Seneca the Elder Analysis

Life

Seneca (SEHN-ih-kuh) the Elder, though born in Corduba, lived much of his life in Rome. He was a successful businessman as well as an author of textbooks on rhetoric and oratory. Two of his books have survived, though in incomplete or abridged form. One, Controversiae (first century b.c.e. or first century c.e.; English translation, 1900), is a collection of exercises for use in classroom debates about legal issues; the other, Suasoriae (first century b.c.e. or first century c.e.; Declamations, 1974), provides topics for students who are practicing speeches intended to persuade listeners to support a proposed action.

Seneca the Elder had three sons, all of whom held positions in government. The eldest, Gallio, was proconsul of Achaea (Greece) in 52 c.e., where he heard the charges against Saint Paul mentioned in Acts 18:12. The middle son was Lucius Annaeus Seneca (known as Seneca the Younger), the statesman, philosopher, and playwright. The youngest, Mela, was an imperial procurator and the father of the epic poet Lucan. All three sons committed suicide in 65-66 c.e.

Influence

In his books, Seneca relates anecdotes about and quotations from many of the public speakers he had heard. He is an important source of information about oratory and rhetorical education in the early imperial period.

Additional Resources

Bonner, S. F. Education in Ancient Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Sussman, L. A. The Elder Seneca. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1978.