tragedies, moral epistles, scientific papers, and essays of philosophy. Seneca was a very
honorable man who was unfortunate enough to be connected with Nero. However, that
is the end of Seneca’s story, not the beginning.
Seneca, also referred to as Seneca the Younger, was born in Cordova, Spain, in
about 4 BC. He was born into a wealthy equestrian family and was the second son of
Seneca the elder and Helvia. Seneca the elder was a moderately famous rhetor, and Helvia was not the typical Roman woman. While she was a model housekeeper and mother, she was also very strong and disciplined, without breaking tradition. One of Seneca’s works, Ad Helviam, shows how wonderful all of her sons thought she was.
When Seneca was a young child, his family moved from Spain to Rome. There he began his studies. Because he was a rather sickly child, Seneca was able to devote all of his time to studying. Before he began to study philosophy, Seneca was tutored by a grammaticus, or a linguist. Unfortunately for Seneca, his tutor was not very skilled. On the other hand, his teachers of rhetoric were excellent. He was also taught by the most renowned teachers of philosophy at this time. Philosophy was his true love, and his teachers, Attlus the stoic, Sotion the Pythagorean, and Demetrius the Cynic, cultivated his gift.
 Seneca occasionally joined his aunt in Egypt where she nursed him through a period of ill health. It was through her influence that he was shortly afterwards elected quaestor at the age of thirty three. Seneca also became a lawyer. This brought enormous fame and wealth to him. At this time, Seneca’s fame as a writer and philosopher was also growing. he was very popular during the reign of Caligula. In fact, Emperor Caligula would have killed Seneca if he had not heard that Seneca would soon die from consumption.
After the death of the mad Caligula, Seneca became the most famous author and philosopher in all of Rome. At the beginning of Claudius’s reign, his wife Messalina accused the Princess Julia Livilla of having a love affair with Seneca. The beautiful Julia was exiled without the benefit of a trial and was soon put to death on account of Messalina’s false accusation. Seneca, after suffering from severe humiliation, was found guilty and sentenced to death at his trial. Lucky for him, Emperor Claudius changed the sentence to banishment. Seneca was sent to the Isle of Corsica for his punishment, and at the same time his son died. Most scholars agree that while Seneca was living on the island he wrote "Ad Helviam" and "Ad Polybium", but they cannot be sure if any of his other works were written at this time. Finally, after Messalina had been put to death and Claudius married Agrippina, Seneca was recalled from exile.
It was also at this time that Seneca married for the second time. He and his wife, Pompeia Paulina, cared very much for each other, and she was going to stand by him in the hard times to come. One of Agrippina’s terms for Seneca’s recall from exile was that Seneca must tutor her son, Nero. Seneca realized that this was a dangerous and precious position to take, but he had no choice. Seneca tried his best to teach his pupil, but Nero was already a dangerous, ruthless monster. During this time, Seneca also befriended
Burrus, another of Nero’s tutors. Together Burrus and Seneca did their best to teach Nero humanity and to restrain Agrippina.
On October 13, 54 A.D., Nero became the emperor of Rome. For five years
Burrus and Seneca were able to control Nero and Agrippina. Under Poppaea’s influence,
Nero had his mother killed, and this meant trouble for Seneca as well. In 62 A.D., Seneca
retired and Burrus died. After this happened, Nero lost all control. Finally in 65 A.D., Nero accused Seneca of being involved in a conspiracy to kill him. Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide, which he did with his faithful wife by his side. Nero prevented Paulina
from dying, but Seneca went ahead as ordered.
Although the correspondence between Seneca and St. Paul is now known to be a forgery,
the letters in Seneca’s "Letters from a Stoic" advertise the humane and upright ideals
admired by Stoics and commend the good way of life as seen from their standpoint.
Seneca’s surviving works include 124 letters, 12 philosophical essays, a satire, a meteorological essay, and nine tragedies. Those tragedies are "Phaedra", "Oedipus", "Thyestes", "Hercules", "Troades", "Phoenissae", "Medea", "Agamemmnon", and "Hercules Oetaeus".
These tragedies closely resemble Greek tragedies in the use of dramatic episodes, interspersed with odes to be sung by a chorus. It is believed that Seneca thought the plays should be read rather than acted. These tragedies focus on belief that disaster results when passion destroys reason. They widely influenced tragic drama in France, Italy, and Elizabethan England.
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