INTRODUCTION A leading literary figure of his day and one of the bestknown Stoic philosophers of imperial Rome, Seneca's adult life and reputation were inextricably connected to the tyrannical Emperor Nero, whom Seneca served as tutor and advisor. Seneca's beliefs as a Stoic were inspired by notions of self-discipline, restraint, and the value of a simple life, yet he was not immune to the excesses of Nero's imperial court. Seneca's early philosophical works, such as De clementia (55-6; On Mercy), appear to curry Nero's favor, while in his later years he was known to want to distance himself from the Emperor while protecting his standing as a loyal supporter. Seneca's dramatic works, which scholars have been unable to date, include Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules) and Phaedra, and typically reflect the spectacle, theatricality, and ideology of the Roman empire during this time period. Among Seneca's most studied and praised works are his letters written to Lucilium, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (62-5; Moral Epistles to Lucilius). In these letters, Seneca outlines many of his philosophical ideas. Ultimately unsuccessful in endeavoring to appear supportive of Nero while philosophically rejecting his policies, Seneca died in 65, an imperially-ordered suicide. BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION Very little is known of Seneca's early life. He is believed to have been born around 1 B.c. in Corduba (now Cordova), in the south of Spain. The second son of the renowned Roman rhetorician Annaeus Seneca, also known as Seneca the Elder, Seneca was brought to Rome as a young boy and educated in the art of rhetoric. As a youth he was drawn to a branch of philosophy that combined Stoicism with Pythagoreanism. He lived in Egypt for some years due to his ill health and returned to Rome in 31. Soon, he entered the senate along with his older brother. Despite earning fame for his oratory skills, Seneca was exiled to the island of Corsica during the first year of the Emperor Claudius's reign, in 41, charged with adultery. His exile lasted eight years, during which he devoted himself to literary pursuits. Among the works completed at this time was the dialogue De ira (On Anger). In 49 Seneca was recalled to Rome and was soon appointed to political office. Contemporary sources note that by the year 50, Seneca's literary and philosophical reputations were well established. Seneca was also appointed tutor to Nero, the son of Agrippina, the Emperor Claudius's second wife. After Claudius's death (by Agrippina's hand), Seneca served as an advisor to Nero. Following Nero's murder of his mother in 59, Seneca's influence over the Emperor began to wane. By 62, Seneca had gone into semi-retirement, although Nero initially refused Seneca's request to withdraw from political life. Seneca now focused on literary endeavors such as his scientific exploration, Quaestiones naturales (date unknown; Natural Questions) and the philosophical Moral Epistles. In 65 Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot against Nero's life; he died by his own hand after being ordered by the Emperor to commit suicide. MAJOR WORKS Seneca is well known for his philosophical treatises as well as for his dramatic endeavors. He also wrote letters and consolations, often for the purpose of influencing politicians. One of his first works is a consolation, written around 39, to the daughter of a Roman historian on the death of her son (Ad Marciam de consolatione [Consolation to Marcia]). The Moral Epistles treat a variety of subjects and themes, such as friendship, grief and death, travel, virtue, old age and retirement, and the literary life. Framing them as informal correspondence allowed Seneca to examine such loosely associated topics in a natural, accessible manner. While the Moral Epistles outline many of Seneca's philosophic principles, the author additionally used more traditional forms, such as dialogues and treatises, to discuss philosophy. The dialogues focus largely on the ethics of Stoicism and include such pieces as De breviate vitae (55; On the Brevity of Life) and De vita beata (58; On the Happy Life). Another notable work, On Mercy, is a treatise addressed to the Emperor Nero; it praises the virtue of mercy in a ruler. Additionally, Seneca composed a number of tragedies which dramatize the corrupt nature of the imperial court. Most of the plays cannot be dated with any accuracy, Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 1 B.c.-65 A.I). although scholars speculate that they were written between c. 45 and 55. Many of the plays are linked by themes such as the failure of reason and the fragile nature of social, religious, and moral structures. Yet plays such as Medea, Agamemnon, Phaedra, and Thyestes portray various ideological worlds. Agamemnon asserts a moral order in contrast to the natural order depicted in Phaedra. Humans work with the divine in Medea, whereas in Thyestes, all-consuming evil prevails. CRITICAL RECEPTION Modemn critical analyses of Seneca’ s writings investigate his apparently hypocritical approach to his Stoicism as well as his revelations regarding the corruption inherent in the imperial court. In exploring Seneca's tragedies, many scholars are drawn toward the way Seneca presents a worldview that may appear to be at odds with his Stoic philosophy. Roger Pack detects apparent incongruity between the Stoic belief in divine providence and various themes in Seneca's tragedies. In particular, Pack studies the relationship between destiny and the notion of tragic error in several Senecan tragedies. Other critics focus on the formal elements of Seneca's dramas. William Francis Jackson Knight examines Seneca's usage of ritual elements in his plays, whereas Gyllian Raby explains her own dramatic interpretation of Seneca's plotting and use of character foils, for example, in the tragedy Troades (Trojan Women). While some scholars have explored the intersection of Seneca's philosophy with his dramaturgy, others center their studies on the relationship between Seneca's Stoicism and his political career. Miriam T. Grriffin discusses the writings in which Seneca sought to secure his position in Nero's court. By mocking Nero's predecessor, Claudius, in the satire Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (54 A.D.; The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius) and by praising Nero's virtues in On Mercy, Seneca seeks to assure Nero of his loyalty and support, Grriffin demonstrates. Other critics, in examining Seneca's later years, observe the ways in which the philosopher attempted to extricate himself from the political sphere. Paul Veyne maintains that Seneca, who had become increasingly opposed to Nero's policies, wrote in such a way as to avoid direct confrontation with the political realities of the day. Critics such as Jula Wildberger and Brad Inwood, rather than attempting to relate Seneca's Stoicism to his political career, focus instead on the structure and form of his philosophical thought and writings. Wildberger explicates Seneca's understanding of epistemology, whereas Inwood delineates the elements of the epistolary form to which Seneca adhered. It has been noted that many of Seneca's writings are more approachable examinations of Stoic philosophy than those of his Greek or Roman counterparts. Additionally, the intensity and the scope of the conflict in Seneca's tragedies, as well as the plays’ illumination of the corruption and vice rampant in Roman society, all serve to ensure Seneca's continuing appeal to students and scholars of Roman culture and philosophy.
"Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (c. 1 B.C.-65 A.D.), An Introduction to." Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 107, Gale, 2009. Literature Criticism Online, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FYWKROM976756649%2FLCO%3Fu%3Dkenyon%26sid%3DLCO%26xid%3Dde1b01a2. Accessed 14 Dec. 2017.
Gale Document Number: GALE|YWKROM976756649