Seneca the Younger

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)
0111201580-Seneca.jpg Seneca the Younger (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.


Seneca (SEHN-ih-kuh) the Younger was born into a wealthy Roman family living in the province of Spain. His father, Seneca the Elder, sent him to Rome to be educated in the best rhetorical schools in preparation for a career in Roman politics. In addition to rhetoric, Seneca studied philosophy, particularly Stoicism. His public career was punctuated by reversals of fortune that would test the fortitude of even a Stoic saint. By 37 c.e., Seneca was a renowned public speaker and had won appointments to several political positions. However in 41 c.e., the emperor Claudius was persuaded by his wife, Messallina, to send Seneca into exile. In 49 c.e., after Valeria Messallina was executed for conspiring against Claudius, his new wife, Agrippina the Younger, convinced him to recall Seneca to Rome to be tutor for her twelve-year-old son, Domitius (later called Nero).

At Claudius’s death in 54 c.e., the young Domitius (Nero) became emperor and retained Seneca as a close adviser. Despite the philosopher’s influence, Nero became increasingly violent. In 59 c.e., for example, he ordered the bludgeoning death of his mother. In 62 c.e., Seneca asked Nero for permission to retire from the imperial court. In 65 c.e., he was accused, perhaps wrongly, of plotting to assassinate the emperor, and he committed suicide.

Despite the demands of his public life, Seneca was a prolific writer. He is the author of essays that elucidate Stoic teachings on such topics as mercy, anger, kindness, fate, happiness, and peace of mind. Also extant is a collection of 124 letters in which he discusses ethical issues. In addition, he composed a book about natural phenomena. Seneca is traditionally considered to be the author of nine tragedies on themes from Greek mythology, such as Medea, Oedipus, and Hercules. Also attributed to him is a satire about the death of the emperor Claudius, Apocolcyntosis divi Claudii (c. 54 c.e.; The Deification of Claudius, 1614).


Seneca’s philosophic...

(The entire section is 840 words.)