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Lucius Annaeus Seneca—labeled the 'philosopher', i n contrast to his father, the so-called 'rhetor'—was born probably towards the end of

1 B.C. 1 H e was the second o f three sons o f Seneca the Elder and his

wife Helvia; the youngest son was to become the father o f the poet Lucan. The Annaei were an old and wealthy family of Roman knights in Spanish Corduba. As happens frequendy in colonies, the language of the founders had preserved its purity there, and the citizens faith- fully cherished the traditions o f the Republic and the memory o f Pompey. Seneca came to Rome when a young boy. He would have

unpleasant remembrances o f his schooldays with the grammaticus (epist.

58. 5). H e became , however , a conver t o f Sotion , th e Neo-Pythagorea n

philosopher, whom an aging Ovid might have heard as well. So, for

a year, he abstained from meat (epist. 108. 17-22). His father, wh o

shared the traditional Romans' mistrust of philosophy, convinced him

of the serious danger o f

cults. As a result, Seneca limited himself to the Stoic discipline, which

in a less

generation (epist. 110. 19). Attalus, who probably came from Perga-

mum, a stronghold o f Stoicism, taught

education and mere accumulation of knowledge. Consequently, Sen-

eca gained a surprisingly independent attitude towards tradition, which would be taken badly by some custodians of the old school (Gell.

being persecuted as an adherent o f foreign

spectacular form satisfied the ascetic demands o f a satiated

hi m the difference between

Fabianus , wh o hi d significan t thought s i n unobtru - against the fashion o f the day, convinced his listen-

sive words and,

ers by the content rather than by the form o f his speeches, acquainted Seneca with the doctrine of the Sextii: here he learnt to examine his

conscience every day; on the other hand, the same teacher encour- aged hi m to engage i n natural science (an unusual field o f interest

12. 2) . Papiriu s




L a date





Z U Senecas Geburtsdatum, Hermes


RE L 12,









for a Roman). The interest in science he manifested so early would become a basic feature o f his unusual life. When twenty years old he decided to enter upon a senator's career and, while studying rhetoric with enthusiasm, eagerly read Augustan

poetry and tried his hand at writing epigrams. Yet frequent diseases of the respiratory organs almost drove hi m to suicide (cf. epist. 78. 1). Once more, his regard for his father saved hi m from taking an incon- siderate step. Upo n medical advice he went to Egypt for a change of

Egypt, took

climate. His mother's sister, the wife o f the governor o f

care o f her convalescing nephew, whom , many years before, she had brought from Spain to Rom e (dial. 11 [Helv.] 19. 2). Th e fruit o f this

stay was a treatise on


country and

religion o f the

Egyptians. 1





i n




beginning o f eleven

years o f

political activity, which pushed philosophy into the background. None

wrote the Consolatio ad Marciam, three

books o f De ira, and scientific works on stones, fish, and earthquakes. He became a quaestor, again on the recommendation of his aunt. Meanwhile he had become a celebrated orator, to the point of rous- ing the Emperor Caligula's envy by a brilliant plea. He was, how-

ever, spared execution, thanks to the intervention of one o f Caligula's protegees, who had been quick-witted enough to convince the tyrant that the ailing scholar would soon die anyway (Cass. Di o 59. 19. 7). N o wonder then that for some time Seneca lost all interest i n plead- ing (epist. 49. 2). This bitter experience, however, must appear i n

i n the very

retrospect as a hint o f providence: doomed to silence

the less durin g this period he

zenith of his fame, Seneca would henceforth, with even more deter- mination, place his rhetorical skills into the service o f philosophy, psychology, and education, thus accomplishing an historical mission within Roman literature.

Livilla, a sister o f

Caligula (Cass. Di o 60. 8) and exiled to Corsica, to stay there until 49. The true reason for his banishment was his leading role in the

senatorial opposition. His 'Augustan' ideal o f principatus was

in the side o f

ism. Messalina had been the instigator o f Seneca's expatriation. During his exile, the philosopher, i n his Consolatio ad Helviam, constructed a

Stoic appraisal of two heroes of the senatorial opposition, though, actually, Marcellus tended towards Peripatetic philosophy and Brutus

I n 41 Seneca was accused o f adultery with Julia

a thorn

Claudius' followers who had a preference for absolut-


Serv. Am.



Sen. nat. 4.




towards academic skepticism. Th e Consolatio ad Polybium, who was one of Claudius' creatures, conjures up the ideal o f a mild emperor (resem- bling 'Apollo-like' Augustus, not 'Herculian' Antony). This petition produced its effect, for Agrippina, Messalina's suc- cessor, needed Seneca for further plans. As a tutor to the young

Nero and, after the latter's accession to the throne i n 54, as his adviser, the philosopher blessed the empire with a few happy years. I n his first speech to the senate, Nero promised to give more importance to the senate, which amounted to a return to the 'dyarchy' advocated by Augustus. Seneca wrote the official funeral speech on Claudius


satirical Apocolocyntosis o f Claudius, i n which

Augustus acted as a prosecutor, and Hercules, the symbol of the opposite party, the Antonii, was ridiculed. 1 I n his De dementia, which he dedicated to Nero, Seneca developed an 'Augustan' ideology of

the principate. Th e idea o f the optimus princeps from Cicero's De


same time, the


publica combines with the principle o f dementia (cf. Cicero's

Speech for

Marcellus) into an ideology o f monarchy foreshadowing the 'philoso- pher emperors' of the 2nd century.



Seneca and Burrus, the praefectus praetorio, jointly made

the necessary changes in administration, while allowing Nero to live at liberty. Effective activities o f the Romans compelled the Parthians to abandon Armenia, and a war was avoided. I n Germany and Britain as well, Seneca tried to preserve the balance of power. As for domes- tic politics, the senate's authorit y increased, the inhabitants o f the provinces were governed ever more justly, and the attachment of the people to the emperor gained a new emotional dimension.

After Nero had murdered his mother (59), Seneca's glory began to wane. Th e emperor fell under the influence o f evil counselors. After Burrus' death, Seneca had no alternative but to retire from political life (A.D . 62; Tac. ann. 14. 52-56). Amon g the numerous works he wrote after this date, there are the Epistulae morales to Lucilius and the Naturales quaestiones; the introduction to the latter work is a praise of pure knowledge. Finally, the emperor accused the philosopher of having participated in the Pisonian conspiracy and ordered him to commit suicide. Seneca followed Socrates in courageously meeting death with philosophical discourse (Tac. ann. 15. 60-63). 2



A different view


in S. WOLF




I .


Tod , in: E . OLSHAUSEN,












Seneca's life was shaped by painful experiences: his talent brought

him into great danger but it also rescued him ; paradoxically

it was b y his bitter disappointments under Caligula, Claudius, and Nero that he was almost irresistibly pushed to find his true vocation:


the discovery of the world of the human mind. O n the other hand, his interest i n natural science is quite unusual for a Roman. H e devel- oped i t early and never gave i t up.

If we try t o relate his works and his fields o f interest t o different periods o f his life, three general observations suggest themselves: first, Seneca as a young man preferably studied problems of natural sci- ence and returned t o them i n his old age. Second, as a middle-aged man, he was an active politician and an orator; h e wrote th e Consolatio ad Marciam; th e enforced end o f his career as a lawyer under Caligula allowed him to experiment with a first philosophical work (the De ira) as an advice t o the new Emperor Claudius; during the second section o f the middle period—his exile, he wrote further consolationes, perhaps De forma mundi and tragedies. This period of contemplation was followed by the most productive phase o f his creativity. I t falls into two parts: Seneca's activity as Nero's mentor 1 and Seneca's retirement; during the latter h e com- posed an entire corpus o f philosophical writings comparable t o those of Cicero.


dating of individual works 2 will b e discussed


th e fol-




ad Marciam 3


(= dial. 6)

o f Works

Marcia has been mourning her son Metilius for three years; earlier, her father, Cremutius Cordus the historian, had committed suicide (prooemium:



brev., const,

P .



tranq., clem., vita beata,



262-323 ;

vgl. K . ABE L


155-170 ;

M .

T .



3 This is the earliest work preserved; it was written under Caligula (37-41), who

publication o f the writings o f Marcia's father, Cremutius Cordus

allowed a new

(1. 3); the y ha d bee n burn t unde r Tiberius ; fo r a discussio n o f th e date: M . T .

GRIFFIN 1976, 39 7 (bibl.); I . BELLEMORE, Th e Dating o f Seneca's Ad Marciam de

consolatione, CQ,42 , 1992, 219-234; on the Ad Marciam: C . C . GROLLIOS, Seneca's Ad Marciam. Tradition and Originality, Athens 1956; K . ABEL 1967, 15-47; C . E . MANNING, O n Seneca's Ad Marciam, Leiden 1981 ; J. FILLION-LAHILLE, L a production

littéraire d e Sénèque sous

et portée politique: Les Consolationes et le De ira, ANR W 2 , 36, 3 , 1989, 1606-1638.

les règnes d e Caligula et d e Claude, sens philosophique


1-3). Examples show tha t unendin g grief is unnatura l (3-8). All misfortune has to be anticipate d i n though t (9). All tha t we call ou r ow n is only loane d (10). T o know oneself is to recognize one's mortal condition (11). Do you regret the deceased or yourself? Be grateful for the happiness he gave you (examples: 12-16). Nature makes no distinctions (17). T o be born means to be mortal (18). Grief can be healed by right meditation (19). Death is nature's best invention. I t is a path to freedom. As life is short anyhow, is does not matter how long you live. Who knows i f a longer life would have been good for the deceased (20-22)? Given his maturity, he has lived long enough (23~24). I n the other world, the wise and free men receive him, among them his father, who is assigned the final word (25-26).



Book 1 (= dial. 3): Seneca describes the physiognomic symptoms of anger

(1-2) and defines its nature and its types (3-4). Anger is not in harmony

with the nature o f man (5-6), i t is o f no use and

virtue, not even with that of the warrior—as the Peripatetics fancied (7-12); nor is a judge allowed to be angry (13-16). Book 2 (= dial. 4): The rise of anger is not only based on a spontaneous impulse (which is beyond our control) but also on our conscious assent (which is in our power); hence, it is a voluntarium vitium (1—4). Anger is to be distin- guished from crudelitas and furor (5). The sage shall not be angry at all, not even at evil-doing, for the latter is a general phenomenon (6-10). Anger is not useful; whoever frightens others, must be afraid o f others. Emotio n can be controlled by training. The superiority of civilized nations over others is owing to clemency, not anger; orators move their audiences not by being angry but by impersonating anger (11-17). Anger can be controlled by pre- ventive measures and cured by therapies such as knowledge of temperaments and their right mixture (18-22), cautious skepticism (23-24), careful analysis of motives (25~28), consideration of extenuating circumstances (29-36).

is not compatible with any

1 Th e terminus ante quern results from the dedication to Seneca's brother Novatus who, from 52 at the latest, would have another name (Gallio) by adoption. Caligula's

death is the terminus post quern: the portrait of the 'tyrant' exhibits features of this emperor. Th e description of the 'good judge' (a precursor of the De dementia) may reflect Seneca's hopes during the first months of Claudius' reign (41); in favor of 'by

52': M . T . GRIFFI N 1976, 396 and 398. A n older theory saying that book 3

written much later than the others has been disproved by recent research of lan- guage and style; bibi: M . COCGIA, I problemi del De ira di Seneca alia luce dell'analisi stilistica, Rom a 1958; R . HUBER, Senecas Schrift De ira. Untersuchungen zum Aufbau und z u de n Quellen , diss. Münche n 1973 ; G . CUPAIUOLO , Introduzion e a l De ira d i Seneca, Napoli 1975; P. GRIMAL, Rhétorique, politique et philosophie dans le De ira de Sénèque, REL 53, 1975, 57-61; Ä . BÄUME R 1982, esp. 72-129; J . FILLION-LAHILL E 1989, quoted in the footnote to the Consolatio ad Marciam.








(= dial. 5): Anger has great power (1-4). I t should

be our aim,

first, not to become angry; second, to separate ourselves from anger; third,

to soothe others (5. 2). Anger springs from weakness. Avoid the company of persons provoking your anger (5-8); know your weak points and take your time; bear in mind positive and negative examples (9-23). Be lenient (24— 28); excuse your adversary; it is nobler to master your anger (29-37). Over- come suspicion, envy, and all too great expectations (38). Make an effort to soothe the angry; the brevity of life urges us to be peaceable (39-43).

Consolatio ad

Hebiam 1






Do not mourn for me. I am fine: change of place, poverty, and infamy are only thought to be evils (4-13). Nor should you mourn for your own sake (14-17): by losing me you have not lost a tutor or intercessor, for you are free from ambition. You are able to control your longing for me, for you have always been courageous. Apply yourself to philosophy; take care of your other children, your grandchildren, and, above all, your sister. The work ends in the praise of this woman.

Consolatio ad

Polybium 2

(— dial.




(The beginning is lost). Everything is perishable; the very fact, however, that there are no exceptions is a comfort; grief is of no avail. Fortune has endowed you , Polybius, with all kinds o f happiness; she could only hur t you by your brother's death (20-22); the latter himself would want you to be moderate in your grief: nobody is pleased with your tears. Comfort your brothers by your own example (23-24), mourning is a plebeian failing. You are in the view of all; your Caesar belongs to the world and you to him.

1 Th e numbers

of dialogi 11 and 12 vary in the editions; the number given in the

Thesaurus is quoted here in the first place. Seneca did not write his consolation until his mother and he himself had overcome the initial distress caused by his exile (1). Meanwhile, he had arranged himself somehow in Corsica. Th e allusion to the usual ten-months time of mourning (16. 1) is evidence for summer 42 (roughly); bibi: K . ABEL 1967, 47-69 ; P. MEINEL, Seneca iiber seine Verbannung (Trostschrift an die Mutter Hebid), Bonn 1972; J . FILLION-LAHILL E 1989, quoted in the footnote to the Consolatw ad Marciam. 2 This work was written in exile as well (between the end of 41 and the begin- ning of 49). Claudius was pater patriae already (16. 4 = 35. 3); hence, January 42 is terminus post quern. Th e emperor's triumph over Britain (early 44) had not yet hap- pened, but 'Caesar's exploits' were already known, and Claudius had come back to Rome; all this shows that the work dates from the end of 43. A n earlier date is not commendable, since Polybius had been holding his office for a long time (6. 2 = 25. 2), and, moreover, Seneca pretends to have forgotten his Latin during his exile (extr.); bibi: K . ABE L 1967, 70-96; J . E . ATKINSON , Seneca's Consolatio ad Polybium, ANR W 2, 32, 2, 1985, 860-884; J . FILLION-LAHILL E 1989, quoted in the footnote to the Consolatio ad Marciam.



Distract yourself by literary activity! Ask yourself, i f there is no egotism in your grief (25-27). The deceased is well; who knows i f death had not been a blessing for him. Remember past happiness (28-29); be aware of the transitoriness of everything, and focus your attention on the emperor and your studies (30-37).


brevitate vitae 1 (=



The much-lamented brevity of life is our own fault; we indulge in our passions (1-2) and waste our time (3-4). We are not persistent enough to claim our time for ourselves, as is confirmed by sayings of Augustus and others (5-6). It is no use grumbling, for our unhappiness is caused by our ignorance o f the real value of time (6-9). Busybodies always depend on the following day (9-10), they invest their time unprofitably (10-11). We employ our leisure in distractions and pastimes detrimental to our peace of mind (14-15); only the wise, not the busy know real tranquillity and true life (16-17). After your successful career, Paulinus, you should retire from public life and devote yourself to things more sublime.


tranquillitate animi 2




The addressee, Serenus (Nero's praejectus vigilum), initially describes his state of mind (1). Seneca is able to diagnose the complaint as 'satiety' and recom- mends tranquillitas, the of Democritus (2). The remedies he recom- mends are activity and philosophical leisure in regular alternation (3). Before undertaking an obligation scrutinize yourself, the task, and your fellow-men (4-6). Friendship contributes to your peace of mind, whereas too great riches desturb it (7-9). Limit your desires (10). The sage despises death and is prepared for everything (11). Avoid over-activeness and meet adversities with a serene mind (12-14). Don't be a misanthropic recluse and smile at the



work was





of 48


of 55:

M .

T .




398; 401-40 7

(for 55, with bibl.); Caligula was dead (18.

5); hence,


is terminus post quern. Since Seneca assumes that Sulla had been the last to enlarge

the pomerium (13. 8 = 14. 2), this dialogue was written before Claudius enlarged the

pomerium, i.e.



Ma y 24,

a third date



(62) is



no longer considered. Th e De brevitate is prob-

L a date

du De brevitate vitae, RE L

tranq. 1.

vitae, JR S

Paulinum de brevitate vitae, diss. Kol n 1966; J.-M. ANDRE, Seneque, De brevitate vitae, De constantia sapientis, De tranquillitate, De olio, ANR W 2, 36, 3, 1989, 1724-1778.

2 Thi s work was certainly written after Caligula's death (cf. 11. 10; 14. 4-6).

of a political activity of the

the period after his exile, some time between 51 and 54, in any case before 63; for a date after the De constantia sapientis: M . T . GRIFFIN 1976, 396 and 316-317; bibl.:

Seneca's positive assessment

ably older than the De tranquillitate (cf.

11); bibl:. M . T . GRIFFIN,

De brevitate





Die Datierung von Senecas Schrift Ad

sage (5. 3) is indicative











De brevitate vitae.



common errors of mankind; do not forget to take the breaks necessary for contemplation (15).

Apocobcyntosis 1

dead Emperor

Claudius is a mixture of prose and verse in the manner of Menippean Satire. After his death, Claudius goes to Olympus. There he is first questioned by Hercules; however, at the request of Divine Augustus, who denounced Claudius' crimes, the heavenly senate refuses to accept him . Past his own

funeral, Mercury escorts him to the netherworld. The judge of the dead puts him on trial for his murders and condemns him to play at dice with a dice-box full of holes. All of a sudden, however, Caligula claims him as his slave; at the end o f our text, Claudius becomes the servant o f a freed- man at the court of inquiry.

This witty (if sometimes over-estimated) lampoon upon the


constantia sapientis 2




The wise man can be offended neither by iniuria nor by contumelia (1-2). He

is invulnerable and cannot lose anything. Injustice,

fear, or hope do not

1 It was written immediately after the death of Claudius (54); bibi: O . WEINREICH 1923, s. Editions; R . HEINZE, Z U Senecas Apocobcyntosis, Hermes 61, 1926, 49-78; U . KNOCHE, Da s Bild des Kaisers Augustus in Senecas Apocobcyntosis, WZRostock

15, 1966, 463-470 ; K . KRAFT , De r politische Hintergrund von Senecas Apocobcynbsis,

Historia 15, 1966, 96-122; G . BINDER, Hercules und Claudius. ecas Apocobcyntosis auf dem Hintergrund der Aeneis, Rh M 117,

Catilina und Kaiser Claudius als ewige Büßer in der Unterwelt. Eine typologische

Verbindung zwischen Vergils Aeneis un d Senecas Apocobcyntosis, AC D 10-11, 1974— 1975, 75-93; D . KORZENIEWSKI , Senecas Kunst der dramatischen Komposition in seiner Apocobcyntosis, Mnemosyne 35, 1982, 103-114; O . ZWIERLEIN, Die Rede des Augustus in der Apocobcynbsis, Rh M n.s. 125, 1982, 162-175; H . HORSTKOTTE, Die



Eine Szene in Sen- 1974, 288-317; id.,

Zielsetzung von

Senecas Apocobcyntosis, Athenaeum






Senecas Apocobcyntosis un d die politische

in Rom , A& A 17,

1971, 56-69 ; id . 1985 (s. bibi); R . C . TOVAR, Teori a de la sätira. Anälisis de Apocobcyntosis de Seneca, Cärceres 1986; S. WOLF, Di e Augustusrede in Senecas Apo-

cobcyntosis, Meisenheim 1986; L . F . VA N RYNEFELD, O n the Authorship of the Apoco-

bcyntosis, LC M 13, 1988, 83-8 5

2 This treatise, which is under the spell of Stoic paradoxes, is mosdy assigned an earlier date than the De tranquillitate; the reason would be a possible development of Serenus, the addressee, from Epicureanism (De constantia sapientis) to Stoicism (De tranquillitate animi). However, the relevant passages (esp. const. 15. 4) are no evidence for Serenus' philosophical views; the latter rather seems to be at the start of his career in the De tranquillitate and to be more experienced in the De constantia. Th e De

constantia was clearly written after the deaths of Caligula (41) and of Valerius Asiaticus (47). Accordin g to P. GRIMAL 1978, 292, this work would date from 55; bibi:

P. GRIMAL, L a composition dans les dialogues de Seneque, I : L e De constantia sapientis,

REA 51, 1949, 246-261; K . ABEL 1967, 124-147; J.-M. ANDRE 1989, quoted in the

footnote to the De breuitate vitae.

(in favor of authenticity).


affect him, and it is useful for him to suffer injustice (3-9). He does not resent abuse or calumny, but laughs at them as he would laugh at the

babble of children or fools. Al l those who do not

are crazy. The treatise ends with advice on how to endure offence (10-19).

lead a philosophical life,


clementia 1

Book 1: After a praise of Nero's clemency (1-2) Seneca displays a plan of his work which goes beyond the text available to us: the 1st book is meant to be an introduction; the 2nd, to unfold the essence of clemency; the 3rd (which is lacking), to show how to educate oneself to clemency (3-4). It befits a ruler to be mild; his cruelty is liable to do more harm than a private person's cruelty. Clemency is a hallmark of greatness (5). Should severity reign in Rome, nobody could dwell in safety (6). A ruler should treat his citizens as he would like to be treated by the gods. Being a public person, he has to come up to more stringent requirements than others (7-8). Augustus practised clemency in his old age, whereas Nero might do so already when a young man (9-11). Cruelty is an attribute of tyrants; and yet i t does no t guarantee thei r safety (12-13) . A rule r is a father (14-16 ) and a healer of his subjects (17). We are indulgent even towards slaves, all the more should we behave so towards free men (18). The citizens' love is the best protection for a ruler; he is subject to the state, not the state to him (19). Cruel and frequent punishment is detrimental rather than helpful


Book 2: Ma y young Nero's clemency set a precedent (1-2)! The essence of clemency (3) is the very antipode to cruelty (4); moreover, i t is different from mercy (misericordia), which, according to the Stoics, is a vice (5-7).


vita beata 2 (=



False goods allure the crowd; true goods are those of the mind (1-2). The pith and marrow of blissful life are sana mens; everything else flows from it

1 Written between December 15, 55 and December 14, 56 (M. T . GRIFFIN 1976, 407-411); Nero is 18 years old. It looks as if Seneca amplified and revised this work

at a later moment. It has com e down

Alleinherrschaft und das Problem der Gerechtigkeit, Gymnasium 70, 1963, 481- 514; T . ADAM, Clementia Principis. Der Einfluß hellenistischer Fürstenspiegel auf den Versuch einer rechdichen Fundierung des Principats durch Seneca, Stuttgart 1970; K . BÜCHNER, Aufbau und Sinn von Senecas Schrift über die Clementia, Her- mes 98, 1970, 203-223; A . BORGO, Questioni ideologiche e lessico politico nel De clementia di Seneca, Vichiana 14, 1985, 179-297; B. MORTUREUX, Les idéaux stoï- ciens et premières responsabilités politiques: L e De clementia, ANR W 2, 36, 3, 1989,

to us incomplete; bibl.: M . FUHRMANN, Di e


2 Th e terminus post quem is determined by the name of the addressee, Gallio, a name attested for Seneca's brother no earlier than 52. Therefore the De vita beata



(3-4). Do not give in to pleasure or pain; true happiness is found in virtue

(16), not i n pleasure (5-15), of which

people take offence at Seneca's prosperity (an objection applicable to many other philosophers), whereas he does not presume to be a sage. I t is true

vulgar Epicureans are dreaming. Some

that philosophers cannot entirely live up to their own teachings but they do so at least in part. Wealth is in safe keeping with the virtuous. The sage is

of his property, fools are controlled by it. I t needs wisdom to

make the right gifts to the right people. Socrates is allowed to speak the epilogue (17-27).

in control


otio 1




This treatise follows the De vita beata; the ending of the latter and the begin- ning of the former are lost. Only in otium can we turn our attention to the best of men; here, Seneca deliberately picks up an Epicurean theme (28). There are different stages i n human life; seclusion befits old age (29). Ac- cording to Epicurus, the sage should not meddle with politics except when circumstances demand it; according to Zeno, he ought to, except when circumstances forbid it. Seneca declares: i f the state cannot be helped any more, the sage should try to give help to a few; and i f even this is impos- sible, to himself (30). The macrocosm is a 'big state' uniting gods and men. This is a state we can serve even within our otium. Nature created us for active and contemplative life (31). Nature wants to be known by us and wants us to know her laws. I n his otium the sage intends to benefit genera- tions to come (32).

De providentia 2




Providence exists: god loves the good and chastises them (1). They over-

(2). The so-called

come all evils and earn glory, as did Cato, for instance

was written later than the De ira. I n the De vita beata, Seneca is evidently a rich and respected person. This excludes a date before 50 and after 62. Th e atmosphere of anxiety and disquiet at the end of the dialogue would perhaps be understandable in 58; bibl.: W . STROH, D e dispositione libelli, quem De vita beata Seneca scripsit, in:

W. SUERRAUM and others, eds., F S F . EGERMANN, Münche n 1985, 141-145; F.-R .

CHAUMARTIN, Les désillusions de Sénèque devant l'évolution de la politique néronienne

et l'aspiration à la retraite: L e De vita beata

et le De beneficiis, ANR W

2, 36,








G .







is difficult


Ther e is a general preference

(or soon

before Seneca's retire-

for 62

after); the theme is in harmony with the period immediately


bibl.: J.-M.

quoted in the

footnote to the De brevitate vitae.

2 This treatise is dedicated to Lucilius. According to some scholars it dates from


death of Tiberius (4. 4); terminus ante quern, the Naturales quaestiones (dedicated to Lucilius

as well), in which the De providentia is used; bibl: K . ABEL 1967, 97-124; I . DIONIGI,

exile; according to others, from his later years. Terminus post quern is the



evils are like medicines: they lead to real goods (3). Therefore, good men willingly bear evils and place themselves at the disposal of god and fate (4). Good and bad luck are predetermined from all eternity (5). What happens to the good is not an evil. God exhorts us to be courageous (6).


quaestiones 1

The subject matter is arranged according to elements: books 1 and 2 (fire), 3 and 4a (water), 4b and 5 (air), 6 (earth). 2 Book 1: The important introduction shows that natural philosophy is the peak o f human knowledge, superior even to ethics. Th e 1st book is dedi- cated to fiery optical phenomena, especially the rainbow. Book 2: Seneca distinguishes caekstia (astronomy) from sublimia (meteorol- ogy) and terrena (geography). This book is on thunderstorms. Book 3 is devoted to water, including the Great Flood. Book 4 discusses the flood season of the Nile, and then turns to hail and snow. Book 5, which has no introduction, proceeds to the winds.











moraks 3.

The 124 moral letters—perhaps Seneca's most important work—fall into 20 books; moreover, we have quotations from a 22nd book (Gell. 12. 2. 3). The first three books (1—29) are especially coherent. The concluding function

1 Book 6 is dated by the earthquake at Pompei of February 5, 62; bibi: K . W . RINGSHAUSEN, Poseidonios, Asklepiodot, Seneca und ihre Anschauungen über Erdbeben und Vulkane, diss. Münche n 1929; G . STAHL, Aufbau, Darstellungsform und philo-

sophischer Gehalt der Naturaks quaestiones Senecas, Diss. Kiel 1960; G . STAHL, Die


quaestiones Senecas, Hermes 92, 1964, 425-454; F . P. WAIBLINGER, Senecas


quaestiones. Griechische Wissenschaft und römische Form, Münche n 1977;

R. CODONER, L a physique de Sénèque: Ordonnance et structure des Naturaks quaestiones,

ANR W 2, 36, 3, 1989, 1779-1822; on book 6: A . D E VIVO, L e parole


preceding footnote; the comets (book 7), however, do

not fit into the scheme, unless we suppose a n annular composition, which even

would make sense within the Stoic system (return to the point of departure: fire).

his last

years; the fictive date of the letters is winter 62 (rather 63) to autumn 64; publica- tion 64-65 (M . T . GRIFFIN 1976, 400); bibi: W . H . ALEXANDER, Notes and Emen- dations to the Epistulae morales of L . ANNAEUS Seneca, Edmonton 1932; K . ABEL

délia scienza.

trattato De terrae motu di Seneca, Salerno




S . the

3 Th e letters and the Naturaks quaestiones accompanied

Seneca throughout


(with bibi.); G . MÄURAC H




112-124 ; B . L .


Jr. , Inlaboratus et facilh. Aspects o f Structure i n Som e Utters o f Seneca , Leide n 1976; K. ABEL, Das Problem der Faktizität der Senecanischen Korrespondenz, Hermes 109, 1981, 472-499; E . LEFÈVRE, Der Mensch und das Schicksal in stoischer Sicht




of letter 29 is clearly marked (29. 10). Seneca adorns the letters of this

group with sayings of wise men (often of Epicurus). Later he rejects his addressee's wish for further quotations on grounds of the Stoics' aversion for authorities (33. 1). Th e richness i n themes and colors o f the mora l letters is unequalled. Especially in the later episdes, the author ventures even upon difficult areas like logic and dialectics. The first series of letters impresses the reader by touching upon many fundamental issues: saving of time (1), sedentary life and steadfastness o f purpose (2), friendship and accurate use of terms (3), death and true wealth (4), unobtrusive conduct (5), philosophy as metamorphosis, nay transfiguration (6), seclusion (7), true freedom (8), virtue's self-reward (9). There are contrasts of theme between nos. 7 on the

one hand and 5 and

10 on the



beneficiis 1

Book 1: Ingratitude is a wide-spread phenomenon. Benefits ought to be estimated by the giver's intention, not by their material value. Which benefits should we bestow on others? Book 2: How should benefits be bestowed? Readily, quickly, without hesi- tation; some of them, publicly, others privately, all without ostentation. Things detrimental or infamous should not be granted. A benefit must be appro- priate to the person of the giver and that of the recipient. How should benefits be received? Gratefully, without pride, greediness, or envy. Book 3: Never should we blame ungrateful people. They punish them- selves by their attitude. Masters have to be grateful even to their slaves. Fathers may receive benefits even from their sons. Book 4: I t is for their own sake that benefits and gratitude are worth striving for, not for considerations of utility. Gratitude only refers to the

their usefulness. I n many cases even i f we

foresee ingratitude, we should nevertheless do benefits.

5: Now Seneca turns to problems of detail: is it a shame to be

moral quality of gifts, not to


surpassed in beneficence? Is it possible to render a benefit to oneself? Does Stoic philosophy allow us to call anyone ungrateful? Are all ungrateful? Do


Lucilius. A Revaluation, Ramu s 16, 1987,

ad Lucilium di Seneca. Valore letterario e

epist. 51







61-73 ; M . WILSON,


Epistles to

102-121; G . MAZZOLI, L e Epistulae morales






















scholastic philosophy;








Claudius (1.


6) and

Rebilus (A.D . 56:




M .




I n any case

it is later than

the De vita beata; bibl.: F.-R.

philosophique, politique et sociale, Paris 1985; F.-R . CHAUMARTIN 1989, quoted in



L e De beneficiis de Sénèque. S a signification

footnote to the De vita beata.



benefits oblige even relatives? Is i t possible to bestow a benefit on someone against his will? Can a benefit be claimed back? Book 6: Can benefits be snatched from a person? Are we obliged to those


Are we allowed to wish someone evil i n order to get an occasion to show him our gratitude? W e may thank kings and happy people by giving them advice and instruction. Book 7: Intellectual curiosity must be restrained: all that matters is virtue and wisdom. Is i t possible to make a gift to a sage, who is i n possession o f everything anyway? Is i t sufficient to have tried to reciprocate a benefit? Should we return a benefit, i f the giver's character has changed from good to worse? Should a benefactor forget what he has done? How to endure ingratitude.

did good to us against their will o r

unwittingly o r fo r selfish reasons?

Tragedies 1


(Jurens) 2

Hercules comes back from the netherworld together with Theseus. H e

punishes Lycus the tyrant who had tortured Hercules' wife and his father. Juno, however, sends a Fury to drive the hero mad, and he kills wife and

suicide; his father persuades him to

children. O n awakening he considers endure life all the same.

Troades 3

A herald announces that the dead Achilles demands the immolation of Priam's

daughter Polyxena. Despite Agamemnon's reluctance, Pyrrhus, the son o f

Achilles, insists o n this human

in order to get favorable wind, Hector's son, Astyanax, must be killed. Shrewd

Ulysses elicits from Andromache the hiding place of the child. A messenger

reports how courageously both victims died. Finally the fleet can be pre- pared for departure.

sacrifice. Moreover, seer Calchas claims that,

1 None of Senecas works can be dated between

the winter of 43/44 and 49. Di d

a big library for

doing so speaks in favor o f this popular theory. However, many other possible dates



write his tragedies? Th e fact

that he did not need


been suggested; a survey in: SCHANZ-HOSIUS,


2, 458

an d F . NIETO


Cronologia de las tragedias de Seneca, Nova Tellus 3, 1985, 91-109; new obser- vations concerning a relative chronology o f the dramas in: J . G . FITSCH, Sense- Pauses and Relative Dating in Seneca, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, AJPh 102, 1981,




1974, 1-56; J.-A.

SHELTON, Problems o f time

in Seneca's Hercules

Jurens and Thyestes, CSC A

8, 1975, 257-269; J.-A.


Seneca's Hercules Jurens.




an d Style. Gottingen

Zu m Aufbau vo n Senecas Troerinnen, in : E . LEFEVRE, ed., 1972,

1978; C.-E . AUVRAY

1989 (with





Phoenissae 1

The play consists of two pairs of scenes: Oedipus wants to retire to Mount Cithaeron to die there. Antigone opposes his suicide.—Having arrived on the mountain, she asks her father to stop the discord between his sons, but he refuses to leave. The armies of the inimical brothers have deployed. A servant and Antigone ask Jocasta to setde the quarrel. She complies with her daughter's wish and steps between the sides.

Medea 1

Medea overhears the wedding song for Jason and Creusa. King Creon of Corinth expels Medea from his country; on her request, he grants her, however, a delay o f one day. She tries i n vain t o move Jason, but she becomes aware that he is most vulnerable in his love for his children. She brews a magic concoction and has her children bring a poisoned garment as a gift to her rival, whose cruel death is reported by a messenger. Then

she murders her children, one o f them i n

Phaedra 3

Phaedra declares her love to chaste Hippolytus, her stepson, is rejected by him and then accuses hi m falsely t o his father, Theseus. Th e latter by imploring divine power causes his son's death. When he becomes aware of his error, it is too late. Phaedra confesses her guilt and commits suicide.

presence o f the father.






furthermore: A . PAUL,


zur Eigenart von





I .


Z U Senecas

Phoenissen (1969), in:





272-285 ;

W.-L .




115-116 ;

236 ,

n .


A .


Senecas Medea als eigenständiges Kunstwerk, diss. Kiel


D. HENRY , B . WALKER , Loss of Identity: Medea superest? A Study of Seneca's Medea, CPh 62 , 1967, 169-181; W . KULLMANN, Medeas Entwicklung be i Seneca, in :

W. WIMMEL, ed., Forschungen zur römischen Literatur. F S K . BÜCHNER, Wiesbaden

1970, 158-167; W.-L. LIEBERMANN 1974, 155-206; C . BLITZEN, Th e Senecan an d Euripidean Medea. A Comparison, C B 52, 1976, 86-90; J.-A. SHELTON , Seneca's Medea as Mannerist Literature, Poetica 11, 1979, 38-82; Ä . BÄUME R 1982, esp. 130- 165; A . ARCELLASCHI, Médé e dans le théâtre latin. D'Ennius à Sénèque, Rome 1990.



Th e Récit de

Théramène, in : id. , Linguistic s an d Literar y History . Essay s

in Stylistics, Princeton 1948, 87-134; C . ZINTZEN, Analytisches Hypomnema z u

Senecas Phaedra, Meisenheim 1960 (also o n the relationship to the lost ó ð ð of Euripides); P. GRIMAL, L'originalité de Sénèque dans la tragédie d e

Phèdre, RE L 41, 1963, 297-304, repr. in: E . LEFÈVRE, ed., 321-342; ì . HELD-

MANN , Senecas Phaedra

und ihre griechischen Vorbilder, Hermes 96, 1968, 88-117;

E. LEFÈVRE , Quid ratio possit? Senecas Phaedra als stoisches Drama , W S 82, n.s. 3 ,

1969, 131-160, repr. in: E . LEFÈVRE, ed., 343-375;



ó ð

ü ñ ð .

Zu Senecas Phaedra und dem ersten Hippolytos des Euripides, Hermes 98, 1970,

44-56; A . D . LEEMAN , Seneca's Phaedra as a Stoic

269-280; G . PÉTRONE, L a scrittura tragica dell'irrazionale. Note d i lettura al teatro di Seneca, Palermo 1984, on the Phaedra: 65-114; A . J. BOYLE , I n Nature's Bonds.


Tragedy (1976), in: LEEMAN , Form

Study o f Seneca's

Phaedra, ANR W

2 , 32,

2 , 1985,



Oedipus 1



pestilence rages in Thebes. Creon informs King Oedipus that the oracle


Delphi demands the expulsion of the murderer of King Laius from the

city. Oedipus has Tiresias the prophet uncover the culprit. Creon reports that, meanwhile, by necromancy, Laius had appeared and named Oedipus as his murderer. Initially Oedipus suspects a plot and has Creo arrested.

But by talking with Jocasta, an old man from Corinth, and the aged Phor- bas Oedipus finds out the truth. He blinds himself; Jocasta kills herself with

a sword.

Agamemnon 2

The spirit of Thyestes indicates the coming disaster. Aegisthus persuades Clytaemestra to join him in murdering Agamemnon. A warrior announces the latter's arrival. Cassandra, who appears together with the chorus of Tro- jan women, prophetically views herself together with Agamemnon in the bark o f death (753). I n another vision she describes the king's murder while it is happening in the palace. Electra saves her young brother Orestes by entrusting him to a man from Phocis. Clytaemestra condemns Cassan- dra to death.

Thyestes 3

Tantalus' ghost appears. The Fury goads him to do more harm to the family of the Pelopidae. Atreus develops his plan: he will murder the chil- dren of his brother Thyestes and then have him eat their flesh. The plan is put into action.

1 J . DINGEL, Der Sohn des Polybos und die Sphinx. Z u den Oidipustragödien des

Euripides und des Seneca, û 27, 1970, 90-96; ÿ. LEFEVRE, Die politische Bedeutung

der römische n Tragödi e un d Senecas Oedipus,

K . SCHÖPSDAU, Zu r dramatischen Struktur von Senecas Oedipus, Hermes 113, 1985, 84-100; G . PADUANO, Sofocle, Seneca e la colpa di Edipo, RFI C 116, 1988, 298-317.

2 D . HENRY, B . WALKER, Seneca and the Agamemnon: Some Thoughts on Tragic Doom , CP h 58, 1963, 1-10, repr. in: E . LEFEVRE, ed., 74-91; J . M . CROISILLE, L e personnage de Clytemnestre dans YAgamemnon de Seneque, Latomus 23, 1964, 464 - 472; E . LEFEVRE, Schicksal und Selbstverschuldung in Senecas Agamemnon, Hermes

94, 1966, 482-496, repr. in: E . LEFEVRE, ed., 457-476; W . H . FRIEDRICH,

Reue und Sühne der Klytämnestra, A& A 12, 1966, 3-28, repr. in: W.H.F. , Vorbild und Neugestaltung. Sechs Kapitel zur Geschichte der Tragödie, Göttingen 1967,

57-87; E . LEFEVRE,

in stoischer Sicht, Hermes 101, 1973, 64-91.

ANR W 2, 32, 2, 1985, 1242-1262;


Die Schuld des Agamemnon. Das Schicksal des Trqja-Siegers



Die griechischen Pelopidendramen und Senecas Thyestes, W S 43,

1922 -

1923, 172-198; U . KNOCHE, Senecas Atreus. Ei n Beispiel, Antike 17, 1941, 60-76,

repr. in: E . LEFEVRE, ed., 477-489; I . LANA, UAtreo di Accio e la leggenda di Atreo

e Tieste nel teatro tragico romano, AA T 93,

Atreo e Tieste sulle scene romane (il tiranno e l'atteggiamento verso il tiranno), in:

Studi in onore di Q . CATAUDELLA, Catania 1972, 1, 357-371, repr. in: A . L A PENNA, Fra teatro, poesia e politica romana, Torino 1979, 127-141; ÿ. LEFEVRE, De r Thyestes




A .





Oetaeus 1

Hercules sends Lichas to Trachis to report his victory over Eurytus. Her- cules' wife, Deianira, tells her nurse that she is jealous o f Iole, a prisoner.

the poisonous blood o f Nessus (which she deems

a love spell) and has Lichas bring i t to her husband. Hyllus, her son, gives an account of Hercules' terrible ordeal and of his killing Lichas in his fury. Deianira resolves to die. The ailing hero appears; his mother Alcmena tries to comfort him. Hyllus brings the message of Deianira's death; he explains that she is not guilty o f Hercules' sufferings; his father asks hi m to marry

She soaks a garment


Iole. A messenger reports Hercules' death on a pyre. A n apparition of the now divine hero comforts his mothe r i n her grief.




situ et sacris Aegyptiorum

an d De situ Indiae (writte n durin g Seneca's stay i n

Alexandria, a stay which probably encouraged his interest in science as

well). De motu terrarum 2 (between 31 and 49?). De

natura (under the influence of Fabianus and the Sextii, written probably shortl y before o r durin g his exile). De forma mundi (writte n perhap s i n th e

later years of his exile). De superstitione (later than the De vita beata, probably

before 62). Moralis

cf. epist. 89): fro m his last perio d (64).






libri, De immatura morte, Exhortationes (a






Some epigrams are ascribed to Seneca; 3 the authenticity of the Hercules Oetaeus

is doubted; the praetexta

Octavia (see the Appendix to this chapter, p. 1199)

and the

Correspondence with



are spurious.

des L . Varius Rufus. Zehn Überlegungen zu seiner Rekonstruktion, Mainz 1976 (bibl.); G . PIGONE, La fabub e il regno. Studi sul Thyestes di Seneca, Palermo 1984; E. LEFEVRE, Die philosophische Bedeutung der Seneca-Tragödie am Beispiel des

C . MONTELEONE, II Thyestes di Seneca.

Sentieri ermeneutici, Fasano 1991; I . FRINGS, Odia fiatema als manierisüsches Motiv. Betrachtungen zu Senecas Thyest und Statius' Thebais, Stuttgart 1992.

authenticity of this play is controversial; bibl: W . H . FRIEDRICH, Sprache

und Stil des Hercules Oetaeus, Herme s 82 , 1954, 51-84 ; repr. in : E . LEFEVRE , ed. ,

500-544; M . ROZELAAR, Neue Studien zur Tragödie Hercules Oetaeus,

2, 1985, 1348-1419; C.-E. AUVRAY 1989 (with bibl.); C . WALDE, Herculeus bbor. Studien zum pseudosenecanischen Hercuhs Oetaeus, Frankfurt 1992. A . DE Vrvo, L e parole della scienza. Sul trattato De terrae motu di Seneca, Salerno

Thyestes, ANR W 2, 32, 2, 1985, 1263-1283;

1 Th e


2, 32,






Editions: D . ERASMUS, Basileae 1515; C . W . BARLOW (TTr), Epistulae Senecae

editions; M . COFFEY, Gnomon 37,




Paulum et Pauli ad Senecam

(quae vocantur), American Academy in Rom e




(TC) , II






San Paolo,


1978; bibl: K . DEISSNER, Paulus und Seneca, Gütersloh 1917; J. N . SEVENSTER, Paul and Seneca , Leide n 1961; K . ABEL, Gnomo n 35 , 1963, 38-43 ; fundamental now:



HL L 5,








Models, and

Genres 1

Unlike the Augustan classics and many other Roma n authors Seneca writes both prose and poetry. Ennius, Accius, and Cicero had used verse or prose respectively i n separate works; the same would be the case later only with Lactantius (if the Phoenix is genuine) and, for instance, with Sidonius Apollinaris. The mixture of prose and poetry in Menippean satire is something different: examples are found i n Varro , Petronius, and Seneca himself i n his Apocolocyntosis. A third type is the compositon of prose prefaces to collections of poems in the way of Martial, Statius, or Ausonius. As for Seneca, it is true that he often adorns his philosophical writings with poetic quota- tions, but nevertheless he draws a clear borderline between prose and poetry. His philosophical writings are an element distinguishing him from other Roman tragic poets. Once more, Ennius is the only

parallel; however, the latte r wrote , i n addition , epic poetr y an d (as most Latin tragedians did) comedies as well. Like Accius, Seneca concentrates on tragedy and has a preference for writing scholarly treatises, although Accius is more o f a philologist. O f the Augustan tragic poets, Varius wrote epic poetry as well, and Ovid composed

contrast to Ennius, who as a versatile pioneer had to break

elegies. I n ground i n

ciplined and mature literary works in divergent domains

many fields regardless o f perfection, Seneca produced dis-

The genres of prose cultivated by Seneca cover a wide range: the

Apocolocyntosis is a Menippean

satire, incorporating, i n addition, ele-

ments of drama; 2 completely discordant i n style (though almost con- temporary!) is the De dementia, a 'prince's handbook' (stylistic criteria, therefore, are not useful for dating Seneca's works). The rhetorical fluency o f the consolationes, again, reflects a different tradition. Th e diction o f the Consolatio ad Helviam is especially eloquent, and matched by an exceptionally clear structure: hence, Justus Lipsius 3 deemed it Seneca's masterpiece. Stylistically, the Consolationes diverge from Seneca's later works—not for being older, but for being suasoriae. As for his philosophical treatises (De constantia; De vita beata) their genre is didactic rather than oratorial. Th e tetters to Lucilius evince a crossing of two genres: letter and philosophical treatise. Surprisingly, of the




D .

and detailed








Apocolocyntosis, Mnemosyne 35, 1982, 103-114; s. also J . BLÄNSDORF, Senecas Apo-




colocyntosis und die In his edition






of Seneca, Antverpiae, 4th







twelve books called LHalogi only one is a dialogue proper (De tranquillitate animi). For Seneca diabgus denotes communication with a Active partner

as well (cf. bene/. 5. 19. 8). I n Quintilian (9. 2. 30-31) i t even

soliloquy and philosophical reasoning. When creating his own philo- sophical literary genre Seneca probably was reminiscent of the tradi- tion of diatribe as well. This type of philosophical sermon traced to Bion of Borysthenes had influenced Horace, among others. Many a letter to Lucilius is redolent of diatribe. However, there are limits to this parallel, as will be shown later.

It is more difficult to name Seneca's real sources than the authors he claims to follow. Even as far as the latter are concerned, there

are surprises: though a Stoic, Seneca i n the first three books o f his Utters to Lucilius prefers to quote Epicurean authors, and he does so with an astounding regularity. This might be a compliment to the addressee's previous philosophical tastes. Whe n finally asked to con- tinue this custom with quotations from Stoics, Seneca refuses; his remarkable excuse is that a mature person should finally venture to

make a statement on his ow n

It is rewarding, nevertheless, to reconstruct Seneca's cultural back- ground from his writings. The philosophers who influenced him may be grouped, i n reverse chronology, according to generations: Phi- losophers whom he met personally form the innermost circle. We already mentioned Attalus the Stoic who lead him from bookish theory to practical life, 1 but also conveyed to hi m some ideas o f natural philosophy. 2 Another teacher was Papirius Fabianus (about 35 B.C. - 35 A.D.), a disciple of the Sextii and, like Seneca, an orator con- verted to philosophy. His inspiring influence is felt i n many domains and genres: i t extends from the Consolatio ad Marciam to the De brevitate vitae and from his scientific treatises to his letters (e.g. epist. 100 on political philosophy). Furthermore, we must mention the Pythagorean Sotion who converted Seneca to vegetarianism and in all probability gave important hints for book 3 o f the De ira. Amon g Seneca's ad- mired friends there was, finally, frugal Demetrius the Cynic who, like Socrates, left no writings.


(epist. 33. 7).



previous to this is represented

by the



poets like Virgil and Ovid, 3 Seneca especially highlights the


Sen. epist. 9; 63; 67; 72; 81; 108;




E.g . the theory concerning the forebodings

of lightnings

(nat. 2. 48;


Horace's influence is important, though less patent, cf. J . F . BERTHET,

Sénèque ,

lecteur d'Horace


ses Lettres à Lucilius, Latomus 38,




teachers of Augustus: Alius Didymus of Alexandria, a Stoic with an eclectic turn of mind, had been influenced by the Platonist Antiochus

of Ascalon as well. H e had dedicated a consolation to Livia after the

death o f Drusus; Seneca quotes hi m



i n




Marciam. Another teacher o f Augustus, Athenodorus (about 75 B.C. - A.D. 7), had been an admirer of Posidonius; he was probably used in the De tranquillitate animi; Seneca quotes hi m i n epist. 10. 5. Ascle- piodotus, who wrote on natural philosophy, depended on Posidonius as well. 1

A generation earlier is Cicero's contemporary Posidonius, whose

teachings are thought to have left numerous traces i n Seneca, e.g. i n



of Ascalon , influenced the tetters to Lucilius an d probabl y the 1st boo k

and i n the tetters to Lucilius. Cicero's teacher, Antiochus


book o f the

De ira, i n the Naturaks

quaestiones (mediated



the De

ira. Cicero's ow n impact is documented by quotations, as




brevitate vitae and i n the tetters to Lucilius, although, i n the

harshly criticized. Seneca's relation-

ship to Cicero (which is attested i n the De dementia as well) deserves to be studied thoroughly. Initially, Cicero served as an exemplum (up to Seneca's exile), to become later a piece of counter-evidence: he remained a prisoner to politics, unable to elevate himself to true

freedom. 2 I n the Consolatio ad Hekiam (8) Brutus and Varr o are

From the circle of the Scipios, which roughly corresponds to the fourth or fifth generation before Seneca, Hecato the Stoic is to be mentioned (160-90 B.C.). His presence is felt i n the De beneficiis and in the tetters to Lucilius, whereas his teacher Panaetius perhaps lurks behind the De tranquillitate animi and certainly, on a more general scale, inspired Seneca's humane attitude as a spiritual adviser.

later parts o f this work, Cicero is









least five


o f

philosophers between Seneca and the classics o f the Hellenistic schools. Citations from Epicurus are surprisingly numerous, especially i n the

first three books o f the Epistulae morales, but also i n the De constantia

sapientis, for example.

genre of the philosophical letter, although Seneca raises different lit- erary and didactic claims. I n the tetters to Lucilius the quotations from

Moreover, Epicurus serves as a model for





Sen. nat. 2.

Cf. D . G . GAMBET,





Cicero in the



Cicerone filosofo fonte di Seneca?, RCC M 19, 1977,

Works of Seneca Philosophus, TAPh A







171-183; C . MORESCHINI,

527-534; P. GRIMAL, Seneque,





Zeno 1 and his independent disciple Aristo o f Chios are second-hand in all probability. Chrysippus has been supposed, among others, to

be an authority for the De ira, as has Cleanthes, for the De providentia.

In the De dementia, the theme

Hellenistic intermediaries, to Xenophon and Isocrates. This has lead

us to the generation o f Plato, who is also

authorities. O f the Pre-Socratics, who form the last circle, Seneca

quotes Democritus as an example

Direct consultation o f the text is to be excluded in this case.

o f kingship is ultimately traced, through

found among Seneca's

of rejection of wealth 2 (prov. 6. 2).

In the present overview, the following general lines stand out: first, there is a tradition of practical ethics, leading from Seneca's Stoic teachers through Posidonius and Panaetius back to the early Stoa; a second tradition, combining dialectics with religious overtones is traced through Sotion, Posidonius, and Antiochus to Plato and the Pythago- reans; the third line is scientific; through Papirius Fabianus, it goes back to Posidonius and the school o f Aristode. T o the first o f these traditions we should add Epicurean influences and the live example of Demetrius the Cynic; the latter reminded Seneca of Socrates, a key figure and an unsurpassed archetype for Roman philosophy of

life. T o the pedantry o f philological polymathy Seneca opposes,

his De brevitate vitae (14), the philosopher's live dialogue with the herit-

age o f the past: he may dispute with Socrates, doubt with Carneades, and enjoy tranquillity of mind with Epicurus; he may conquer human nature with the Stoics; and outgrow it with the Cynics.


To be sure Seneca had turned to Socrates as an example not only

when he was about to die but already during his

early stage o f his career. H e especially was aware o f the fact that Socrates by his behavior had done away with the traditional stigma on imprisonment (neque enim poterat career videri, in quo Socrates erat, 'for no place that held Socrates could possibly seem a prison ' (Helv.

exile, i.e. at an

13. 4) . Thi s illustrate s th e liberatin g functio n

o f Socrate s fo r Seneca .

Th e Apocolocyntosis belongs to the supposed genre o f the


satire. I n the 3rd century B.C. Menippus of Gadara had interspersed his prose with verse. Varro had imported the Menippea to Rome.

Lucian's (2nd century A.D.)

writings, too, give us an idea both o f the





Citazioni da Zenone nelle opere

morali di Seneca, Prometheus


2 Gf. A . SETAIOLI, Citazioni da Democrito ed Eraclito nelle opere morali di Seneca, in: Munu s amicitiae. Scritti in memoria di A . RONCONI , 1, Firenz e 1986, 299-318 .


fanciful form and of the social criticism typical of this genre.

Amon g Seneca's tragedies, there is a praetexta, the Octavia. This play, though not written by Seneca, deserves some attention, since it is the only completely preserved specimen of its genre. 1 Th e tragedies considerably differ from comparable Greek plays. 2 The following tragedies compete with Euripides: Hercuks, Troades, Medea,


Oedipus, Hercuks Oetaeus, Troades, Thyestes. Seneca rivals his Agamemnon and Phoenissae. Man y divergencies may

lost Hellenistic and Latin plays. 3 For example, 'innovations' found in Seneca's Agamemnon had partiy been anticipated by Livius Andronicus in his Aegisthus. For Seneca's Thyestes, we have to take into account Ennius, Accius, and Varius; for his Medea, Ovid. The latter poet put a stamp on Seneca's poetry by his other works as well, especially by his Heroides and Metamorphoses. 4 I n his choice of a determined model

or of a determined version of a given myth Seneca is guided by his own artistic principle s (s. Literar y Technique) .

Phoenissae, Thyestes. Th e following treat Sophoclean subjects:

Aeschylus i n be owing to



Seneca is indebted to the literary

technique of the so-called diatribe. 5 Frequent use o f apostrophe is a typical feature of this form of moral preaching common among Cynics and Stoics. The person addressed may be a real recipient or

an imaginary interlocutor. The literary form is enlivened by further

In all o f his philosophical writings

elements reminiscent

of dialogues

like: fictive


on the


of the listener, proverbs, aphorisms,

similes from





Fo r the

Octavia, see


Appendix to

this chapter, below p.


2 There are diverse opinions concerning the significance of different periods of literary history for Seneca's tragedies; cf. R . J . TARRANT, Seneca's Dram a and its

Antecedents, HSP h 82, 1978, 213-263; G . ARICÖ, Seneca e

52, 1981 (1985), 339-356; J . DINGEL, Senecas Tragödien. Vorbilder

caica, Dioniso und poetisch e

3 Cf. A . D E ROSALIA, Stilemi affini nei tragici arcaici e in Seneca, Quaderni di cultura e di tradizione classica 6-7, Palermo 1988-1989, 55-73.

la tragedia latina ar-

Aspekte, ANR W 2, 32 , 2, 1985,

1052-1099 .

* R . JAKOBI, Der Einfluß

Ovids auf den





5 For the relationship of Seneca's philosophical letters to the genre of diatribe:

A. STÜCKELBERGER, Der Brief als Mittel der persönlichen Auseinandersetzung mit

der Philosophie, Didactica classica Gandensia 20, 1980, 133-148, esp. 133-136; for a general assessment of Seneca's literary technique in his philosophical treatises:

K. ABEL 1967; G . MÄURACH 1970; s. also below 'Language and Style' and our gen-

eral bibliography to Seneca.



especially conducive (epist. 95. 72)historical examples, preferably from the late Republic and the early Empire. Al l these elements are

found i n the Epistulae morales, the consolationes, and the treatises. How - ever, to label Seneca's art as 'diatribe' is not to give a comprehensive account of it. He adapts a rhetorical method when disguising exhortation as praise,

e.g. i n the De clementia. 1 What is more, his

arrangement of thoughts

is generally guided by rhetorical principles. He groups his arguments


the most colorful and expressive are placed last. Often Seneca devel- ops an idea i n three variations, the last o f which is shaped to allow a smooth transition to the next thought. The resulting form may be

in the

previous paragraph may become the leading theme of the follow- ing or even reappear after a longer break. A similar rhythm can be observed not only within single texts but also from letter to letter within the corpus o f the Epistulae morales.

Metaphors, similes, and images are applied in perfect harmony with the content. Since an organic and continuous development o f the addressee is a major concern o f Seneca i n the Epistulae morales, he shows a preference for imagery taken from the domain o f natu- ral growth, 2 nutrition, and medicine. The same is true o f works on consolation, which have to conform to psychological laws: i n the Consohtio ad Hebiam Seneca uses medical imagery to explain how he came to write as late as this. Military and medical imagery combine to convey the idea of lightly injured recruits more afraid of the phy- sician than o f the sword. T o them Seneca opposes the veterans, who, although seriously injured, courageously submit themselves to sur- gery (cons. Helv. 3).

to form a gradation (gradatio); the same principle applies to

compared to a chain: what had been a secondary theme




illustrate the

structural function of


throughou t the De brevitate vitae we encounter the imagery o f sea an d

beginning the sea illustrates an existence lacking i n


between a sailor aware o f his destination and a person being tossed about aimlessly (8); finally Seneca recommends us to retire from the 'floods' o f life into the safe 'harbor' o f philosophy (18). There is a

(2); i n

sailing: at the steadiness and

peace o f mind


middle there is a



Cf. Arist.

Fo r a philosophical use of such imagery cf.

Epictet und die

rhet. 1. 9




23-2 4

and Cicero's Speech for




in Diog.









17; cf. A . BONHÖFFER,







o f imagery, and

the text is accompanied


a meaningful series o f visual impressions. Seneca refines the diatribe,

a genre initially prone t o strike popular notes, into the sophisticated

urbanity o f his essays i n form o f letters. Horace's Epistles woul d be a

poetic parallel. Seneca's 'gliding transitions',



too, are



Seneca's use

o f quotations is another element o f his literary tech-

nique. H e teaches his readers how t o 'unfold' such sayings

tally—mainly by means of rhetorical amplification—and how to apply them to their own life. Rhetoric, which previously had influenced public life, now becomes a means of inner dialogue of man's conver- sation with himself. I t was a grotesque misunderstanding t o place this meditative prose and its sophisticated style o n a level with th e charlatan products of Hellenistic street philosophers. Seneca himself is aware o f the fact that philosophy does not need a 'salesman' (institor) but a priest (antistes: epist. 52. 15).

An artistic large-scale structure may b e observed in major works such as the Epistulae morales. 1 I n the Maturates quaestiones, for example, there is a contrast between the charming beginning of book 4 (with the description of the Nile) and the shattering ending of book 3 (with the description of the Great Flood), although in a technical work we should not concede too much autonomy t o considerations o f aes- thetic form. 2

(like th e

assertion of impartiality and truthfulness), of epic technique (such as the solemn and circumstantial reference t o the time of the day) and

poetic quotations (e.g. from Virgil and Homer). Even dirge is not exempted from parody.


Th e

Apocolocyntosis parodies


o f historiography

As for dramatic technique 3 Seneca prefers t o present action directly

her children on the stage; 4 like- o f Hercules' wife and o f Oedi-

pus' mother. I n the Phaedra the heroine personally declares her love to the hero and directly calumniates him with her husband (avoiding

instead of indirectly. Medea murders wise, the spectator assists the deaths



S .


Goo d










For Seneca's dramas: M . LANDFESTER, Funktion und Tradition bildlicher Rede

in den Tragödien Senecas, Poetica 6, 1974, 179-204; B. SEIDENSTICKE R 1970; A. L . MOTTO, J . R . CLARK, Senecan Tragedy. Patterns o f Irony and Art, C B 48, 1972,

bibl. to individual dramas: s. Survey

69-76; V . WURNIG 1982; N . T . PRATT 1983; of Works.




veto (ars 185) might

b e a taunt against





the detours o f sending her nurse or writing a letter). Before our eyes Theseus recomposes the limbs of his son's dismembered corpse. Apart from the last-mentioned error i n taste, this technique has undeniable dramatic advantages. Phaedra's confession of her guilt is certainly a


child helps to maintain suspense until the last moment.

Scenes added by Seneca often enhance horror. I n the Medea we observe the magic rites o f preparing poison; i n the Oedipus, Tiresias enacts a necromancy; i n the Herculesfiirens Theseus gives a rigid account of his journe y to the Netherworld . As a rule, ritual elements are more

and Medea's mur-

der of her children is interpreted i n Roman terms (offering to the dead; the Furies).

Long monologues contribute to develop the leading emotions:

Seneca shows on the stage the genesis o f Hercules' madness, whereas Euripides had prepared it indirecdy by actions of two superhuman beings. In his initial scenes Seneca vividly introduces the emotions which will dominate the given play. I n the cases o f Phaedra and Medea, the spectator is immediately confronted with their passions by way of longer monologues, whereas Euripides had started with reflecting their emotions in their entourage. However, there are other intro-

prominent than i n Euripides. Prayers are frequent;

highlight, and the delay o f the murder of Medea's second

ductions i

n Seneca which make use o f a þ to fore-

bode the

tragic dimension o f the events to come. 1 Another attractive

feature o f Seneca's literary technique are a secondary character's com- ments describing the reactions or movements of the protagonist. 2

We will dwell at greater length on the characters o f Seneca's heroes

in the context o f his 'Ideas'

feature here: the way they act is based on a high degree of con- sciousness, which might be called almost 'literary'. Medea cherishes and cultivates her emotion by means of rhetorical techniques. For her the name o f Medea is, as i t were, a progra m to which she has to live up (Medea fiam, æ will become Medea' 171; Medea nunc sum, 'now I am Medea' 910). I n order to give an exhaustive presentation of the characters, 3 the—highly passionate—prologues often anticipate later stages o f action and behavior.

(II), but we should mention one typical







important for the

interpretation of the Thyestes.



is found

at Rome

as early as Plautus.



Seneca's Hercules Jurens. Theme , Structure, and Style,




In the domain of form Seneca is striving for concentration and

consistency. H e omits characters who can be dispensed with (such as

Aegeus i n the Medea). A t

the end

o f the Phaedra there is no need o f


dea ex machina; Phaedra

cuts the

knot b y

herself. I n the final scene

of the Medea suspense is maintained to the last moment: when Jason appears on the stage one o f his children is still alive, so that he can

try to defend it , whereas i n Euripides his role is confined to belated and fruidess reproaches. I n this case, what is called 'cruelty' implies

a considerable dramatic advantage. An d there is a

contributing to

the content o f the chorus songs i n their context. 1

Are Seneca's play s mean t t o b e stage d o r merel y 'recited'? 2 This problem is less fundamental than we might have expected. Accord- ing to ancient habits the text was recited aloud i n both cases. W e have no documents attesting performances, but this is an argumentum

ex silentio. O n the other han d we tomary to play individual scenes

opinion o f some well-bred 19th century scholars who deemed Seneca's plays 'unfit for the stage', is either to underrate the possibilities o f ancient theaters or to canonize a dated judgment o f taste (certainly the equation 'ghasdy, hence unstageable' has been belied by 20th century theater).

further element

the consistency o f the plays: Seneca carefully anchors

do kno w at least that i t was cus- from dramas. 3 T o accede to the

There are many elements i n Seneca's text favoring good stage-

effects. Objects play no less prominen t a role than words: Hippolytus' sword is at the center o f both the love-scene and the death-scene; Phaedra's costume o f huntress visibly documents her being enthralled

with Hippolytus, the disciple


the plays bring to bear their full potential. I t is not by chance that in Racine's Phedre the two most effective scenes—Phedre's declara- tion of love and her suicide—are taken from Seneca. The Renais- sance knew that these plays were made to be staged.

her magic art on the

o f Diana. Medea is shown practising

stage. I t is only on the theater,


1 G . ARROYO A., Die Chorlieder in Senecas Tragödien. Eine Untersuchung zu Senecas Philosophie und Chorthemen, diss. Köln 1979. 2 O . ZWIERLEIN, Di e Rezitationsdramen Senecas, Meisenheim 1966; convincingly countered by L . BRAUN, Sind Senecas Tragödien Bühnenstücke oder Rezitations-

dramen?, RP L 5, 1, 1982, 43-52; cf. D . F . SUTTON, Seneca on the Stage, Leiden


3 A . DIHLE, Seneca und die Auffuhrungspraxis der römischen Tragödie, A& A 29,






Style 1


Seneca's prose makes him the exponent of a 'modern style', which in its turn, at that moment, had attained the venerable age o f 100 years: since the Augustan epoch the rhetorical schools o f declama- tion ha d cultivated a diction rich i n short, rhythmica l sentences, pointed i n both content and form. Seneca is the classic o f this anti- classical mode. His mocking remarks on Cicero would earn hi m harsh censure o n the part o f classicists like Quintilian and archaists like

Gellius. O n the other hand, various passages were overlooked, where Seneca showed that he fully appreciated Cicero's stylistic achievement (epist. 100. 7). Artistic prose rhyth m is very prominent i n Seneca; the main clausulae are reminiscent o f Cicero, but colometry is split up into smaller units. Moreover, linguistic research has shown that Seneca's Latin, i n the main, is surprisingly pure, even conservative. Colloqui-


yet the y are mixe d wit h poeti c elements .

By its closeness to dialogue Seneca's style is reminiscent o f the diatribe; however, Seneca in the main keeps aloof from 'low style'. Changing means of expression—like parataxis, antithesis, and varia- tion (e.g. o f synonyms)—combine to serve the same goal. Seneca's concise style—which fatigues the reader only i f enjoyed to excess—is meant to satisfy the Stoic ideal o f brevitas. However, the fact that each single sentence is short does not prevent many o f his letters or books from being rather long. Moreover, Seneca's style often borders on 'the sublime', an ideal backed by the author of the

are i n harmony with the personal tone o f his prose works; 2

usu vocabulorum apud Ciceronem et Senecam Graecae philo- diss. Freiburg 1914; A . PITTET, Vocabulaire philosophique de

sophiae interprètes,

Sénèque, I : A—computatio, Paris 1937; A.-M . GUILLEMIN 1957; R . WESTMAN, Da s

Futurpartizip als Ausdrucksmittel Senecas, Helsinki 1961; N . T . PRATT, Major Sys- tems of Figurative Language in Senecan Melodrama, TAPh A 94, 1963, 199-234;

Meaning of the Choral Meters in Senecan Tragedy, Rh M 111,

1968, 197-219; N . CATONE, Metro e lingua nella Phaedra di Seneca, A& R n.s. 16, 1971, 19-29; VON ALBRECHT, Prose 112-124; W.-L. LIEBERMANN 1974, 85-14 2 (similes

and tropes); A . TRAÎNA , LO stile 'drammatico ' del filosofo Seneca , Bologn a 2n d ed .

2, 1985, 776-858; M . BILLER-

BECK, Senecas Tragödien. Sprachliche und stilistische Untersuchungen, Leiden 1988;

M. HILLEN, Studien zur Dichtersprache Senecas. Abundanz. Explikativer Ablativ.

Hypallage, Berlin 1989; M . ARMISEN-MARCHETTI, Sapientiae facies. Etude sur les images

de Sénèque, Paris 1989.



D e

J. D . BISHOP, Th e

1978; A . SETAIOLI, Seneca e lo stile, ANR W 2, 32,



A .






Elementi di sermo cotidianus nella lingua




di Seneca



llepi vyc-vc, ('O n the Sublime')

wh o perhaps lived during the same

epoch (cf. epist. 41 on animus magnus). Dept h o f ideas and apparent simplicity of form conspire to produce the impression of sublimity. Yet Seneca's prose style is far from being uniform; rather it varies according to genres. Th e introduction o f the Consolatio ad Helviam is written i n well-rounded periods, which perceptibly differ from the staccato style adopted i n other works. However, even i n this work Seneca cannot renounce his love for pointed expressions: twenty days after he r grandson's death Helvi a ha d to see he r son's exile: hoc adhuc

dejuerat tibi: lugere vivos, 'this misfortune yo u had still lacked—to mour n

I n all available books on consolation he

could not find a person comforting those who were mourning for hi m (cons. Helv. 1).

Moreover, there are considerable differences o f style even within one and the same work. I n the De dementia, book 1 is rhetorical i n character, whereas book 2 is more abstract and philosophical. Cor- respondingly, there is a contrast between common and terminologi- cal use o f words. 1 The diction of Seneca's tragedies is based on the poetic language

of the

conforming to his models, does not neglect the taste o f his contem-

poraries for a passionate, purposeful and impulsive mode. The rhe-

epoch, i n which

the borderlines between poetry and prose are blurred. As architects and painters o f his day revel i n atmospheric effects produced by the luster of precious material, authors, too, try to dazzle their readers with brilliance. Like his prose writings, Seneca's tragedies bear wit- ness to his preference for concise and simple sentences and pointed expressions; the latter appear even more impressive against the back- ground o f a rich variety o f themes and ideas. Th e specific quali- ties o f the language and the style o f Seneca's tragedies can only be understood i f we constantly bear i n mind those of his prose writings.

Seneca's handling o f the iambic trimeter is severe. I n his choruses

Augustans. I n his choice o f words Seneca, though largely

the living' (cons. Helv. 2. 5).

torical style o f his tragedies is i n harmony with his

anapaests prevail, but there


other meters


well. 2


I n book

1, misericordia, venia, ignoscere are synonyms

for dementia; in book

2 , they

are differentiated


Funktion und Form

Heidelberg 1932 ; R . GIOMINI, D e

semantically. Severitas is an antonym to dementia in book


of them

are virtues.



1, in book


are ultimately identical since



der Chorlieder in den Seneca-Tragodien, diss.


Agamemnone et Oedipode




Ideas I Reflections on Literature 1

It is true that Seneca i n the Apocolocyntosis derides Claudius' sympa- thies for novi poetae, but this does not mean that his ideas on litera- ture were reactionary. O n the contrary, he shocked both classicists and archaists by unconventional verdicts. 2 His 'modernism' does not disclaim history: Seneca jusdy observes the change o f linguistic usage and finds rather plausible motives wh y the classics, given their epoch and their educational background, adopted some archaic expressions:

he correcdy observed that Ennianisms 3 should turn up in authors who had grown up reading Ennius. The period from Caligula to Nero is o f unprecedented inner freedom: Seneca and his contempo- raries were ready to adopt a personal standpoint without blindly idolizing the classics; they were prou d o f their ow n ingenium. 4

Seneca's un-dogmatic relationship to tradition is evinced from his use o f poetic quotations. 5 A theoretical statement on this subject is found i n a letter (epist. 108. 24-38) which opposes the philosopher's

approach to that o f

the philologist. Virgil says that 'tim e

is fleeing'

(georg. 3. 284). Fro m this quotation the philosopher derives

a motiva-

tion to lead a more conscious and a more active life, whereas the philologist observes that Virgil uses the verb 'to flee' (Jugere) to express

rapid motion. From mere collecting and parroting quotations from

Tragedy, Rh M 111 , 1968 , 197-219 ; N . CATONE,

Seneca, A& R

Text and Artistry in the Anapaests of Seneca's Tragedies, Atlanta 1987 .

1 F . I . MERCHANT, Seneca the Philosopher and his Theor y of Style, AJPh 26 , 1905, 44-59 ; P. DE LACY, Stoic Views of Poetry, AJPh 69 , 1948 , 241-271 ;

A. STÜCKELBERGER, Senecas 88 . Brief. Übe r Wer t un d Unwer t der freien Künst e

n.s. 16 , 1971 , 19-29 ; J . G . FITCH, Seneca's Anapaests, Metre, Colometry,

Metro e lingua nella Phaedra di

(TTrC), Heidelberg 1965 ; A . MICHEL, Rhétorique, tragédie, philosophie: Sénèque et le sublime, GI F 21 , 1969 , 245-257 ; I . OPELT, Senecas Konzeption des Tra-

gischen, in: E . LEFÈVRE, ed., 1972 , 92-128 ; J . DINGEL 1974 ; A . STÜCKELBERGER 1980 ; G . ROSATI, Seneca sulla lettera filosofica. U n génère letterario nel cammino


la saggezza,


13 , 1981 , 3-15 ; K . ABEL 1981 .



Quint, inst. 10 . 1.

O n

125-131 ;


Cicero's Ennianisms: non fuit

12 . 2 ; W . TRILLITZSCH

1971 .

hoc Ciceronis vitium, sed temporis; necesse erat haec

dici, cum ilia legerentur, Virgil uses Ennianisms, ut Ennianus populus adgnosceret carmine aliquid antiquitatis iapud Gell. 12 . 2 . 8-10) ; Seneca appreciates Cicero

writer, but his view of style is different, s. also D . G . GAMBET, Cicer o in the Works

of Seneca Philosophus, TAPh A 101 , 1970 , 171-183 ;


P. GRIMAL, Sénèqu e juge de

in novo




96 , 1984 , 655-670 .



Th e author ö

Cf . H . KRAUSS, Di e Vergilzitate in Senecas Briefen an Lucilius, diss. Hambur g 1957.


is usually assigned






others we come to express ideas of our own by doing what we are saying (epist. 108. 38). 1

Seneca does not direcdy assail rhetoric; rather he exploits its methods systematically for his practice of self-education and psychotherapy. 2 At times he deliberately disrupts the chains of school tradition: to

him, the

problem o f 'sublime' or 'grand' style is not one o f mere

technique but one o f the speaker's intellectual freedom. What is impor- tant is the impetus to think in great dimensions and to live up to such thoughts (tranq. 17).




pedagogical use o f literature or o f literary elements i n his

philosophical works does not entitie us to conclude

underlying his tragedies should be

Seneca is an original author i n his ow n right. Th e mere fact




straightforwardly didactic.

Ideas I I


is primarily interested i n ethics and—to a lesser degree—in


philosophy (physics).

H e is less attracted to logic, although i n

his later letters, he does turn

to this subject, too. 3 It is Seneca's inten-

tion to sketch an overall survey o f philosophy.

I n



place we have to

assess the importance o f Stoic phi-

losophy for Seneca, since he reckons himself among its adherents. I n this respect the Epistulae morales provide the most comprehensive evi- dence. They are an introduction to philosophy. His starting point, however, is practical life, not an abstract system. From a literary point of view such liveliness is clearly a great advantage. However, we should not overlook the paradox: on the one hand, Seneca repeat- edly asserts that as a mature person, whose days are numbered, he has no time for hair-splitting (e.g. epist. 49). O n the other, he does not spare Lucilius the problems of logic and dialectics. Evidently Seneca, for all his adherence to practical life, tries to maintain the scholarly level o f philosoph y (s. e.g. epist. 95).

1 Cf. talis hominum oratio qualis vita (epist. 114. 16); further evidence of literary criti-

cism in Seneca: epist. 59. 5; 84. 1-7;


Wege ihrer Vermitüung, Bamberg 1988, passim, esp. 90-94. 3 Despite his 'un-systematicaT approach, his insistence on intellectual honesty and correct use of terms (like 'friendship' epist. 3) touches on a genuinely Stoic principle even in an 'early' passage of his collection of letters.

114. 11; tranq. (=

dial. 9)

17. 10.


A helpful survey in G. REINHART, E. SCHIROK, Senecas Epistulae morales.




Though a Stoic in principle, our author does not neglect other

schools o f philosophy: i n the first three books ter ends in an Epicurean quotation 1 —probably

was sympathetic to this doctrine and certainly Seneca was attracted

to Epicurus' serenity

Seneca's conciliatory nature made him susceptible to the Peripa-

tetic doctrine of the golden mean; in fact, the courtier's flexibility is congenial with Aristode's urbane altitude (cf. epist. 5). Whe n a young man, Seneca was strongly influenced by Sotion the Neo-Pythagorean.

I n the introduction to the

knowledge has an almost Platonic ring. I n the later parts o f the tetters to Lucilius Roma n readers are not spared the subleties o f dialectics. For Seneca philosophy is the true initiation, in agreement with the Pythagoreans and Plato (and Epicurean Lucretius): it is the way from

through contemplation of the skies 3 (man's privi-

darkness to light;

o f his tetters, each let- Lucilius, his addressee,




Maturates quaestiones 2 Seneca's praise of pure

lege over animals) it gives hi m the upright attitude alone worthy o f man. Far from subordinating all other philosophical domains to prac- tical ethics (as we migh t have expected a Roma n to do)—Seneca attains a more independent standpoint. Scientific knowledge has a higher rank; virtue is not an aim in itself but a means to prepare our mind for knowledge. Science is exalted in religious language. Seneca's

high opinion o f contemplative life is not limited to his old age (De

otio) but expressed as early is contempfator admiratorque

destined by his weighdess nature (11). I t is not by chance that these lines were written during his exile. Only gradually and with much difficulty did the Romans come to recognize the importance of pure

philosophical knowledge. Cicero, whose De re publica is the most signifi- cant parallel to the quoted text o f Seneca, was more closely attached to the res publica than was Seneca. Like Cicero, Seneca had twice been excluded from political activity by force, and, like Cicero, he

had used his last years to return his thanks to

called dux vitae since she ha d taught hi m ho w to live. Here he even

as i n the Consolatio ad Helviam: the animus mundi (8), a function to which our min d is

Philosophy, who m he


S. now

H . FREISE, Die Bedeutung der Epikur-Zitate in den




G .

rungsprozeß der römischen Stoa, Hermes 92,

(De otio) 32.










quaestiones Senecas.







Ei n Beitrag




zu m




Cf. also



epist. 94.

dial. 8


Cic . nat. deor. 2.





superseded the Roman postulate o f philosophy's subservience to prac- tical life.

An aging Seneca reflected on god, a theme prepared at earlier stages o f his life. I n the De superstitione (fig. 33) he di d not limit his criticism of religion to oriental cults 1 but extended it even to 'politi- cal theology', thus showing more courage than most ancient philoso-

phers. Augustine, when quoting the

recognize intellectual freedom as a characteristic feature of Seneca. Seneca's awareness of his personal independence was enhanced by his exile. Hence, we are not surprised to find i n his works a spiritu- alized idea of god. 3 Divine power descends into man to enable him to know things divine (epist. 41 . 5).

Ou r author declares his allegiance to Stoic philosophy, which in his view gives more freedom to its adherents than Epicureanism. 4 He repeatedly contradicts Stoic doctrines; 5 many a letter is spiced with Epicurean maxims; but, Seneca visits the enemy's camp as a spy, not as a deserter (epist. 2. 5). Many philosophical ideas gain a specifically Roman touch: practi- cal philosophy is for Seneca per tot annos meditata ratio adversus imminentia, 'a long trained attitude of reasoning towards impending evils' (Tac. arm. 15. 62). By deeming virtue proved i n misfortune superior to virtue i n good luck (epist. 66. 49-53), he comes into conflict with Stoic doctrine (and logic: should not virtue be always the same?) but he complies with the warlike spirit of his Romans.

De superstitione (civ. 6. 10), 2 would



is true for his understanding o f dementia 6 as an



T o

a strict Stoic, the wise man

would be


iudex severus who

gives everyone his due (suum cuique); clemency would

be justified, i f at


tive law. Seneca, however, has i n mind Roman practice: the judge

all, as a way o f adapting a verdict to recta ratio, which is above

exercises dementia by deviating from the maximu m punishment, a

1 Amon g which the cult of Isis and the Jewish religion. As Poppaea sympathized with the latter, the De superstitione should have been written before 62, when Poppaea became almighty through her marriage with Nero.

2 Min . Fei. 25. 8; F . X . BURGER, Übe r das Verhältnis des Minucius Felix zu dem Philosophen Seneca, diss. München 1904, 120-124.



Frg. 123

Epist. 33. 4; 113. 23.

HAASE; epist. 41.

4-5 ;

5 E.g . epist. 117. 1.



6 M . T . GRIFFIN 1976, 129-171; M . BELLINCIONI, Potere ed etica in Seneca. dementia e voluntas arnica, Brescia 1984.




juridic aspect not easily reconcilable with Stoic philosophy. 1 The clem- ency o f a ruler who is above the law is clearly different from aequitas which i n a given case mitigates the strictness o f law.

increasingly Hellenized: the Hellenistic concept o f king-

Latin notion o f pnncipatus merges i n the

ship. Unlike Nero's inaugural address, which conceded to the senate some participation i n government, the De dementia boldly uses rex as an alternative to princeps. I n contradistinction to the 'tyrant' Claudius, Nero is the Stoic king incarnate. The emperor's morality guarantees public morality. This Greek idea easily fits into the Roman frame- work o f exemplum.

Another important principle is the Stoic sympathy for our fellow-

men wh o like ourselves participate i n the logos o f the

nitas). Consequendy, Seneca demands fair treatment o f slaves, 2 he rejects gladiatorial games 3 and the killing of criminals in the arena (epist. 7. 3-6). By advocating such such views, Seneca surpasses the level of most of his contemporaries.

A n essential o f Seneca's teaching method is due attention paid to individual talents ( , aptum). Like Panaetius, Seneca is not

unaware o f man's imperfections. H e is like blushing, fainting, first impulses o f

ready to admit that ictus animi anger, grief, fear o f death etc.

affect everyone, even the wise; the important thing, however, is to refuse them our assent. Yet it is only i n the De vita beata that he

ventures upon admitting (with Aristotie's disciples and Panaetius) that

the lack o f material goods may impair the attainment o f blissful

Seneca is not blind to the contradiction between Stoic rigor and his ow n way o f life (dial. 7 = vit. beat. 17-27). After the ascetic exper- iments of his youth—up to vegetarianism—the philosopher in his later life accommodated himself well to wealth and life at court—all

too well, someone

doning the 'world' o f politics, he rather felt obliged to hold out. Thus, he became a precursor o f those modern thinkers who replaced medieval withdrawal from the world with what may be called an ascetic life within the world (examples are the religious reformers or

O n





ideas are

universe (huma-


might say. As a Roma n he had no taste for



H e focused his attention especially on the decline of jurisdiction under Claudius

age of justice

and on the return to legality under Nero: he hoped for a new golden


after Augustus, the Apollo-like princeps; cf. also




2 M . T . GRIFFIN 1976, 256-285 .


Epist. 90.

45; 95.






is even

ready to save his freedom and his dignity by suicide. His philosophical writings, which reveal so litde about his political activities, can be understood only as a counterpoise to his absorbing everyday routine, as a means to gain some distance and tranquillity of mind, as a method of self-examination and meditation. The scar- city of political content is a corollary to philosophy's role as a con- trasting foil, not at all an expression o f a lack of interest i n politics. The qualities hitherto mentioned allowed a large circle of readers to assimilate Seneca's text, a fact ensuring its lasting influence.

the ideas expressed i n Seneca's dramas. Ar e

St. Francis o f Sales). Seneca, though being involved i n careful o f viewing secular life dispassionately; i f need be,



It is not easy to assess

they, thanks to their pessimism, their cruelty and their relish in pain, something totally aloof from his phiiosophicas writings? O r are they, rather, didactic plays? Both answers are too simplistic. The change o f values had changed the characters as well. Seneca relendessly shows man i n a world almost devoid o f gods. A n example is Hercules: both his greatest achievements and his madness ultimately have the same root: his being a fighter. After such overwhelming victories there is no worth y enemy left—but himself (bella iam secum gerat, 'now with himself let hi m war' Here. Jiir. 85). Hi s external con- quests now should be followed by a painfully gained insight: virtus is self-conquest. Seneca makes an effort to spiritualize a moral quality the Romans usually exercised in the material world: their spirit of conquest. This play does not convey any dogmatic 'lesson'; instead, it propounds a subtle observation: during the Roman epoch, man had ever less the sense o f being guided by gods; more and more, he felt that he had to rely on his ow n resources; all possibilities seemed to be open to him . Woul d he find the right measure within himself? Such deep and harassing questions concerning the world and history are the deeper reason for Seneca's hyperbolic and paradoxical mode of expression, which is more than mere mannerism.

Seneca's Roman ambience is another influential factor. 1 The cho-

rus no longer sides with

children is enhanced; likewise, Roma n pietas refines Theseus' charac- ter, who i n the Phaedra does not exult at the cruel death o f his son.


but with Jason, whose

love for his


This does not mean, however, that his works should be read as encoded politi- cal manifestos; one-sided J . D . BISHOP, Seneca's Daggered Stylus, Konigstein 1985.




I n the Medea, Creon is free from the pusillanimity o f his Euripidean namesake; he is a dignified Roman magistrate. Euripides' Phaedra is a queen, anxious to preserve her own dignity and that o f her sons,

whereas Seneca's Phaedra 1 is a loving woman; her character

trayed in harmony with the greater social independence woman had gained at Rome and with the fact that for Seneca conscience was more important than propriety of conduct: hence, in the Roman play, Phaedra is not allowed to die with a lie. Her final confession o f her guilt is an advantage for the play as a drama. O n the other hand, Medea is muc h less liable to rouse the spectator's sympathy. There is a higher degree of awareness behind her actions, so that she cannot rely on 'extenuating circumstances'. Man y creatures o f Seneca sense a perverse 'relish i n doing evil'.

Seneca's grim tyrants doubdess reflect his experiences under Caligula and Claudius; since we do not know i f Seneca wrote these plays for

Nero's private

to discussion i f he wanted Nero to recognize his own task o f being

is por-

theater 2 —with the Emperor as protagonist—it is open


'good king' more clearly against this dark background. Be this as


may, Seneca in his tragedies certainly portrayed an 'unredeemed'

mankind, which misses or perverts its true task o f rational knowledge as a basis for action. A heroine like Medea does make use o f her ratio—though i n a sense contrary to that o f Seneca the philosopher. While he, by means of rhetorically arranged words, tries to educate himself to perform good actions, Medea uses the same rhetorical devices to instigate herself to do evil. I n this respects his tragedies may be called a gloomy counterpiece to his philosophical writings. Far from being primitive didactic plays, 3 they are systematic exer-

cises i n wrongdoing based on the principles o f rhetoric. A t the best they are liable to convey indirectiy the insight that there is no alter- native to right ratio and a practical philosophy governed by it . Mala voluntas and Medea's growing into her negative role reveal frighten- ing potentialities of the human mind. Seneca's tragedies belong to the 'diagnosing' not to the 'healing' type of literature. As many of Seneca's heroes perpetrate their crimes deliberately, we must expect

1 Even if Seneca here draws on Euripides' other dost) Hippolytus drama, his


of model

remains typical of his



HIGHET, Class. Trad. 598, cf. Tac . am. 15. 39; yet, an apotreptic function is

not the same

as katharsis (the former presupposes

distance, the latter,


3 Against a 'didactic' interpretation: K . HELDMANN 1974, 177-184.






to infringe

on Aristotle's concept

of tragedy. 1


reason is a


Seneca's is a dram a without gods. Society has forfeited its right to

set mora l standards: released from the tutorship o f religion and poli-

tics, ma n

o f mentality, not any lack o f capacity.



ecstasy o f freedom.

Transmission 2


For the Dialogi scholars had relied on a single manuscript for a long time; today the basis of our text is more diversified. These works of Seneca owe their survival to the Benedictine monks of Montecassino. The actual Medio- lanensis Ambrosianus C. 90 inf. (A; 11th century; in Beneventan script), which was written in all probability on the behest of Abbot Desiderius (d. 1087), contains, in addition, old complements and corrections from a codex now lost. Where A is lacunose or illegible, the P manuscripts (which are derived from A) are useful (especially, the Vaticanus Chigi H . v. 153; the Berol. Lat. 2° 47; the Paris. Lat. 15 086 and 6 379, all four from the 13th cen- tury); this applies especially to the Consolatio ad Polybium. The y codices are more recent (14th century), much interpolated and corrected. Some of them seem, however, to originate from a lost codex (from Montecassino), which was related to A but independent of it (the

century). 3

oldest representatives are the Vaticanus Lat. 2215 and 2214; 14th

De beneficiis and


preserved: Vaticanus Palatinus 1547 'Nazarianus' (N;

manuscript was written in Northern Italy and came to Lorsch around 850.

ca. A.D . 800). The

an exception, i n this case the original source o f our tradition has been

De dementia 4




O n this

problem: K . HELDMANN 1974; W.-L .






Medea-Dramen, Literaturwiss. Jahrb.