Seneca, Lucius Annæus

, an eminent Stoic philosopher, was born at Corduba in Spain, the year before the beginning of the Christian sera, of an equestrian family, which had probably been transplanted thither in a colony from Rome. He was the second son of Marcus Annseus Seneca, commonly called the rhetorician, whose remains are printed under the title of “Stiasorise & Controversise, cum Declainationum Excerptis;” and his youngest brother Annæus Mela (for there were three of them) was memorable for being the father of the poet Lucan. He was re* jnoved to Rome, while he was yet in his infancy, by his aunt, who accompanied him on account of the delicacy of his health. There he was educated in the most liberal manner, and under the best masters. He learned his eloquence from his father; but preferring philosophy to the declamations of the rhetoricians, he put himself under the stoics Attalus, Sotion, and Papirius Fabianus, of whom he has made honourable mention in his writings. It is probable too, that he travelled when he was young, since we find in several parts of his works, particularly in hij “Quæstiones Naturales,” some correct and curious observations on Egypt and the Nile. But these pursuits did not at all correspond with that scheme of life which his father designed; and to please him, Seneca engaged in the business of the courts, with considerable success, although he was rather an argumentative than an eloquent pleader. As | soon as he arrived at manhood, he aspired to the honours of the state, and became questor, praetor, and, as Lipsius will have it, even consul, but the particulars of his public life are not preserved.

In the first year of Claudius, when Julia, the daughter of Germanicus, was accused of adultery by Messalina (a woman very unworthy of credit), and banished, Seneca was involved both in the charge and the punishment, and exiled to Corsica, where he lived eight years; happy, as he told his mother, in the midst of those things which usually make other people miserable. Here he wrote his books “Of Consolation,” addressed to his mother Helvia, and to his friend Polybius. But, as Brucker remarks, it may be questioned whether stoic ostentation had not some share in all this, for we find him, in another place, expressing much distress on account of his misfortune, and courting the emperor in a strain of servile adulation, little worthy of so eminent a philosopher. When Agrippina was married to Claudius, upon the death of Messalina, she prevailed with the emperor to recall Seneca from banishment; and afterwards procured him to be tutor to her son Nero, and Afranius Burrhus, a praetorian praefect, was joined with him iii this important charge. These two preceptors executed their trust with perfect harmony, and with some degree of success Burrhus instructing his pupil in the military art, and inuring him to wholesome discipline and Seneca furnishing him with the principles of philosophy, and the precepts of wisdom and eloquence; and both endeavouring to confine their pupil within the limits of decorum and virtue. While these preceptors united their authority, Nero was restrained from indulging his natural propensities; but after the death of Burrhus, the influence of Seneca declined, and the young prince began to disclose that depravity which afterwards stained his character with eternal infamy. Still, however, Seneca enjoyed the favour of his prince, and after Nero was advanced to the empire, he long continued to load his preceptor with honours and riches. Seneca’s houses and walks were the most magnificent in Rome, and he had immense sums of money placed out at interest in almost every part of the world. Suilius, one of his enemies, says, that during four years of imperial favour, he amassed the immense sum of 300,000 seslertiae, or 2,42 1,87 5l. of our money.

All this wealth, however, together with the luxury and | effeminacy of a court, are said not to have produced any improper effect upon the temper and disposition of Seneca. He continued abstemious, correct in his manners, and, above all, free from flattery and ambition. “I had rather,” said he to Nero, “offend you by speaking the truth, than please you by lying and flattery.” It is certain that while he had any influence, that is, during the first five years of Nero’s reign, that period had always been considered as a pattern of good government. But when Poppgea and Tigellinus had insinuated themselves into the confidence of the emperor, and hurried him into the most extravagant and abominable vices, he naturally grew weary of his master, whose life must indeed have been a constant rebuke to him. When Seneca perceived that his favour declined at court 3 and that he had many accusers about the prince, who were perpetually whispering in his ears his great riches, his magnificent houses, his fine gardens, and his dangerous popularity, he offered to return all his opulence and favours to the tyrant, who, however, refused to accept them, and assured him of the continuance of his esteem; but the philosopher knew his disposition too well to re l y on his promises, and as Tacitus relates, “kept no more levees, declined the usual civilities which had been paid to him, and, tinder a pretence of indisposition or engagement, avoided as much as possible to appear in public.” It was not long before Seneca was convinced that he had made a just estimate of the sincerity of Nero, who now attempted, by means of Cleonicus, a freedman of Seneca, to take him olF by poison; but this did not succeed. In the mean time Antonius Natalis, who had been concerned in the conspiracy of Piso, upon his examination, in order to court the favour of Nero, or perhaps even at his instigation, mentioned Seneca among the number of the conspirators, and to give some colour to the accusation, pretended, that hehad been sent by Piso to visit Seneca whilst he was sick, und to complain of his having refused to see Piso, who as a friend might have expected free access to him upon all occasions; and that Seneca, in reply, had said, that frequent conversations could be of no service to either party, bufc that he considered his own safety as involved in that of Piso. Granius Syivanus, tribune of the praetorian cohort, was sent to ask Seneca, whether he recollected what had passed between himself and Natalis. Seneca, whether by accident 0r design is uncertain, had that day left | Cajnpania, and was at his country-seat, about four miles from the city. In the evening, while he was at supper with his wife Paullina and two friends, the tribune, with a military band, came to the house, and delivered the emperor’s message, Seneca’s answer was, that he had received no complaint from Piso, of his having refused to see him; and that the State of his health, which required repose, had been his apology. He added, that he saw no reason why he should prefer the safety of any other individual to his own; and that no one was better acquainted than Nero, with his independent spirit.

This reply kindled the emperor’s indignation, and learning from the messenger that Seneca betrayed no symptoms of terror or distress, sent him a peremptory command immediately to put himself to death. This too Seneca received with perfect composure, and asked permission of the officer who brought the conjmand, to alter his will; but that being refused, he requested of his friends, that since he was not allowed to leave them any other legacy, they would preserve the example of his life, and exhorted them to exercise that fortitude, which philosophy taught. After some farther conversation with these friends, he embraced his wife, and intreated her to console herself with the recollection of his virtues: but Paullina refused every consolation, except that of dying with her husband, and earnestly solicited the friendly hand of the executioner. Seneca, after expressing his admiration of his wife’s fortitude, proceeded to obey the emperor’s fatal mandate, by opening a vein in each arm but, through his advanced age, the vital stream flowed so reluctantly, that it was necessary also to open the veins of his legs. Still finding his strength exhausted without any prospect of a speedy release; in order to alleviate, if possible, the anguish of his wife, who was a spectator of the scene, and to save himself the torture of witnessing her distress, he persuaded her to withdraw to another chamber. In this situation, Seneca, with wonderful recollection and self-command, dictated many philosophical reflections to his secretary. After a long interval, his friend Statius Annaeus, to whom he complained of the tedious delay of death, gave him a strong dose of poison; but even this, through the feeble state of his vital powers, produced little effect. At last, he ordered the attendants to convey him into a warm bath; and, as he entered, he sprinkled those who stood near, saying, " I offer this | libation to Jupiter the deliverer/ 1 Then, plunging into the bath, he was soon suffocated. His body was consumed, according to his own express order, in a will which he had made in the height of his prosperity, -without any funeral pomp.

The character, the system, and the writings of this philosopher have been subjects of much dispute among the learned. Concerning his character, a candid judge, who considers the virtuous sentiments with which his writings abound, the temperate and abstemious plan of life which he pursued in the midst of a luxurious court, and the fortitude with which he met his fate, will not hastily pronounce him to have been guilty of adultery, upon the evidence of the infamous Messalina; or conclude his wealth to have been the reward of a servile compliance with the base passions of his prince. It has been questioned whether Seneca ought to be ranked among the stoic or the eclectic philosophers; and the freedom of judgment which he expressly claims, together with the respect which he pays to philosophers of different sects, clearly prove, that he did not implicitly addict himself to the system of Zeno; nor can the contrary be inferred from his speaking of our Chrysippus, and our Cleanthes; for he speaks also of our Demetrius, and our Epicurus. It is evident, however, from the general tenor and spirit of his writings, that he adhered, if) the main, to the stoic system. With respect to his writings, he is justly censured by Quintilian, and other critics, as among the Romans the first corrupter of style; yet his works are exceedingly valuable, on account of the great number of just and beautiful moral sentiments which they contain, the extensive erudition which they discover, and the happy mixture of freedom and urbanity, with which they censure vice, and inculcate good morals. The writings of Seneca, except his books of “Physical Questions,” are chiefly of the moral kind: they consist of one hundred and twenty-four “Epistles,” and distinct treatises, ' On Anger; Consolation; Providence; Tranquillity of Mind y Constancy; Clemency; the Shortness of Life; a Happy Life; Retirement; Benefits."

From the -excellence of many of his precepts, some have imagined, that he was a Christian, and it has been reported that he held a correspondence with St. Paul by letters; but although he must have heard of Christ and his doctrine, and Ms curiosity plight lead him tp make some inquiry | 3.bout them, the letters published under the names of the Philosopher and Apostle, have long been declared spurious by the critics, and perfectly unworthy of either of them. A number of tragedies are extant under the name of Seneca, written in a bad style, but it is uncertain whether the whole or any of them were by this Seneca. Of his acknowledged works Justus Lipsius published the first good edition, which was succeeded by the Variorum, 1672, 3 vols. 8vo, and others. Of the tragedies, the best are those of Scriverius, 1621, the Variorum, 1651, &c. and Schroeder’s, 1728, 4to. 1


Tacitus. Antonio Bibl. Hi?p. Vetus.-^Brucker. Savii Ouoinast.