of these works is considerable, so is the influence of Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 and Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

.

Seneca's plays were widely read in medieval and Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an universities
University
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

 and strongly influenced tragic drama
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 in that time, such as Elizabethan England (Shakespeare and other playwrights), France (Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 and Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

), and the Netherlands (Joost van den Vondel). He is regarded as the source and inspiration for what is known as 'Revenge Tragedy', starting with Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd was an English dramatist, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama....

's 'The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent...

' and continuing well into the Jacobean Period.

Tragedies:
  • Hercules Furens
    Hercules Furens
    Hercules Furens can refer to:*Herakles , also called Hercules Furens*Hercules Furens, a play by Seneca the Younger...

     (The Madness of Hercules)
  • Troades (The Trojan Women)
  • Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women)
  • Phaedra
    Phaedra (Seneca)
    Phaedra, sometimes known as Hippolytus, is a play by Seneca the Younger, telling the story of Phaedra and her taboo love for her stepson Hippolytus...

  • Thyestes
    Thyestes
    In Greek mythology, Thyestes was the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, King of Olympia, and father of Pelopia and Aegisthus. Thyestes and his twin brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus, in their desire for the throne of Olympia...

  • Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta): there is doubt by some scholars whether this tragedy was written by Seneca.
  • Agamemnon
  • Oedipus
    Oedipus (Seneca)
    Oedipus is a tragic play that was written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca at some time during the 1st century AD. It is a retelling of the story of Oedipus, which is better known through the play Oedipus the King by the Athenian playwright, Sophocles...

  • Medea
  • Octavia: closely resemble Seneca's plays in style, but is written by someone with a keen knowledge of Seneca's plays and philosophical works, a short time after Seneca's death, perhaps in the 70s of the 1st century AD.

Dialogues

  • (40) Ad Marciam, De consolatione (To Marcia, On consolation) – Consoles her on the death of her son
  • (41) De Ira (On anger) – A study on the consequences and the control of anger
  • (42) Ad Helviam matrem, De consolatione
    Seneca's Consolations
    Seneca's Consolations refers to Seneca’s three Consolatory works, De Consolatione ad Marciam, De Consolatione ad Polybium, De Consolatione ad Helviam, written around 40-45 AD.-Context of the Consolations:...

     (To Helvia, On consolation) – Letter to his mother consoling her on his absence during exile.
  • (44) De Consolatione ad Polybium
    Seneca's Consolations
    Seneca's Consolations refers to Seneca’s three Consolatory works, De Consolatione ad Marciam, De Consolatione ad Polybium, De Consolatione ad Helviam, written around 40-45 AD.-Context of the Consolations:...

     (To Polybius, On consolation) – Consoling him on his missing son
  • (49) De Brevitate Vitæ
    De Brevitate Vitae (Seneca)
    De Brevitate Vitae is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher, to his friend Paulinus. The philosopher brings up many Stoic principles on the nature of time, namely that men waste much of it in meaningless pursuits...

     (On the shortness of life) – Essay expounding that any length of life is sufficient if lived wisely.
  • (62) De Otio (On leisure)
  • (63) De Tranquillitate Animi (On tranquillity of mind)
  • (64) De Providentia
    De Providentia
    De Providentia is a short essay in the form of a dialogue in six brief sections, written by the Latin philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Seneca the Younger" in the last years of his life...

     (On providence)
  • (55) De Constantia Sapientis (On the Firmness of the Wise Person)
  • (58) De Vita Beata
    De Vita Beata
    Seneca the Younger wrote the moral essay De Vita Beata to his brother Gallio. In a few words Seneca the Younger explains that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of the 'reason', reason meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature.In Seneca the Younger's words,...

     (On the happy life)

Other

  • (54) Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius), a satirical work.
  • (56) De Clementia (On Clemency) – written to Nero
    Nero
    Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

     on the need for clemency as a virtue
    Virtue
    Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

     in an emperor.
  • (63) De Beneficiis (On Benefits) [seven books]
  • (63) Naturales quaestiones
    Naturales quaestiones
    Naturales quaestiones is an encyclopedia of the natural world written by Seneca around 65 AD. It is much shorter than the Naturalis Historia produced by Pliny the Elder some ten years later, however.-Content:...

     [seven books] of no great originality but offering an insight into ancient theories of cosmology
    Cosmology
    Cosmology is the discipline that deals with the nature of the Universe as a whole. Cosmologists seek to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order...

    , meteorology
    Meteorology
    Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

    , and similar subjects.
  • (64) Epistulae morales ad Lucilium
    Epistulae morales ad Lucilium
    The Epistulae morales ad Lucilium is a bundle of 124 letters which were written by Seneca the Younger at the end of his life. These letters all start with the phrase "Seneca Lucilio suo salutem" and end with the word "Vale" . In these letters, Seneca gives Lucilius tips on how to become a more...

     – collection of 124 letters dealing with moral issues written to Lucilius Junior
    Lucilius Junior
    Lucilius Junior , was the Roman governor of Sicily during the reign of Nero, a friend and correspondent of Seneca, and the possible author of Aetna, a poem which survives in a corrupt state.-Life:...

    .
  • (58-62/370?) Cujus etiam ad Paulum apostolum leguntur epistolae: These letters, allegedly between Seneca and St. Paul, were revered by early authorities, but most scholars now doubt their authenticity.

Quotations


  • A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.
  • A great fortune is a great slavery.
  • A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.
  • A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.
  • A person's fears are lighter when the danger is at hand.
  • A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two.
  • A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand.
  • As long as you live, keep learning how to live.
  • We all sorely complain of the shortness of time, and yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives are either spent in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.
  • The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.

Further reading

  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Anger, Mercy, Revenge. trans. Robert A. Kast and Martha C. Nussbaum. Chicago IL., University of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-226-74841-2
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Natural Questions. trans. Harry M. Hine. Chicago IL., University of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-226-74838-2
  • Lucas, F. L.
    F. L. Lucas
    Frank Laurence Lucas was an English classical scholar, literary critic, poet, novelist, playwright, political polemicist, and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge....

    , Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge University Press, 1922; paperback 2009, ISBN 978-1-108-00358-2); on Seneca the man, his plays, and the influence of his tragedies on later drama.
  • Motto, Anna Lydia, Seneca on Trial: The Case of the Opulent Stoic, The Classical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 6 (Mar., 1966), pp. 254–258
  • Shelton, Jo-Ann, Seneca's Hercules Furens: Theme, Structure and Style, Göttingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978. ISBN 3-525-25145-9. A revision of the author's doctoral thesis at the University of California, Berkeley
    University of California, Berkeley
    The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

    , 1974.
  • Cunnally, John, Nero, Seneca, and the Medallist of the Roman Emperors, Art Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 2 (June., 1986) , pp. 314–317
  • Giuseppe Leone, "A duemila anni dalla nascita è ancora uno scrittore vivo – Seneca e la questione morale", su "Ricorditi di me...", in "Lecco 2000", Lecco, luglio-agosto 1996.
  • Mitchell, David. 'Legacy: The Apocryphal Correspondence between Seneca and Paul' Xlibris Corporation 2010

External links