Seneca the Younger

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Seneca the Younger
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Seneca the Younger


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

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Biography

Born in Cordoba, Hispania (in modern Spain), Seneca was the second son of Helvia and Marcus (Lucius) Annaeus Seneca, a wealthy rhetorician known as Seneca the Elder. Seneca's older brother, Gallio, was proconsul at Achaia (where early Christian documents recall he encountered the apostle Paul about AD 52). Seneca was uncle to the poet Lucan, by his younger brother, Annaeus Mela.

Tradition relates that he was a sickly child, and that he was taken to Rome by an aunt for schooling. He was trained in rhetoric, and studied neo-Pythagorean and, principally, Stoic philosophy. But there is very little hard biographical information available from his own works and where this appears to be the case one needs to exercise extreme caution as it is invariably misleading and included simply to illustrate some philosophical idea rather than to impart biographical data. Other historical accounts are written from biased points of view and make the reconstruction of the original Seneca problematic.

Under his father's and aunt's guidance, he established a successful career as an advocate. Around 37 he was nearly killed as a result of a conflict with the Emperor Caligula, who only spared him because he believed the sickly Seneca would not live long anyhow. In 41, Messalina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, persuaded Claudius to have him banished to Corsica on a charge of adultery with Julia Livilla. He spent his exile in philosophical and natural study, and wrote the Consolations.

In 49, Claudius' new wife, Agrippina, had him recalled to Rome to tutor her son, L. Domitius, who was to become the emperor Nero. On Claudius' murder in 54, Agrippina secured the recognition of Nero as emperor over Claudius' son, Britannicus.

For the first five years, the quinquennium Neronis, Nero ruled wisely under the influence of Seneca and the praetorian prefect, Sextus Afranius Burrus. But, before long, Seneca and Burrus had lost their influence over Nero and his reign became tyrannical. With the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca retired and devoted his time to more study and writing.

In 65, Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot to murder Nero, the Pisonian conspiracy. Without a trial, he was ordered by Nero to commit suicide. Tacitus gives an account of the suicide of Seneca and his wife, Pompeia Paulina, who chose to follow her husband in death.

Works

Works attributed to Seneca include a satire, a meteorological essay, philosophical essays, 124 letters dealing with moral issues, and ten tragedies. One of the tragedies attributed to him, Octavia, is clearly not by him. He even appears as a character in the play. His authorship of another, Hercules on Oeta, is doubtful. Seneca's brand of Stoic philosophy emphasized practical steps by which the reader might confront life's problems. In particular he considered it important to confront the fact of one's own mortality. The discussion of how to approach death dominates many of his letters.

Seneca's Tragedies

It is impossible to determine if the tragedies were performed on stage: there is no evidence for either side. The German scholar Leo stated that they were recitation dramas but this reflected his conception of what a drama ought to be and this in turn was based on his conception of Greek tragedy.

They 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 based on Greek tragedy and whilst Euripides is a very distant ancestor of these works the main influence is Ovidian.

Seneca's plays were widely read in medieval European universities, so they strongly influenced Renaissance tragic drama, particularly the literature of Elizabethan England.

Dates are approximate.

Dialogues

Tragedies

Other

See also

External links

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