Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, better known as Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman philosopher, writer and statesman who is probably best known for being a tutor and advisor to emperor Nero. By the mid-1st century CE, he established himself as one of the most influential people of the Roman world but his influence turned out to contribute to his premature death. In year 65, Nero forced him to commit suicide for his alleged involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate the emperor. Whether he was really conspiring against the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty remains uncertain.
Seneca was born into a wealthy and influential Roman family in 4 BC. He was born as the second child to Marcus Annaeus Seneca (also known as Seneca the Elder), a renowned and respected rhetorician and writer, and his wife Helvia. Just like his parents, Seneca’s brothers also went into history. His older brother Gallio is known for meeting with St. Paul in Achaea in the early 50s, while his younger brother Marcus Annaeus Mela was the father of the Roman poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, commonly known as Lucan.
Seneca was educated in the school of Sextii in Rome where he learned philosophy and received training for an orator. Due to poor health, his aunt took him to Egypt to live with her and her husband. He returned to Rome in 31 and according to his father’s wishes, entered into politics. He was soon appointed quaestor but he also established himself as one of the most influential writers and orators in Rome as well as gained many influential friends including from the imperial family.
Exile in Corsica and Rise to Power
In 41, Seneca was exiled to the island of Corsica by emperor Claudius for his alleged adultery with the emperor’s niece. During his exile in Corsica, he dedicated himself to writing and studying philosophy and natural sciences. Seneca was forced to stay in Corsica until 49, when the emperor’s wife Julia Agrippina convinced Claudius to allow him to return to Rome. He was appointed praetor and tutor to the future emperor Nero. At the same time, he also built relationships with influential Romans including the prefect of the guard, Sextus Afranius Burrus.
Withdrawal from Public Life and Death
After Claudius’ assassination in 54, Seneca and his friend Burrus became probably the most powerful and influential individuals in the Roman Empire. They were Nero’s favourites but the new emperor’s affection didn’t come easy on them. In 59, they had to accept the assassination of emperor’s mother Agrippina. After Burrus’ death in 62, Seneca had enough of courtly intrigues. He decided to withdraw from public life and dedicate himself to writing but he couldn’t escape politics. In 65, emperor Nero accused him of conspiring against his life and forced his former tutor and advisor into committing suicide. Most historians believe that Seneca probably wasn’t involved in the Pisonian conspiracy.
Works and Legacy
Seneca created his best works in the last three years of his life although he was highly productive throughout his life. His most significant works include tragedies and philosophical dialogues but he was also interested in natural sciences. In 62, he wrote a scientific book titled Naturales quaestiones but other than discussing various theories, he didn’t offer any original solutions.
The surviving works by Seneca include:
Tragedies (10 in total):
- Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules)
- Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta)
- Troades (The Trojan Women)
- Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women)
According to most scholars, Octavia is highly unlikely to have been written by Seneca, while many also question some other Senecan tragedies, especially Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta).
Dialogues (the most prominent ones):
- Ad Marciam, De consolatione (To Marcia, On consolation)
- Ad Helviam matrem, De consolatione (To Helvia, On consolation)
- De Brevitate Vitae (On the shortness of life)
- De Consolatione ad Polybium (To Polybius, On consolation)
- De Providentia (On providence)
- De Vita Beata (On the happy life)
Other prominent works by Seneca include:
- Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (satire; The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius)
- De Beneficiis (On benefits)
- De Clementia (On clemency)
- Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (over 120 letters to Lucius Junior)
- Naturales quaestiones
- Cujus etiam ad Paulum apostolum leguntur epistolae (correspondence between Seneca and St. Paul; authenticity disputed by most modern scholars)