Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in Corduba, Spain, about 4 b.c.e. He came from a learned and wealthy family: His father, Seneca the Elder, was a well-known rhetorician, and his mother, Helvia, was an attractive, erudite woman with a deep interest in philosophy and the liberal arts. They had three sons: Annaeus Novatus, the oldest, an accomplished orator, writer, and politician; Anneaus Mela, the youngest, remembered as the father of the Roman poet Lucan; and Lucius Annaeus, renowned philosopher, statesman, orator, and playwright.
During infancy, Seneca left Spain for Rome, where his family established permanent residence. When he came of age, he received instruction in grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy. He was bored by the teachings of dull grammarians, spurred on by the training of outstanding rhetors, and fascinated by the discussion of leading philosophers. By combining philosophy with rhetoric, the young Seneca aimed to pursue a philosophical, contemplative life along with an oratorical, political career.
Seneca’s active political career was interrupted by the poor health that he had endured since childhood. Because of his illness and in order to have a change of scene, he went to Egypt, where his maternal aunt, the wife of the governor, aided him, through her devotion and care, in regaining his strength. On his return to Rome, through the influence of this devoted aunt, he obtained the quaestorship about 33 c.e., perhaps becoming aedile or tribune of the plebeians about 36 or 37.
While advancing politically, Seneca also distinguished himself as a lawyer, a philosopher, and an author, winning not only glory and riches but also the jealousy of the mad...
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Lucius Annaeus Seneca (SEHN-ih-kuh), better known as Seneca the Younger, was born in 4 b.c.e. in Corduba (now Córdoba, Spain). His father, Seneca the Elder, was a conservative Roman knight who had achieved fame as an orator and teacher of rhetoric in Rome. His mother, Helvia, was an extraordinarily intelligent, gifted, and morally upright person whose love for philosophy had been checked only by her husband’s rejection of the idea of education for women. The familial conflict was passed to the next generation: The oldest of the three brothers, Gallio, pursued a splendid political career, but the youngest, Mela, spent his life making money and educating himself (the poet Lucan was his son). Lucius Seneca, the second child and the bearer of his father’s name, was torn between public life in the service of a corrupt state and life as philosopher, writer, and private man.
Coming to Rome at a very early age, Seneca received an education in rhetoric. Not only was it the first step toward becoming an orator with an eye to public offices; it also introduced the youth to the discussion of subtle ethical questions, and thus presented him with a specific model of intellectual inquiry that would shape his literary output. He encountered teachers of Stoic philosophy who taught a life of asceticism, equanimity in the face of adversity, and an evaluation of the daily work of the self, which laid the foundations of the mature Seneca’s eclectic philosophical beliefs.
In Rome, Seneca lived with an aunt who guarded the thin, feeble boy’s precarious health. As a result of his aunt’s lobbying, Seneca successfully entered public service in 33 c.e. Besides serving the state under the two difficult emperors Tiberius and Caligula, Seneca began to achieve wealth and fame as a lawyer; early works (now lost) made him a celebrated writer, as well. Yet his status at the top of Roman society also threatened his life. Only ill health saved him from the jealous wrath of Caligula, whose mistresses persuaded him of the pointlessness of executing a...
(The entire section is 862 words.)