An Irishman’s Introduction to Stoicism Part Three: Seneca
For the third and final introductory Stoic Meditation I have chosen Seneca and his collection of works now known as Letters from a Stoic or in its traditional Latin The Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium. Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in the year 4 BC in Cordoba, which at the time was part of the Roman province of Hispania. Born into an aristocratic family, Seneca was raised in Rome and trained in the core areas of Literature, Grammar and Rhetoric excelling in each respectively. He would also receive mentoring from prominent philosophers of the time, most importantly Attalus the Stoic. Throughout his life Seneca would struggle with asthma which in this period was perceived as weakness and was then afflicted with tuberculosis necessitating a ten-year stint in Egypt in order to overcome the deadly disease. Joining the Roman Senate following this bout of illness in 37 AD, Seneca displayed a great aptitude for politics, to such an extent that his success in oratory prompted the Emperor Caligula to order his execution as he was jealous of the young upstart. His weak condition at the time proved to be his saving grace as it was expected that he would die soon regardless. Under the new Emperor Claudius, he received yet another execution order based on trumped up adultery charges, which was thankfully commuted to exile on the island of Corsica. Through the political machinations of the new Empress Agrippina, Seneca was recalled and named as tutor the young heir to the throne Nero in 49 AD.
In the early years of Nero’s reign Seneca wielded a huge amount of influence over the young Emperor, using this new found power to amass wealth in an extremely un-stoic manner, this contradictory nature will be discussed throughout the coming post. Yet this influence soon waned and despite attempting to retire twice, Nero forced him to continue despite his inability to do anything in the role, as he lacked the responsibility necessary to do so. In 65 AD, he was unwittingly caught up in a plot to end the life of the soon to be deranged Emperor and his final execution order was given, displaying a stoic’s acceptance of fate he obliged and in doing so allowed for his family to survive.
The text which I will be making use of is The Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, which consists of a collection of 124 letters sent by Seneca to a…