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SENECA
Lucius Anncaeus, the philosopher, son of (1), born at Corduba, about 5 B.C. In early youth he came to Rome, where, besides studying rhetoric, he devoted himself particularly to philosophy. While still young he entered active life as an orator, and in the service of the government. In 1 A.D. he was banished to Corsica by Claudius, at the instigation of Messalina, on the ostensible charge of being a participator and an accomplice in the debaucheries of Julia, the daughter of Germanicus. Not till eight years later did Claudius recall him at the request of Agrippina the younger, the emperor's niece and wife, and appoint him tutor to the youthful Nero, Agrippina's son by a former husband. After the young prince had ascended the throne in 54 A.D., Seneca still remained in the circle of those most closely attached to him, especially during the first five years of the reign, and exercised a beneficial influence over his former pupil, who manifested his thanks by making him valuable presents, and conferring upon him the consulship for 57. In 62 the intrigues of his opponents caused him to withdraw completely from the court and from public life. The conspiracy of Piso in 65 finally afforded Nero the early desired pretext for removing him. As the mode of his death was left to himself, he had his veins opened, and as death did not ensue with sufficient rapidity, he finally had himself put in a vapour-bath. During his lifetime he had often been reproached for finding more pleasure than a philosopher should in the good things of life. How little value he really set upon them was shown by the readiness with which he parted from them and the composure with which he met his end. Next to Cicero, he is the most famous philosophical writer of Rome, and one of the most gifted and original of Roman authors in general. As a philosopher, he was essentially a follower of the Stoics; but he directed his attention less to abstract speculation than to practical wisdom, which undoubtedly, as in his own instance, verges closely on mere prudence in the conduct of life. His writings are in a popular style, but they are characterized by copious knowledge and wide acquaintance with the human heart, and are remarkable for their richness in aphorisms that are at once profound in thought and terse in expression. The moral tone of his writings caused Christian tradition to represent him as a friend of the Apostle Paul, and even to invent a correspondence between them. [Cp. Lightfoot's Philippians, 1868, pp. 260-331] In versatility of genius, ease of production, and elegance of form, Seneca may be compared with Ovid. In style he accommodated himself completely to the taste of the times, which strained after rhetorical effect, though he fully recognised its degeneracy. Among his numerous prose writings are the following: (1) three letters of condolence (De Consolatione)--to his mother Helvia, to Polybius (the favourite of Claudius), and to Marcia (the daughter of Cremutius Cordus. The two first were composed in Corsica. (2) A series of discourses on philosophy and morals, the most important being those on Mercy (De Clementia), in two books, addressed to Nero; on Anger (De Ira), in three books; on Giving and Receiving Favours (De Beneficus), in seven books. (3) A collection in twenty books of 124 letters to his young friend Lucilius, mostly on questions of philosophy. (4) Investigations in Natural Science (Quaestiones Naturales,) in seven books, dedicated to the same Lucilius, the the first and only text-book on physics in Roman literature. In addition to these he wrote a biting satire on the death of the emperor Claudius (Ludus de Morte Claudii) entitled the Pumpkinification (Apocolocyntosis), instead of deification (apotheosis), in which prose and verse are mingled after the manner of Varro's Menippean Satires. We have express testimony that Seneca was also a poet [Tacitus, Ann., xix 52]. Besides certain epigrams, the following tragedies are ascribed to him: Hercules Furens, Thyestes, Phoedra, (Edipus Troades, Medea, Agamemnon, Herecules OEtoeus, three fragments upon the Theban myth united under the title of Thebais or Phoenissoe, and the fabula proetextata (q.v.) entitled Octavia. These are the only tragedies in all Roman literature that have come down to us. It may be taken as proved, that the last of these dramas, which treats of the tragic end of Octavia, the daughter of Claudius and wife of Nero, and in which Seneca himself appears, cannot be attributed to him, but belongs to a later date, though there are no decisive reasons for doubting the genuineness of the remainder. Their matter and form are borrowed from the Greek; [but their general character probably resembles that of the tragedies written in the Augustan age by Pollio and by Varius, rather than that of the ancient dramatists, such as Ennius and Pacuvius]. In their pointed expression they exhibit the same talent for style as his prose works, the same copiousness, philosophical bent, and rhetorical manner (the last frequently carried beyond the limits of taste). They seem to have been designed more as declamatory exercises than for actual performance on the stage.
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