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Seneca the Younger

Seneca the Younger

c. 4 b.c.e.–65 c.e.


Tutor to Nero.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the "Younger," was born in the Roman colony of Spain just before the turn of the first millennium. His father, Seneca the "Elder," was a famous orator who wrote treatises on rhetoric for his sons, which were later used as school texts. Seneca the Younger was born around 4 b.c.e. and educated in Rome from an early age. He pursued a political career as a young man and, in addition to being a lawyer, held the offices of quaestor and praetor before becoming a senator. When Nero became emperor in 54 c.e., Seneca became one of his most influential political advisers, and thanks largely to him and another adviser, Burrus, the Roman state proceeded smoothly for the next eight years. As Nero's behavior became more erratic and violent, Seneca was increasingly compelled to overlook the emperor's barbarity until, after Burrus died in 62 c.e., he was allowed to retire from court. He set out to write works of philosophy, but was incriminated in a political conspiracy and was forced to kill himself in 65 c.e.


Seneca wrote prolifically and his corpus included works on morals, philosophy, and ethics in addition to poetry and drama. He became known in particular for the tragedies in Greek style he composed in the first century c.e., such as Medea, Phaedra, and Thyestes. Seneca was indebted to the great Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides for the treatment of his subject matter and in some elements of his style, but overall Senecan tragedy is a unique amalgam of moralizing, gore, and hyperbolic rhetoric. Seneca's rhetorical training is apparent in the frequent, impassioned speeches of his characters, and his focus is on the power of language rather than of actions. Some have suggested that Seneca taught Stoicism through his tragedies, since many of them feature the destructive power of unrestrained emotion, a Stoic precept. This is unlikely, however, since evil often triumphs over rationality in his plays in a distinctly un-Stoic manner. His tragedies are richly drawn with extraordinarily vivid characters. His plays are filled with suspense, madness, and horror, which kept them in the theatrical limelight far past Seneca's own time. It is unclear whether Seneca intended for his tragedies to be staged completely or whether he wrote them for other purposes. Seneca had a widespread influence on authors of the Italian Renaissance and Jacobean England.


Gian Biagio Conte, "Latin Literature: A History (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

Miriam Griffin, Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).

Anna Motto and John Clark, Senecan Tragedy (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1988).

R. J. Tarrant, "Senecan Drama and Its Antecedents," in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (1978): 213–263.

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