World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Seneca the Younger

Article Id: WHEBN0000075150
Reproduction Date:

Title: Seneca the Younger  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Roman Empire, 60s, Marcus Marius Gratidianus, Tragedy, Crucifixion
Collection: 0S Bc Births, 1St-Century Executions, 1St-Century Philosophers, 1St-Century Romans, 1St-Century Writers, 4 Bc, 4 Bc Births, 65 Deaths, Ancient Roman Tragic Dramatists, Ancient Romans Who Committed Suicide, Annaei, Forced Suicides, Latin Letter Writers, Latin-Language Writers, Male Dramatists and Playwrights, Male Suicides, Male Writers, Members of the Pisonian Conspiracy, People Executed by the Roman Empire, People from Córdoba, Andalusia, Philosophers of Roman Italy, Philosophers Who Committed Suicide, Roman Encyclopedists, Roman-Era Philosophers, Roman-Era Satirists, Roman-Era Stoic Philosophers, Romans from Hispania, Silver Age Latin Writers, Writers Who Committed Suicide
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Seneca the Younger

Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Ancient bust of Seneca, part of the Double Herm of Socrates and Seneca (Antikensammlung Berlin)
Born c. 4 BC
Cordoba, Hispania
Died AD 65 (aged 68–69)
Nationality Roman
Other names Seneca the Younger, Seneca
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Stoicism

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known as Seneca the Younger or simply Seneca ; c. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature.

He was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, some sources state that he may have been innocent.[1][2] His father was Seneca the Elder, his elder brother was Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, called Gallio in the Bible, and his nephew was the poet Lucan.


  • Biography 1
    • Imperial advisor 1.1
    • Retirement 1.2
    • Disgrace and suicide 1.3
  • Legacy 2
    • As a humanist saint 2.1
    • An improving reputation 2.2
    • Works 2.3
    • Seneca's tragedies 2.4
    • Essays and letters 2.5
    • Other 2.6
    • Spurious 2.7
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


He was born in Cordoba in Spain,[3] and raised in Rome,[4] where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy (ref. - p. 31).[5]

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."[6] Griffin also infers from the 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 a resident in Rome by AD 5. Seneca says that he was carried to Rome in the arms of his mother's stepsister.[7] 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.

Caligula and Fabius, were critics of his works and Columella, Pliny, Tacitus and Dio proponents.[8]

This Baroque marble imaginary portrait bust of Seneca, by an anonymous sculptor of the 17th century (Museo del Prado).

Imperial advisor

From 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero's advisor, together with the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. Seneca's influence was said to have been especially strong in the first year.[9] Tacitus and Dio suggest that Nero's early rule, during which time he listened to Seneca and Burrus, was quite competent. However, the ancient sources suggest, over time, Seneca and Burrus lost their influence over the emperor. In 59 they had reluctantly agreed to Agrippina's murder, and afterward, Tacitus reports that Seneca wrote a dishonest exculpation of Nero to the Senate.[10]

Dio reports the common uncomplimentary rumors circulating about Seneca's hypocrisy and venality:

"Nor was this the only instance in which his conduct was seen to be diametrically opposed to the teachings of his philosophy. For while denouncing tyranny, he was making himself the teacher of a tyrant; while inveighing against the associates of the powerful, he did not hold aloof from the palace itself; and though he had nothing good to say of flatterers, he himself had constantly fawned upon Messalina and the freedmen of Claudius, to such an extent, in fact, as actually to send them from the island of his exile a book containing their praises—a book that he afterwards suppressed out of shame. Though finding fault with the rich, he himself acquired a fortune of 300,000,000 sesterces; and though he censured the extravagances of others, he had five hundred tables of citrus wood with legs of ivory, all identically alike, and he served banquets on them."[11]

Dio also reports that Seneca had been involved in forcing large loans on the indigenous British aristocracy in the aftermath of Claudius's Roman conquest of Britain, and then calling them in suddenly and aggressively, which he includes as one of the factors that contributed to Boudica's rebellion. This may have contributed as well to his own downfall.[12]


Following Burrus' death in 62, Seneca became the subject of criticism by what Tacitus describes as Nero's "more disreputable advisers." Charges included allegations of excessive wealth, the grandeur of his property, and calculated bids for popularity.[13] Seneca requested an audience with Nero in which he sought permission to retire from public duties, pleading age and infirmity. The two then parted on apparently warm terms.[14] Seneca subsequently adopted a quiet lifestyle on his country estates, concentrating on his studies and seldom visiting Rome.[15]

Disgrace and suicide

Manuel Domínguez Sánchez, The suicide of Seneca (1871), Museo del Prado

In AD 65, Seneca was caught up in the aftermath of the Pisonian conspiracy, a plot to kill Nero. Although it is unlikely that Seneca conspired, Nero ordered him to kill himself. Seneca followed tradition by severing several veins in order to bleed to death, and his wife Pompeia Paulina attempted to share his fate. A generation after the Julio-Claudian emperors, Tacitus wrote an account of the suicide, which in view of his Republican sympathies is perhaps somewhat romanticized.[16] According to this account, 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; he also took poison, which 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 wrote, "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."[17]


As a humanist saint

Plato, Seneca, and Aristotle in a medieval manuscript illustration (c. 1325–35)

The early Christian Church was very favorably disposed towards Seneca and his writings, and the church leader Tertullian possessively referred to him as "our Seneca."[18]

Medieval writers and works (such as the Golden Legend, which erroneously presents Nero as a witness to Seneca's suicide) believed Seneca had been converted to the Christian faith by Saint Paul, and early humanists regarded his fatal bath as a kind of disguised baptism.

Dante placed Seneca in the First Circle of Hell, or Limbo. Seneca makes an appearance as a character in Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Girolamo Cardano in his apologia of Nero, Neronis Encomium Basel, 1562,[19] claims Seneca was a fraud, a fake philosopher, a corrupter of Nero, and that he deserved death.

The "Pseudo-Seneca" a Roman bust found at Herculaneum, one of a series of similar sculptures known since the Renaissance, was hoped to be a portrait of Seneca illustrating his Stoic qualities, until the inscribed Roman portrait (illustration above) was identified.

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, who adopted his style in his own essays and who quotes him more than any other authority except Virgil. In the Renaissance, printed editions and translations of his works became common, including an edition by Erasmus and a commentary by John Calvin.[20] John of Salisbury, Erasmus and others celebrated his works. French essayist Montaigne, who gave a spirited defense of Seneca and Plutarch in his Essays, was himself considered by Pasquier a "French Seneca."[21] Similarly, Thomas Fuller 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.[22] His suicide has also been a popular subject in art, from Jacques-Louis David's 1773 painting The Death of Seneca to the 1951 film Quo Vadis.

"Seneca," ancient hero of the modern Cordoba; this architectural roundel in Seville is based on the "Pseudo-Seneca" (illustration above)

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—such as proclaiming that Nero would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor. Suillius claims that Seneca acquired some "three hundred million sesterces within the space of four years" through Nero's favor.[23] 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."[23]

According to Tacitus, however, Suillius's accusations did not hold up under scrutiny.[24] 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.[25]

In 1966 scholar Anna Lydia Motto also challenged this view of Seneca, arguing that his image has been based almost entirely on Suillius's account, while many others who might have lauded him have been lost.[26]

"We are therefore left with no contemporary record of Seneca's life, save for the desperate opinion of Publius Suillius. 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 Suillius alone."[27]

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 the 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.[28] 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[29] 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.[30]

Girolamo Cardano printed a savage attack on Seneca in 1562, in Basel. The title of the book is Encomium Neronis and it is available in English as Girolamo Cardano, Nero: an Exemplary Life Inkstone, 2012. Cardano says that he was a crook of the worst kind, an empty rhetorician who was only thinking to grab money and power, after having poisoned the mind of the young emperor. Cardano says that Seneca well deserved death.

Similarly, a more modern and scathing portrayal of Seneca comes in Robert Graves' Claudius the God the sequel novel to I, Claudius. Here, Seneca is portrayed as an unbearable sycophant and half-wit, with Graves quoting several of Seneca's works at points. He is shown to be a pathetic flatterer whose conversion to a Stoic is solely for appeasing Claudius' own ideology. The inclusion of the "Pumpkinification" in Graves' light reads as an unbearable work of flattery to the loathsome Nero and mocking a man that Seneca had groveled to for years.


Works attributed to Seneca include a dozen philosophical essays, one hundred and twenty-four letters dealing with moral issues, nine tragedies, and a satire, the attribution of which is disputed.[31] 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

Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina

Many scholars have thought, following the ideas of the 19th century German scholar Friedrich 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.[32] 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 while the influence of Euripides on some of these works is considerable, so is the influence of Virgil and Ovid.

Seneca's plays were widely read in medieval and Renaissance European universities and strongly influenced tragic drama in that time, such as Elizabethan England (Shakespeare and other playwrights), France (Corneille and Racine), 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's The Spanish Tragedy and continuing well into the Jacobean era.


  • Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules)
  • Troades (The Trojan Women)
  • Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women)
  • Phaedra
  • Thyestes
  • Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta): there is doubt by some scholars whether this tragedy was written by Seneca.
  • Agamemnon
  • Oedipus
  • Medea
  • Octavia: this play 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.

Essays and letters



See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The epistles of Lucius Annæus Seneca translated with large annotations by T. Morell G.G. and J.Robinson - Pater-noster Row 1786 [Retrieved 2015-3-29]
  4. ^ MG Moran (Graduate Coordinator and Associate Professor of English at the University of Georgia) - Classical Rhetorics and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources - p.343 Greenwood Publishing Group, 1 Jan 2005 (edited by M Ballif - Associate Professor of English and Director of the Franklin College Writing Intensive Program at the University of Georgia, MG Moran) ISBN 0313321787 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  5. ^
  6. ^ Miriam T. Griffin. Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics, Oxford 1976. 34.
  7. ^ Cons Helv. 19.2
  8. ^ Sir Roger L'Estrange - , near to the beginning of the book) - Seneca's Morals by Way of Abstractof Seneca's writings(Second page of part S. Ballard, 1746 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  9. ^ Cassius Dio claims Seneca and Burrus "took the rule entirely into their own hands," but "after the death of Britannicus, Seneca and Burrus no longer gave any careful attention to the public business" in 55 (Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXI.3–7)
  10. ^
  11. ^ Cassius Dio, Book LXI.33.9.
  12. ^ Dio, 62.2.1
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Moses Hadas. The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, 1958. 1.
  19. ^ printed in English as Nero. An exemplary life. Inkstone, 2012
  20. ^ Richard Mott Gummere, Seneca the philosopher, and his modern message, p.97.
  21. ^ Gummere, Seneca the philosopher, and his modern message, p.106.
  22. ^ Moses Hadas. The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, 1958. 3.
  23. ^ a b Campbell, Robin Letters from a Stoic (London 1998) 11.
  24. ^ Tacitus The Annals (New York 2003) 267.
  25. ^ Tacitus The Annals (New York 2003) All.
  26. ^ Lydia Motto, Anna Seneca on Trial: The Case of the Opulent Stoic The Classic Journal, Vol. 61, No. 6 (1966) pp. 254–258
  27. ^ Lydia Motto, Anna Seneca on Trial: The Case of the Opulent Stoic The Classic Journal, Vol. 61, No. 6 (1966) pp. 257
  28. ^ Nussbaum, M. (1996), The Therapy of Desire. Princeton University Press
  29. ^ Nussbaum, M. (1999) Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Harvard University Press
  30. ^ Harpham, E. (2004) Gratitude in the History of Ideas,19–37 in M. A. Emmons and M. E. McCulloch, editors, The Psychology of Gratitude, Oxford University Press.
  31. ^ Brockett, O. (2003), History of the Theatre: Ninth Ed. Allyn and Bacon. p. 50
  32. ^ George W.M. Harrison (ed.), Seneca in performance, London: Duckworth, 2000.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1892) St Paul and Seneca Dissertations on the Apostolic Age

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. Hardship and Happiness. trans. Elaine Fantham, Harry M. Hine, James Ker, and Gareth D. Williams. Chicago IL., University of Chicago Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-226-74832-0
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Natural Questions. trans. Harry M. Hine. Chicago IL., University of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-226-74838-2
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. On Benefits. trans. Miriam Griffin and Brad Inwood. Chicago IL., University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-226-74840-5
  • Cunnally, John, Nero, Seneca, and the Medallist of the Roman Emperors, Art Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 2 (June., 1986), pp. 314–317
  • Di Paola, O. (2015), "Connections between Seneca and Platonism in Epistulae ad Lucilium 58", Athens: ATINER'S Conference Paper Series, No: PHI2015-1445.
  • Inwood, Brad, Reading Seneca. Stoic Philosophy at Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Lucas, F. L., 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
  • Mitchell, David. 'Legacy: The Apocryphal Correspondence between Seneca and Paul Xlibris Corporation 2010
  • 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, 1974.

External links

  • Seneca entry by Katja Vogt in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Original texts of Seneca's works at 'The Latin Library'
  • Works by Seneca the Younger at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Seneca the Younger at Internet Archive
  • Works by Seneca the Younger at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Seneca: Letters from a Stoic
  • Essays by Seneca at
  • Seneca's essays and letters in English (at
  • List of commentaries of Seneca's Letters
  • Incunabula (1478) of Seneca's works in the McCune Collection
  • Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
  • SORGLL: Seneca, Thyestes 766–804, read by Katharina Volk, Columbia University. Society for the Oral reading of Greek and Latin Literature (SORGLL)
  • Digitized works by Lucius Annaeus Seneca at Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, Biblioteca Nacional de España
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.