Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger)
(ca. 4 BC–AD 65) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist,
and in one work, humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature.
Born in Córdoba, Spain, Seneca was the second son of Helvia
and Marcus (Lucius) Annaeus Seneca, a wealthy rhetorician known
as Seneca the Elder. Seneca's older brother, Gallio, became proconsul
at Achaia (where he encountered the apostle Paul about AD 52).
Seneca was uncle to the poet Lucan, by his younger brother, Annaeus
relates that he was a sickly child, and that he was taken to Rome
for schooling. He was trained in rhetoric, and was introduced
into the Stoic philosophy by Attalos and Sotion. Due to his illness,
Seneca stayed in Egypt from (25-31) for treatment.
his return, he established a successful career as an advocate.
Around 37 he was nearly killed, as a result of a conflict with
the Emperor Caligula, who only spared him because he believed
the sickly Seneca 'would not live long', anyhow. In 41, Messalina,
wife of the Emperor Claudius, persuaded Claudius to have Seneca
banished to Corsica on a charge of adultery with Julia Livilla.
He spent his exile in philosophical and natural study, and wrote
49, Claudius' new wife, Agrippina, had Seneca recalled to Rome
to tutor her son, L. Domitius, who was to become the emperor Nero.
On Claudius' death in 54, Agrippina secured the recognition of
Nero as emperor over Claudius' son, Britannicus.
the first five years, the quinquennium Neronis, Nero ruled wisely
under the influence of Seneca and the praetorian prefect, Sextus
Afranius Burrus. But, before long, Seneca and Burrus had lost
their influence over Nero, and his reign became tyrannical. With
the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca retired, and devoted his time
to more study and writing.
65, Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot to murder Nero,
the Pisonian conspiracy. Without a trial, Seneca was ordered by
Nero to commit suicide. Tacitus gives an account of the suicide
of Seneca. His wife, Pompeia Paulina, who intended to commit suicide
after Seneca's death, was forced and sentenced to live by Nero.
Works attributed to Seneca include a satire, a meteorological
essay, philosophical essays, 124 letters dealing with moral issues,
and nine tragedies. One of the tragedies attributed to him, Octavia,
is clearly not by him. He even appears as a character in the play.
His authorship of another, Hercules on Oeta, is doubtful. Seneca's
brand of Stoic philosophy emphasized practical steps by which
the reader might confront life's problems. In particular he considered
it important to confront the fact of one's own mortality. The
discussion of how to approach death dominates many of his letters.
It is impossible to determine if the tragedies were performed
on stage: there is no evidence for either side. The German scholar
Leo stated that they were recitation dramas but this reflected
his conception of what a drama ought to be and this in turn was
based on his conception of Greek tragedy.
have been successfully staged in modern times. The dating of the
tragedies is highly problematic in the absence of any ancient
references. A relative chronology has been suggested on metrical
grounds but scholars remain divided. It is inconceivable that
they were written in the same year. They are not based on Greek
tragedy and whilst Euripides is a very distant ancestor of these
works the main influence is Ovidian.
plays were widely read in medieval European universities, so they
strongly influenced Renaissance tragic drama, particularly the
literature of Elizabethan England.