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date: 28 February 2024

Annaeus Seneca (2), Lucius, Seneca “the Younger,” 4 bce–65 celocked

Annaeus Seneca (2), Lucius, Seneca “the Younger,” 4 bce–65 celocked

  • Christopher Trinacty

Summary

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger) was an important political, philosophical, and literary figure of the 1st century ce. Close to the court of Caligula, he was exiled by Claudius but later attained a position of high power during the first years of Nero’s principate. In his old age, however, Seneca was ordered to commit suicide for his alleged part in a possible plot against Nero’s life. The prose works give a vivid sense of the difficulties of living a Stoic life at this time period and, additionally, reflect many aspects of Roman society such as clientela (De beneficiis, “On Benefits”), the role of the princeps (De clementia, “On Clemency”), and the problems of luxury and wealth (De vita beata, “On the Blessed Life”). His Epistulae morales (“Letters on Ethics”) aims to teach how to live an ethical life, while the Quaestiones naturales (“Investigations of Nature”) illuminates Stoic ideas about the physics of the natural world. The tragedies stage the problems of emotional excess, difficult decision-making, and power dynamics, and provide a glimpse into his reception of the theatrical and literary traditions in Rome, especially Augustan poets such as Vergil, Horace, and Ovid. These tragedies were meant to be performed, and the hyperbolic histrionics of Medea, Hercules, and Atreus would have resonated in the Age of Nero. The rhetorical fireworks present in his dramatic poetry are also displayed in his Stoic prose works, which abound in sententiae, his novel use of metaphor, paradox, creative imagery, and verbal ingenuity.

Subjects

  • Latin Literature

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Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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