Roman philosopher, dramatist, prose writer, and statesman. An influential, prolific, and versatile writer, Seneca (known as "Seneca the Younger") was a respected man of letters who also fully and actively participated in the politics of his time. Serving in the capacity of tutor and advisor to the young emperor Nero, Seneca helped to direct Nero's political policy between the years 54 and 62, ensuring a greater measure of tolerance and justice in Rome. Critics have praised Seneca's prose style in his essays, letters, and treatises as one of the foremost examples of the "pointed," or epigrammatic style of the Latin Silver Age, noting its characteristic didactic tone and supremely skillful use of colorful sentences and unusual figures of speech. Seneca's tragedies-alternately lauded for his powerful portrayals of extreme circumstances and mental states, and criticized for his presentation of lurid onstage violence-left a permanent mark on English drama and are considered his most enduring contribution to literature. Dramatists from the sixteenth century to the present have drawn on Seneca's works for elements of characterization, plot, and mood, attesting to his lasting influence in that field. Seneca was born in Corduba (the present Cordoba, Spain), the second son of Seneca the Elder, a famous rhetorician and teacher. Brought to Rome by his maternal aunt when he was a small child, Seneca embarked on the study of grammar and rhetoric, eventually turning to the study of philosophy. During that period, he traveled to Egypt, where his aunt and uncle were living while his uncle served as provincial governor. Seneca experienced a serious illness during this stay, and scholars agree that he probably suffered from ill health for most of his life. When he returned to Rome in 31, he held the post of quaestor and was eventually admitted to the Roman Senate. Around this time, Seneca also devoted his energies to establishing a career as an orator and author, achieving success in both domains. Perhaps as a result of his popularity and professional stature, as biographers speculate, he fell into disfavor with the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Moreover, the emperor Claudius, who succeeded Caligula in 41, accused Seneca of committing adultery with the former's niece, Julia Livilla, promptly exiling him to Corsica. Through the intervention of Claudius's wife, Agrippina, Seneca was allowed to return to Rome in the year 49 in order to work as tutor to her son Nero and to assume the office of praetor. Nero ascended to power in 54 and for the following eight years the inexperienced emperor heavily relied on guidance from Seneca and the praetorian prefect, Burrus. Historians assert that during these years Seneca's influence on Nero was a corrective and tempering one, for he encouraged the young ruler to work toward a more enlightened and socially beneficent state; they also note, however, that Seneca must have acceded to many of Nero's wishes in order to preserve his position in the court, and that he may have been an accomplice-or at The only known likeness of Seneca. Copy dates from c. 240. least have been party to the coverup-in Nero's murder of Agrippina in 59. With Nero's behavior growing more and more dictatorial and erratic, and following Burrus's death, Seneca retired from public life, devoting his last three years to his writing. In 65, he was accused of participating in an unsuccessful conspiracy against Nero. When the emperor ordered him to commit suicide, Seneca obeyed. His final act, judged a heroic one, was recorded by Tacitus in his Annals. A good portion of Seneca's oeuvre has come down to us; among his lost works are writings on science, geography, and philosophy, as well as his speeches. His prose includes three Consolationes, a number of ethical treatises such as De beneficiis (On Benefits), dating from c. 58-63, seventy seven epigrams, and the Dialogi (Dialogues). The latter contain such well known essays as De Ira (On Anger), c. 49, De dementia (On Clemency), c. 55-56, written as advice to Nero, De vita beata (On the Happy Life), c. 58-59, in which he presents his personal brand of Stoic philosophy, and De Providentia (On Providence), written c. 63-64. The Naturales Quaestiones (Investigations of Nature), composed around 62-64, comprise a series of studies on scientific topics-fire, wind, earthquakes-addressed to Seneca's friend Lucilius Junior. Combining elements of prose and verse, the Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification), 327 ‘.^^a . dating from c. 54, is a sharp satire deriding the deification of the emperor Claudius. However, it is Seneca's longest prose work, the Epistulae Morales (Moral Letters), written between 62 and 65 and also addressed to Lucilius, that has most contributed to his reputation as a prose stylist. Not so much letters as essays treating a wide variety of moral and philosophical topics, the epistles have been called the forebears of the modern discursive essay. Consistently instructive in tone, Seneca's prose has been praised for its accessible, familiar manner and for its blending of a number of philosophical traditions. Critics value these essays for the light they shed on Seneca's understanding of Stoic philosophy, as well as for the probing self-insight and selfcriticism they reveal. In his treatment of the many topics of the Epistulae, Seneca stresses the importance of life experience, knowledge of natural phenomena, common sense, and tolerance, guiding his reader toward the ideal of a life well lived. At the same time, he examines the shortcomings and mistakes of his own life, making of himself an example to others. Seneca's chief poetic works are his nine tragedies, written between c. 45 and 55. Eight are based on existing Greek models: Hercules Furens, the Troades, Medea, and Phaedra are modeled on similarly-titled plays by Euripides; Oedipus, the Phoenissae (which survives only in the form of fragments), and Hercules Oetaeus are written following Sophocles's dramas; and the Agamemnon derives from Aeschylus's play of the same name. No Greek forerunner is known to exist for Seneca's Thyestes. Scholars agree that a tenth play, Octavia, which was at one time attributed to Seneca, is most likely not his work, though it has often been appended to collections of his plays. Critics have pointed out that Seneca's dramas are substantially different from their Greek models, despite similar structure based on alternating dramatic scenes and choral odes. Seneca's predisposition for rhetoric and argumentation, displayed as systematically in the plays as it is in his speeches and essays, creates a style quite unlike the spare dialogue of Greek tragedy; Seneca's scenes typically present clever and rather complex verbal exchanges. His dramas are also imbued with an atmosphere of turmoil, gloom, disease, insanity, and physical horror, all antithetical to the spirit of Greek drama. As Gordon Braden has written, "the basic plot of a Senecan play is that of inner passion which bursts upon and desolates an unexpecting world, an enactment of the mind's descriptive power over external reality." The most frequently cited example of Senecan gore is from Thyestes, where Atreus exacts vengeance on his brother Thyestes, who seduced the former's wife, by serving him a meal made of his own children. Over and over again in these plays, passion leads to madness and chaos, and the natural universe responds by giving way to disorder and preternatural happenings. Exaggeration on all levels-the verbal, the visual, and the thematic-contrasts with Seneca's underlying Stoic philosophy, thus serving as a warning against the dangers of excessive emotion and emphasizing the inescapability of fate. The issue of extreme verbosity and graphic violence has even led critics to question whether Seneca's plays were meant to be performed on stage at all, or whether they were intended to be presented in dramatic readings. The texts of Seneca's works exist in several manuscripts; the Codex Etruscus, housed in the Laurentian Library in Venice, is considered by scholars to be the most trustworthy and least corrupt version of the plays. Some of Seneca's verse appears in the Anthologia Latina, a collection of ancient works compiled in the first half of the sixth century, while some of the older collections of Seneca's works date from approximately the ninth and tenth centuries. Seneca played a key role in the educational curricula in Europe in the Middle Ages, as is attested to by the fact that there remain five times as many manuscripts from the twelfth century as from all previous centuries combined. The first published edition of Seneca's works, the Editio Princeps, was printed in Ferrara in 1474-84. Since that time, there have been numerous editions, translations, and scholarly commentaries, including an edition prepared by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus in 1515 (and revised in 1529), and the first English translation of Seneca's works, Seneca His Tenne Tragedies, edited by Thomas Newton and translated by "various hands" in 1581. The standard text of Seneca's works continues to be L. Annaei Senecae opera quae supersunt . . , published in Leipzig in 1898-1907, edited by E. Hermes, C. Hosius, A. Gercke, and 0. Hense. Many modern editions are available; among the most frequently cited are Moral Essays, translated and edited by J. W. Basore, Seneca's Letters to Lucilius, translated by E. P. Barker, and Four Tragedies by Seneca, and Octavia, translated by E. F. Watling. Critical reaction to the works of Seneca has consistently been mixed, from his own time down to the twentieth century. Popular among young people in Rome, who strove to imitate his sophisticated, witty rhetorical style, Seneca was criticized by the emperor Caligula and later by Quintilian for corrupting the writing style of several generations of students. Later, the early Christian writers admired Seneca's philosophical writings, finding in them many similarities to Christianity and judging Seneca the most Christian of the pagan authors. References to the merits of Seneca appear in the works of St. Jerome and St. Bonaventure, among others; St. Augustine, on the other hand, noted a certain inherent hypocrisy in Seneca's role in Nero's court, claiming that "he worshipped what he criticized, performed acts which he reprehended, venerated what he condemned." In the Middle Ages, Seneca's works figured very prominently, along with Cicero's, among the main educational texts used. His essays and epigrams, incorporated into commonplace books and termed "Seneks," served as a seminal tool for teaching morality. Alluded to in the writings of William of Malmesbury and John of Salisbury in the twelfth century, Seneca was also studied and quoted by Francesco Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Dante Alighieri. Even more so than his prose and philosophical writings, Seneca's tragedies influenced European, and especially Elizabethan, literature in a profound manner. The introduction of Seneca to English audiences-through a performance of the Troades at Cambridge University in 1551-marked an important event in the history of English drama because so many later playwrights were to imitate Seneca's style and themes, aided by Newton's 1581 edition of the Tenne Tragedies. Such dramatists as T. Norton and T. Sackville (authors of the early English play Gorboduc), George Gascoine, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare all admired Seneca's plays and eagerly modeled their works on them. Scholars list the tragedies of Seneca among the most significant influences on the Elizabethan theater, noting that many stock characters and situations derive directly from Seneca's plays. Though later critics have interpreted the incorporation of Senecan traits in Elizabethan drama as a negative development, leading to emphasis on overly impassioned rhetoric, graphic violence, and the overuse of the theme of vengeance, they do not deny that Seneca helped to shape the subsequent direction of drama in England. On the continent, Seneca served as a model for seventeenth-century playwrights Pierre Corneille and Jean Baptiste Racine. Defended in the eighteenth century by Jean Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, Seneca was largely ignored or denigrated in the nineteenth century. Walter Savage Landor depicted him as a hypocrite in his Imaginary Conversations, while August Wilhelm Schlegel censured Seneca's dramas for their "display of bombast, which distorts everything great into nonsense." Twentieth-century critics continue to debate the issues that have been at the center of Seneca studies since his own time. While some assert that Seneca's prose style set the standard for the Silver Age of Latin literature, others criticize his rhetorical tricks and overly florid style. Going further, such critics as Braden and David J. Bishop have contributed new methodologies for evaluating Seneca's language, analyzing subtle subtexts and rhetorical codes in his works. Samuel Dill and J. W. Mackail, among others, have thoroughly examined the precepts of Seneca's philosophy, granting him the status of a major thinker. Other commentators, however, view Seneca's philosophical concepts as superficial and popular. In order to better understand Seneca's ideas and actions, such modern critics as Michael Grant, B. H. Wormington, and Ramsay MacMullen have more closely scrutinized Seneca's historical context. Dialogue continues, as well, about the question of whether or not Seneca's dramas were intended to be performed or simply declaimed to an audience. T. S. Eliot, writing in his 1927 introduction to Newton's Tenne Tragedies, observed that "the drama is all in the word, and the word has no further reality behind it." In another landmark study, Berthe Marti in 1945 affirmed that Seneca's tragedies, intended primarily as vehicles for his philosophic ideas, were not meant to be enacted. Modern critics have argued both sides of the issue. Regarding the literary merit of the plays, twentieth-century critics have conceded that there is much that is melodramatic and superficial in them. As E. F. Watling has noted, "If we look among the idiosyncrasies of Seneca's tragic style for ‘faults’, we can see plenty. . . . He was not a constructor of tragic plots; . . . He does not delay or complicate the issue by any moral dilemma exhibiting the conflict of justifiable but mutually incompatible ambitions; his tragedy is simply a disastrous event foretold and anticipated from the start, and pursued ruthlessly to its end." Nevertheless, many scholars have become interested in Seneca's handling of characterization, stressing his often subtle psychological insight. As a result, there have been many new studies by such scholars as Joe Park Poe, Villy Sorensen, Norman T. Pratt, and Charles Segal dealing with aspects of character portrayal in Seneca's tragedies. Though his specific contributions to the fields of philosophy and drama continue to be reevaluated, Seneca is admired for his elegant presentation of ideas in his prose and for the powerful influence he exterted on Elizabethan and later drama. Emphasizing a recurring theme in his works, Anna Lydia Motto has written, "to men of all centuries, Seneca's ardent zeal to enlighten the weary wanderer has had a most unusual appeal. With profound insight into human nature, he points out man's innate potential for constant moral progress-through reason."
"Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (c. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.), An Introduction to." Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 6, Gale, 1991. Literature Criticism Online, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FTVUUAU714354470%2FLCO%3Fu%3Dkenyon%26sid%3DLCO%26xid%3Dbc155b57. Accessed 19 July 2018.
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