Seneca (the Younger)

Seneca (the younger, c.3 BC–AD 65, Roman philosopher, dramatist, and statesman)

Seneca, the younger (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) (lōō´shəs ənē´əs sĕn´əkə), c.3 BC–AD 65, Roman philosopher, dramatist, and statesman, b. Corduba (present-day Córdoba), Spain. He was the son of Seneca the elder. The younger Seneca went to Rome in his childhood, studied rhetoric and philosophy, and earned renown as an orator when still a youth. He was exiled by Claudius (AD 41) ostensibly because of his intimacy with Julia, Claudius' brother Germanicus' daughter. In AD 49 he was recalled at the urgings of Agrippina the Younger to become tutor of the young Nero. In the first years of Nero's reign Seneca was virtual ruler with Afranius Burrus, and their influence on the emperor was probably for the best. But the ascendancy of Poppaea, Nero's wife, brought about first the death of Agrippina (AD 59), then that of Burrus (AD 62). Seneca asked to retire. He had amassed a huge fortune and wanted no more of court life. Accusations of conspiracy were finally leveled at Seneca, who, instructed to commit suicide, slashed his veins. His death scene was considered remarkably noble by the Romans. Seneca was a Stoic, and his writings show a high, unselfish nobility considerably at variance with his own life, in which greed, expediency, and even connivance at murder figured. His Epistolae morales ad Lucilium are essays on ethics written for his friend Lucilius Junior, to whom he also addressed Quaestiones naturales, philosophical—rather than scientific—remarks about natural phenomena. The so-called Dialogi of Seneca include essays on anger, on divine providence, on Stoic impassivity, and on peace of soul. Other moral essays have also survived, notably De elementia, on the duty of a ruler to be merciful, and De beneficiis, on the award and reception of favors. The Apocolocyntosis is a satire on the apotheosis of Claudius. The most influential of his works, at least in so far as European literature is concerned, were his tragedies. It is generally agreed that his plays were written for recitation and not for stage performance. Nine plays, based on Greek models, are accepted as his—Hercules Furens, Medea, Troades, Phaedra, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Hercules Oetaeus, Phoenissae, and Thyestes. A tenth, Octavia, is now ascribed to a later imitator. Although his drama has been deprecated in modern times, no author had a stronger influence on Renaissance tragedy than did Seneca. His atmosphere of gloom, his horrors, his rhetoric and bombast, his stoicism, were all essential contributions to the forming of Renaissance tragedy. The most significant play influenced by Seneca was Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy.

See S. Bartsch et al., ed., Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2010–); studies by M. D. Griffin (1976), V. Sorenson (tr. 1984), D. and E. Henry (1985), and J. Romm (2014).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics
Miriam T. Griffin.
Clarendon Press, 1992
The Deaths of Seneca
James Ker.
Oxford University Press, 2009
Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy
Gregory A. Staley.
Oxford University Press, 2010
The Cosmic Viewpoint: A Study of Seneca's Natural Questions
Gareth D. Williams.
Oxford University Press, 2012
FREE! The Tragedies of Seneca
Frank Justus Miller; Seneca.
University of Chicago Press, 1907
Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition
A. J. Boyle.
Routledge, 1997
Constructing Autocracy: Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome
Matthew B. Roller.
Princeton University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Ethics for the Principate: Seneca, Stoicism, and Traditional Roman Morality"
The Roman Philosophers: From the Time of Cato the Censor to the Death of Marcus Aurelius
Mark Morford.
Routledge, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Seneca and His Contemporaries"
A Literary History of Rome in the Silver Age: From Tiberius to Hadrian
J. Wight Duff.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Seneca the Philosopher: Miscellaneous Learning"
Roman Drama
C. D. N. Costa; T. L. Zinn; John Arthur Hanson; Gareth Lloyd-Evans; T. B. L. Webster; Andre Steegman; Walter R. Chalmers; T. A. Dorey; Donald R. Dudley.
Basic Books, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "Shakespeare, Seneca, and the Kingdom of Violence"
Fifty Key Classical Authors
Alison Sharrock; Rhiannon Ash.
Routledge, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Seneca the Younger" begins on p. 299
Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature
William J. Dominik.
Routledge, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Style Is the Man: Seneca, Tacitus, and Quintilian's Canon"
Ambitiosa Mors: Suicide and the Self in Roman Thought and Literature
Timothy Hill.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Seneca"
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