Seneca (SEHN-ih-kuh) was the son of Annaeus Seneca, a famous rhetorician of Corduba known as Seneca the Elder, whose own contributions to literary history had a profound influence on his son. Seneca the Younger, in his writings, lavished praise on both of his parents. Helvia, his mother, was a strong woman of character who is specifically honored in To My Mother Helvia, on Consolation. The family possessed wealth and high rank, and at an early age Seneca was sent to Rome to be educated. As a student of rhetoric and philosophy, the young man came to the notice of Emperor Caligula, under whose patronage he entered the Roman senate and gained fame as an orator. Accused by Empress Messalina of conducting a love affair with Caligula’s sister, Seneca was banished to Corsica by Emperor Claudius. Many of Seneca’s philosophical writings were written during his exile, but his conduct while in Corsica apparently exhibited little of the Stoicism he advocated. Unhappy in his banishment, he begged to be recalled to Rome. In the year 49 c.e. Agrippina, the new wife of Claudius, procured his return and made him a tutor to her eleven-year-old son Domitius, later Emperor Nero.
Seneca and Sextus Afranius Burrus, prefect of the Praetorian guard, exercised great influence over Nero and were, according to Tacitus, responsible for the mildness that marked the early years of that monarch’s reign. In his writings, Seneca attributes words to Nero that perhaps reflect Seneca’s own aspirations for peace and...
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